A renewed vision for peace: Addressing the root causes of conflict

Of the world’s 8 billion people, around 1.2 billion live with some form of conflict. That number is growing every day and, as we become ever more connected, nobody is immune from its effects.


The war in Ukraine lays bare how conflict is a shared, global challenge, with its catastrophic impacts felt well beyond the country’s millions of citizens and spiking food, fertilizer and energy costs in 74 countries, presenting dire consequences for the most vulnerable.


The number of coups, failed transitions, and political deadlocks continues to rise, as do the challenges of building and keeping peace, even with all the resources of the 21st century, and sometimes because of them.


The sources of instability are ever more complex and interdependent, and many of the existing agreements of the United Nations fall short of meeting up to the challenge.


“The UN was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell.”

-Dag Hammarskjöld, former UN Secretary-General


Clearly, something is not right


The United Nations was established so that we would not repeat the generation-destroying wars of the 20th century.


Nearly 80 years later, Yemen’s war has reached a fragile ceasefire after dragging on for eight years.


Afghanistan teeters on the brink of universal poverty.


Families in Yemen and Somalia face famine and starvation.


Syria has lost four decades of progress, and half its citizens are displaced.


We are seeing the return of ‘industrial scale’ warfare in Ukraine, affecting the lives and livelihoods of millions.


This year more than 100 million people are displaced or have been forced to become refugees. That’s the highest number since the Second World War.


In 2020 the cost of violence was estimated at US$14.96 trillion, or $1,942 for every person.


“Why is it that countries which we call strong are so powerful in creating wars but are so weak in bringing peace?”

-Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate


The challenges we face are increasingly interconnected


Left alone, we cannot expect these trends to stop, because the forces that feed conflict and division are alive and well.


Inequality has an unbeatable track record of ripping societies apart. COVID-19 is just one of the factors that has fed into human development declining for the first time since 1990, leaving the most vulnerable even further behind.


In 2020 the pandemic resulted in more than 60 percent of countries backsliding on basic rights.


Increasingly, populations don’t trust our leaders. Social protest movements have more than doubled in the past decade. In the same period 131 countries have made no progress on corruption and 27 are at a historic low.


Despite their best efforts, women and girls are not truly recognized as equal citizens, capable of leadership. More than 80 countries have never had a female head of state. At the present rate it will take about 145 years to reach gender parity in politics. There is a direct link between lack of women in governance and higher rates of gender violence.


New domains of conflict are opening, and new tools emerging, and we do not have strong sets of rules to govern them.


The United Nations Crisis Group has highlighted the need to address these new weapons—everything from social media, to drones, to artificial intelligence.


Laid over these is the existential challenge of the climate emergency. Even if the world reached net-zero carbon emissions tomorrow, the damaging inequalities would reverberate for decades.


“We are heading into difficult territory. It is not inevitable, but it is certainly eroding, amongst many in our societies, the belief that state institutions are a pillar around which we can build responses to these crises.”

-Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator


Time to rethink our approach


Just as no one is immune to war and conflict, no one can solve it alone. Despite the enormity of the task that faces us, we can turn the tide if we work together.


To achieve peace, we must invest in peace—with financing, civic values and people. And to make peace sustainable, we must invest in development, recognizing the central role that institutions – formal, informal and civil alike – play in ensuring that solutions are nationally-owned, long-term and effective.


Since 2015 UNDP’s Funding Facility for Stabilization in Iraq has enabled 8.5 million Iraqis, half of them women, to return to their homes and to receive basic services. A very close partnership with local and national governments was crucial to this success, establishing confidence in Iraqi institutions.


We have to be serious about giving everybody a voice, recognizing that exclusion and shrinking civic space both undermine trust and contribute to grievances. If we want to turn the tide on growing polarization and eroding trust, we have to ensure that the decision-making process at all levels is inclusive of the diversity of voices that make up our global society.


In the Sahel we are working to unlock the tremendous potential of the region, particularly its young people, helping countries to break the cycle of poverty and conflict by investing in energy and governance and addressing the underlying causes of violent conflict and extremism.


We must also recognize the central role that communities play at the forefront of efforts to prevent conflict and build peace, ensuring that our efforts empower communities through development investments, instead of making them dependent on aid.


We see job creation as an essential part of Yemen’s recovery—a country forced to rely on aid and suffering from food shortages, not because there isn’t food but because families cannot afford it. We’ve helped more than 440,000 Yemenis find work that also builds infrastructure, such as improving healthcare facilities and schools and installing solar energy so businesses and institutions can function.


Afghans, facing widespread poverty and an aid-dependent economy that has rapidly collapsed, also desperately need work. UNDP’s ABADEI programme has created nearly 45,000 days of temporary employment in less than three months.


Overall, as outlined in Our Common Agenda, we need to re-envision how we approach multilateralism if we are going to succeed in overcoming the challenges we face as humanity.


This is why platforms like the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (IDPS) that bring together key actors in peacebuilding and state-building, are so critical. In an age of increasing polarization, IDPS offers a unique forum for open political dialogue and action which brings together countries affected by conflict and fragility, development partners and civil society organizations. As its newly appointed Secretariat, UNDP looks forward to contributing to the efforts of the IDPS constituency to ensure that our engagement on conflict and fragility, and our support in conflict settings is effective, inclusive and sustainable.


A renewed commitment to peace


The 2022 International Day of Peace comes with the clarity of realization that past ways of working and the international mechanisms we have agreed on are not enough to stem the growing tide of polarization and conflict.


The challenges we face are immense, complex and interconnected, but they are well understood, and the solutions are becoming clearer.


As the UN’s New Agenda for Peace suggests, it is time to re-evaluate the old and the new, the risks and challenges and look at how the international community can work together to change the approaches that are not delivering results and move forward with a vision and renewed commitment to the principles of the United Nations and the Sustainable Development Goals.


Source: UN Development Programme