– With the worldwide numbers of displaced people at all-time highs, migration has become the watchword for humanitarian crises.
Given the cost in economic, political and moral terms of coping with mass migration – and particular the experience of what has been unfolding this year in Europe – the need for a universal set of rules and principles is increasingly evident.
So is the desire to keep people safely in their homes.
Several European politicians have insisted that greater aid and investment in the originating countries can stem the tidal movements of people. Even Matteo Salvini, an opposition leader in Italy who is hostile to refuge being offered by his own country, is a stated believer in the idea of that development will keep people from coming.
But few understand how practically difficult it has proven to fund such development. First, increasing amounts of official aid flows are tagged to humanitarian crises, reducing the funds available for sustainable development plans. Second, much of the promised aid never materializes, for a host of reasons.
Take Nepal. Less than half the reconstruction aid pledged in the wake of that country’s earthquake in April has been delivered, according to UN officials. Controversies over the Himalayan nation’s new draft constitution are hardly encouraging to donors. The result is that the disaster may translate into a longer-lasting catastrophe than it had to be, ultimately crimping economic opportunity and food security.
Or take Yemen. Saudi Arabia announced a large donation for humanitarian operations there, even though it is engaged in the military conflict that has exacerbated displacement and poverty.
Meanwhile, amid the horror stories of refugee mistreatment in Europe, Tunisia is now building a moat along its border with Libya, demonstrating fears of its own.
It’s pretty evident that the combined sums spent on deterring migration and humanitarian aid to refugees makes talk of encouraging growth in the source countries an exercise in pure optimism.
That may now change. The global community today gathered at the Rome headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and voted to approve the Framework for Action for Food Security and Nutrition in Protracted Crises.
The agreement, brokered by the Committee for World Food Security (CFS), aims to stitch together the increasingly dysfunctional separation of humanitarian and development aid budgets.
As the signatories represent state and non-state donors and actors, the agreement should make it much easier to ensure resources can push past political and bureaucratic barriers to get where they are direly needed.
Take Syria, where more than half the population is displaced, conflict is rampant and the European Union took months to agree to accept less than 5 per cent of the refugees than are now camped in Lebanon and Turkey.
Many refugees, terrified that dismal conditions in neighboring countries will become permanent and discouraged from seeking protection further west, are in fact returning to Syria despite the dangers.
That may be an international diplomatic failure – and many of the returnees say they blame the United Nations for their plight.
But it is a practical issue, and that is where the new Framework may help.
FAO, for its part, has already begun acting as if the agreement were in place. This summer it partnered with the International Organization for Migration to help smallholder agricultural production in Syria by around 500 families who returned.
The aid consists of seeds, farm tools and ready-made poultry farms, all aimed at providing for the families themselves but also helping pre-empt the agricultural desertion of a conflict-racked country.
The budget resources here are going to what has long been a no man’s land. It’s a small step towards keeping development alive amid an overriding humanitarian emergency.
“Supporting agricultural based livelihoods can contribute to both helping people stay on their land when they feel safe to do so and to create the conditions for the return of refugees, migrants and displaced people,” says FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.
To be sure, the Framework was devised to deal with protracted crises – places where food insecurity has been reported on a nearly perpetual basis for at least a decade. There are 21 such places today. But most such crises take place in fragile states, where conflict is rife either as a cause or an effect.
As things stand, a third of the world’s hungry outside of India and China live amid protracted crises. And while agriculture accounts for a third of GDP in those countries, it receives less than 4 per cent of external assistance funding, according to Luca Alinov, a FAO officer based in Kenya.
Thus the Framework paves the way for resources to flow to the agricultural sector – where returns in terms of food security are highest – precisely where it is most neglected.
It is widely felt to be high time to break down the increasingly archaic distinction between humanitarian and development assistance – and with it the distinct official channels through which resources are doled out.
“Rural development and food security are central to the global response to the refugee crisis,” Graziano da Silva said.
To be sure, how to carry this out in practice may vary, but the Framework’s genesis as the fruit of multi-stakeholder dialogue is likely to broaden the toolkit.
Again, FAO has already been doing spadework, such as partnering with MasterCard to provide people in refugee camps in Kenya with prepaid cards allowing them to purchase local goods, a scheme that lends itself to adaptation to varying circumstances.
While state-backed social protection programs such as the Productive Safety Net Program, which helped Ethiopia become the only protracted-crisis country to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of halving the share of populating suffering from hunger, are ideal, the institutional and political stability required for that is often lacking.
That is perhaps where the new Framework may prove most innovative, according to Daniel Maxwell of Tufts University.
In line with the universal bent of the Sustainable Development Goals, it suggests going beyond reliance on state building as the sanctioned channel of intervention and points to consensus that strengthening livelihoods should be the priority.
**Photo: Ibrahim Diallo Manzo/IRIN | Smuggled migrants on edge of Sahara desert
***People risking sea journeys across the Bay of Bengal often set sail at night. Photo: UNHCR/S. Alam
****Photo: Mathieu Galtier/IRIN | Women at a migrant detention centre in Surnam, Libya
*****Photo: Asylum-seekers and economic migrants take to the seas, waiting out the dangerous journey in the boat’s cramped cargo space. Photo: UNHCR/A. D’Amato
******© UNHCR/I.Prickett | A Syrian woman cries in relief as she embraces her three young children after a very rough crossing of the Aegean from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos.