Taking action in situations of fragility,
crisis and violence

“Take action as early as possible on the vulnerabilities which constitute a breeding ground for crises”

Syrian refugees by Ben White, CAFOD, Creative Commons

Olivier Ray, Head of the Crisis Prevention and Post-Conflict Recovery team, explains to us how development assistance can, and must, take action on vulnerabilities in order to make a country more resilient to natural disasters, armed conflicts or pandemics. Photo © Ben White/ CAFOD, Creative Commons.

In what way is the World Humanitarian Summit, which was held in Istanbul on 23 and 24 May 2016, important?

There is a pressing need to update our software and adapt our organizational methods in order to cope with the development of crises.
This is precisely what was at stake with this summit on humanitarian action. The UN Secretary-General who has convened it wants to give impetus to a series of concrete actions so that we can be better prepared for crises, provide a more effective response to them when they occur and, especially, make societies more resilient to shocks – whether they are caused by natural disasters (like the recent earthquake in Ecuador), pandemics (Ebola) or armed conflicts (Daesh).
The Summit based its reflection on a critical issue: the victims of crises must not be treated like passive recipients of assistance, but be supported in overcoming the shocks they face so that they become actors in their own recovery. 

Why is AFD concerned by this summit, whereas it is not a priori concerned by humanitarian action?


Professionals in humanitarian action and development assistance now share the conviction that for their actions to be effective, it is necessary to mobilize their complementary expertise to support local partners.
This is especially important because there are a growing number of chronic crises, which go on for several decades, as in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti or Afghanistan. It is neither possible nor desirable for international humanitarian aid to indefinitely take charge of the health, education and housing needs of these populations. Development finance must be able to take over to help local civil society and public authorities meet these needs in a more sustainable manner.
We now know the exorbitant cost of environmental and health disasters or conflicts – which have an impact on generations. One of the important messages of the Summit is that it is essential to take action as early as possible on these vulnerabilities which constitute a breeding ground for crises.

How can we take action? The challenges seem huge and insurmountable…

By investing in strengthening health systems, development assistance can reduce a country’s vulnerability to pandemics.
For example, in Asia, West Africa and the Indian Ocean, AFD is financing epidemiological surveillance systems which allow countries in a region to detect epidemics as soon as they break out in order to rapidly trigger appropriate responses. It is also financing activities to strengthen public health systems in several African countries. It is long-term action, which is scarcely visible to the general public, yet essential in avoiding the increase in health crises. 
By supporting the development of agricultural practices towards more productive, more resilient agriculture which uses fewer natural resources, aid can reduce the exposure of a country to the impacts of climate change.
By building the capacities of its institutions to peacefully manage conflicts, or by reducing certain weaknesses which fuel them, aid can also have an impact on a society’s vulnerability to violence.
For example, AFD is financing projects to manage tensions between host and refugee populations in Lebanon, or projects to manage tensions between herders and farmers in the Sahel region. In Northern Cameroon, which has been weakened by the Boko Haram attacks, it is financing highly labor-intensive construction sites to give employment and training opportunities to young people who are the target of recruitment by the sect.
AFD’s financing will not, of course, single-handedly be able to meet the challenges. It is for this reason that in these contexts, it sets the principle of systematically working in partnership through multi-stakeholder coalitions.

 Interview with Olivier Ray (in French)


 AFD is faced with crisis situations in many of the countries where it operates. This term covers various issues:

  • Countries in armed conflict or recently emerged from conflict;
  • Countries facing a natural disaster or sudden health crisis – such as the Ebola epidemic;
  • Failing States, which are struggling to perform the vital missions of public authority;
  • Societies that are divided, unstable or marked by pockets of instability and violence.


In these situations, as elsewhere, AFD’s mandate is to assist the process of economic and social development or contribute to creating the basis for its emergence. To achieve this, its must tailor its intervention methods to the specificities of these contexts.

Medical consultation, Bangui, Central African Republic.
© Pierre Terdjman

It is for this reason that, at the request of its line ministries and in close consultation with the other relevant French and European actors, AFD has adopted a specific approach for its operations in situations of crisis, post-crisis or extreme fragility of States and societies. This framework for action was approved by its Board in 2013 and sets out four main orientations.


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Last update in May 2017

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