Conflict and poverty

Extreme poverty in the world will increasingly be concentrated in countries experiencing conflict and fragility. How do we better structure ourselves to respond?

An increasing complexity of fragility, violence and conflict in the world is threatening efforts to end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity. While there are fewer large-scale interstate conflicts, other forms of conflict and violence have increased since 2010. We are witnessing prolonged civil conflicts, fought by both state and non-state actors, with profound regional and global consequences, including a rise in terrorism and forced displacement. Violence and conflicts are also manifesting across multiple domains and contexts, including in urban areas and online via cyber warfare, bullying and radicalization. A recent report by ICRC notes that the future of conflict will be urban, cyber, and utilizing autonomous weapon capabilities and human modification. In this future space, our network is not equipped to deal with the resulting vulnerabilities.

Conflicts drive 80 per cent of all humanitarian needs and keep countries poor. They have caused an unprecedented forced displacement crisis, which is straining the resources of affected countries and humanitarian organizations alike. The challenge is widespread, affecting countries at all stages of development.

While it is anticipated that the general trend of development in the world will continue, with an overall reduction in poverty and a continued rise of the middle class, progress is expected to become more difficult and slower over time in some areas due to conflict, inequality and instability. Deep poverty and vulnerability will be increasingly concentrated in countries affected by fragility, conflict and violence, where almost half of the world’s poor are expected to live by 2030 – mostly in Africa and the Middle East. In those regions, infrastructure deficits, climate change, terrorism and population growth are likely to multiply vulnerabilities resulting from conflict and violence. The ability of humanitarian organizations to intervene in ‘last mile poverty’ – building on decades of steady progress to end extreme poverty – is tightening, with both access to and interest in these issues decreasing significantly. Ability to raise funds on these issues is difficult, resulting in entire humanitarian crises being ignored or forgotten in the face of public apathy or fatigue from the sheer number of ‘unprecedented crises’.

Alongside efforts directed to regions and countries affected by major natural disasters and the impacts of climate change, the global focus of the humanitarian sector could potentially be concentrated on fragile and failed states. This will necessitate significant competency at bridging the humanitarian/development divide, to not only meet humanitarian needs but also address systemic vulnerabilities in order to prevent future humanitarian crises. As members of the international community, RCRC will need to support conflict- and climate-affected countries, through sustainable development strategies that promote resilience and mobility.

Considerations and tension points for the Red Cross and Red Crescent

  • If fragility and extreme poverty continue to concentrate in certain countries/regions, how do we better allocate our resources/efforts globally to support this? How do we structure and prepare our organization, its people and skills for a scale-up of activity to address needs in these contexts?
  • How will RCRC manage complex cross-border responses with national organizational models?
  • How will RCRC support displaced populations and those moving back to home countries with tailored and targeted support services that incorporate reintegration, livelihoods, health and education?
  • How do we continue to ensure to build credibility and trust from a  public which is often fatigued by crises? How will we sustain operations in a large number of ignored or forgotten crises, where human suffering may be at its greatest?
  • The surge in incidents of hate speech and fake news globally has spurred growing concerns in the factors they play in spirals of violence. Intersected with the key role of technology and social media, understanding the unprecedented impacts of this on issues of non-violence and peace is crucial.

What are the possibilities?

National Societies and Movement partners are often the only effective – and sometimes the only – humanitarian organisations in conflict and fragile settings.  Our institutional expertise in this work is perhaps unparalleled. Likewise, our global network of branches and volunteers involved in development work and social services means we have a strong foundation on which to build our development approaches. We must however recognise that our development programming and policies require significant updating to be fit for purpose and to meet best practice. In the coming years, RCRC has the opportunity to position itself as a leader in bridging the humanitarian/development divide and developing new competencies and approaches to addressing needs and driving impact.

What are your thoughts?

Are there other elements to this trend that we should be considering?

How do you think it will affect vulnerability and the Red Cross and Red Crescent?

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