United Nations' Triple Nexus: Humanitarian, Development and Peace

In 2016, the Secretary General of the United Nations at the time, Ban Ki-moon, convened the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit with the expressed purpose of “reducing suffering and delivering better for people caught in humanitarian crises, and to demonstrate support for a new Agenda for Humanity.” The Summit report, Commitments to Action, lists its very first priority as to “Prevent and End Conflict.”

To accomplish this, the essential responsibility, it argued, was to:

(1) demonstrate timely, decisive political leadership;
(2) act early;
(3) stay engaged and invest in stability; and,
(4) develop solutions with and for people.

The World Humanitarian Summit first broached the concept of the “Humanitarian, Development and Peace Nexus” that was then, subsequently, fully developed and endorsed by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in its Development Assistance Committee, which:

AGREES that the purpose of this Recommendation is to provide Adherents with a comprehensive framework that can support, incentivize and implement more collaborative, coherent and complementary humanitarian, development and peace actions, particularly in fragile and conflict affected situations and to meet our international and regional commitments in this area.


“The Triple Nexus,” has been widely promoted as the preferred approach to addressing the various humanitarian crises facing the world today that are predominantly the result of protracted armed conflict and other major difficulties such as natural catastrophes, and climate change. For instance, the Alert 2022! Report on Conflicts, Human Rights, and Peacebuilding, points out that there were 32 protracted armed conflicts that took place in 2021. The vast majority of them were in Africa (15), Asia (9), and the Middle East (5), with two in Europe (Turkey and Ukraine) and one in the Americas (Colombia). About 80 percent of the humanitarian action takes place in conflict settings and the average time of the humanitarian response is nine years. More than 100 million people are forcibly displaced in the world today, primarily due to protracted armed conflicts. In fact, UNHCR states that,

… the Russian invasion of Ukraine — causing the fastest and one of the largest forced displacement crises since World War II — and other emergencies, from Africa to Afghanistan and beyond, pushed the number of displaced over the dramatic milestone of 100 million.

In Ukraine fully 12 million people have fled their homes. Unprecedented humanitarian need has pushed the international aid system to its limits and it can no longer cope with the still escalating crises. Hence, the UN’s focus on the Humanitarian, Development and Peace Nexus directs those working locally to make societies more self-reliant, resilient, and peaceful.

The humanitarian principles have always been “humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence.” These principles help the humanitarian workers get on with their jobs. But arguably, since protracted armed conflicts are political, neither the principles of neutrality nor impartiality are consistent with the Triple Nexus.


It is also questionable whether there is a common understanding of the meaning of “peace” — the key pillar in HDP Nexus. One dictionary definition of “peace” is “a state or period in which there is no war or war has ended.” But of course, the mere absence of warfare does not necessarily represent a harmonious state of societal wellbeing. All kinds of injustice and oppression may exist, even in the absence of overtly violent confrontations between groups. In fact Johan Galtung famously called such deplorable conditions “negative peace,” in contrast to “positive peace,” the condition in which social justice is more accessible. It is in this latter notion of “peace” that is most relevant for the HDP Nexus. The challenge is to work with communities to ensure that their peacebuilding methodologies foster self-reliance and resilience without resort to violent means of settling differences.

The Triple Nexus is to be applied in fragile States or those experiencing protracted armed conflict. When people find themselves living in the midst of a war zone and are forced to flee, they require humanitarian aid. Development aid, on the other hand, is more difficult in such situations, amid all the death and destruction of protracted armed conflict. “Development” is antithetical to extreme political violence and protracted armed conflict. Indeed, one of the current purposes of warfare is to target infrastructure such as roads, bridges, railways, airports, harbours, broadcasting facilities, electrical grids, and the like, which are essential in any modern society. Without sustained peace and security, humanitarian assistance may be essential to saving the lives of those who are trapped in a war zone, but it will not address either their precarity or longer-term life prospects.

The challenge is achieving sustainable peace, nothing more and nothing less

It might be more appropriate to reverse the order of the Triple Nexus to list it as Peace, Humanitarian, and Development Nexus. Ending hostilities and achieving human security and/or peace, ensures that humanitarian aid can be delivered to those who are most in need. Investment in rebuilding essential infrastructure and the reconstruction of homes and businesses can then take place. Re-establishing the power supply and the provision of water, food, medicine, and shelter facilities, so that the people can return to their homes and to their previous lives then follows.

The Triple Nexus connects these three key terms, but it is evident that peace precedes either humanitarian assistance or development. If the challenge is to do three at once with a concentration on the “nexus” among the Humanitarian, Development, and Peace establishments, then it is also evident that the emphasis will have to be on peace to be sustainable over the long-term.

The Triple Nexus is also found in the 2016 “New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants,” which was unanimously approved by the 193 member States of the United Nations. The New York Declaration sets out a broad set of commitments that UN member States are obligated, but not bound, to follow. Annex 1 of that declaration is the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) — a multi-stakeholder approach that includes national and local authorities.

All CRRF responses to large scale refugee emergencies include the following elements:

(1) Reception and Admission;
(2) Support for immediate and ongoing needs;
(3) Durable Solutions;
(4) The Way Forward.
It concludes with a call for a Global Compact for Refugees.


The Global Compact on Refugees, adopted in 2018, is a framework for more predictable and equitable burden-sharing among the Member States of the United Nations. The Compact is a means of enabling refugee host communities, principally located in the Global South, to get enough support for the refugees to live productive and fulfilling lives. This initiative includes a Program of Action for burden — and responsibility- sharing that are reviewed every four years by a Global Refugee Forum. It also holds a meeting of high-level officials every two years and requires a UN High Commissioner’s annual report to the General Assembly.

All of this is quite impressive. Nevertheless, it is intended to address the ever-escalating numbers of persons each year who are forcibly displaced by protracted armed conflicts in the world today. It addresses humanitarian concerns and to a considerable extent development concerns but, manifestly less so, peace. Hence, although the Global Compact on Refugees is informed, undoubtedly, by the Triple Nexus, it does not address sufficiently its all-important third pillar, peacebuilding, or more to the point, “peace.” The priority of the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit was to “prevent and end conflict.” The Triple Nexus needs to place the emphasis where it belongs — not only on the prevention of armed conflicts but to ending all present armed conflicts permanently.

The humanitarian plight of the millions forcibly displaced persons should no longer be allowed to take place. The challenge is achieving sustainable peace, nothing more and nothing less. [*]

James C. Simeon is Associate Professor, School of Public Policy and Administration, York University, Toronto, Canada. jcsimeon@yorku.ca.

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