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“Beyond the slogans”

by John Crump

Story by GRID-Arendal August 17th, 2017

Peace, justice and effective, accountable and inclusive institutions are at the core of sustainable development. Several regions have enjoyed increased and sustained levels of peace and security in recent decades. But many countries still face protracted armed conflict and violence, and far too many people struggle as a result of weak institutions and the lack of access to justice, information and other fundamental freedoms.

Review of progress of Goal 16 (2016)

When the countries of the world agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 they designed a development road map for the next 15 years.

The goals themselves seem pretty straightforward: end poverty and hunger, make sure everyone has access to quality health care and an education, clean water, etc. And make sure we don’t let climate change get out of control.

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But the world is a complex place and all you have to do is listen to the news about financial crises, lack of justice and equality in different countries and violent insurgencies to know that’s the case. Much of this crisis reporting focuses on what are known as “fragile states” – countries with few economic prospects, where violence impedes a normal life and where corrupt governments provide few if any services or protection to their citizens.

In these kinds of environments how can sustainable development be achieved and supported?

That question was addressed by a panel of political and UN representatives at an event at the GRID-Arendal office during Arendalsuka. People had to stand in the hallway to hear the discussion on “Ensuring sustainable development results in fragile contexts”.

Tone Skogen, State Secretary with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs speaks at the event.

Many fragile states are in conflict zones and there can be no development without security, said Tone Skogen, State Secretary with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“There is much more to do to prevent and solve conflicts, deal with root causes, and lay foundations for sustainable peace,” Skogen said. “The UN needs to be better at integrating sustainable development, peace and human rights. Norway is a good partner to help this to happen.”

Sustainable development won’t be achieved “if we do not change approach to fragile states,” said Hilde Frafjord Johnson, Secretary General of the Christian Democratic Party. She pointed out that 780 million people live in extreme poverty, a large majority in fragile states.

“If we can’t answer the question you are raising today, we won’t achieve results. "So far", she said “we haven’t been successful so we need to change our approach. The discussion has to go beyond the slogans.”

Sarah Lister, Øyvind Eggen, Steve Hamilton, Hilde Frafjord Johnson and Tone Skogen with moderator Pål Nesse

Governments and others involved with development like to talk about having a “tool box” to fix problems of governance, violence, corruption, etc. However, “It’s not like going to IKEA and using an Allen key” for everything you buy.

For example, she said, it was “completely unrealistic that you could go into Afghanistan and totally rebuild governments.”

The road to peace, justice and sustainable institutions -- Sustainable Development Goal 16 – is complex. All countries are different and there is no one size-fits-all solution. Governments need to be prepared for long-term commitments. There is no “big bang” that will solve all problems.

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Expectations also need to be lowered, said Øyvind Eggen, a senior advisor on development policy with Civita, a Norwegian think tank. “The UN system has a huge challenge based on the way it is configured and uses knowledge.”

Steve Hamilton is the head of the International Organization for Migration in Norway. He was pessimistic about the chances of success, citing countries like Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“If you look at the data, they have gone nowhere” in terms of real development, Hamilton said. These and other countries may have “fulfilled terms of agreements” with donor countries, “and that’s it.”

Hamilton said long-term commitments and funding are needed “but the reality is that donors think along 12-month timelines for deliverables for reports.” What is needed is “generational change, so they don’t link up.”

Dealing with the complexities of fragile states is “not just solving a headline problem,” he said. Unfortunately, “Europe defines priorities in terms of which countries are sending the most immigrants.”

Solving the problem isn't just the responsibility of the United Nations. “It’s a state problem and so states need to lead.”

Sarah Lister, Director of the UNDP Oslo Governance Centre agreed there can be no development “without peace and vice versa.” But one size doesn’t fit all.

Footnote: Refugee photo, panel photos Svein Rasmussen, GRID-Arendal