Image by World Bank / Vincent Tremeau
  • Blog
  • 8 April 2020

Looking at the coronavirus crisis through the nexus lens – what needs to be done

Sarah Dalrymple puts forward actions that humanitarian, development and peace actors can take to apply the nexus approach to the devastating COVID-19 pandemic and thereby help mitigate its impact

Written by Sarah Dalrymple

Senior Policy & Engagement Advisor/Crisis & Humanitarian Co-Lead (Maternity leave)

The unfolding coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will have a devastating impact on the world’s poorest, fragile and crisis-affected countries. Their limited basic healthcare capacity and narrow geographical reach of central governments will mean this crisis will exacerbate existing crises, reverse development gains and increase levels of global poverty (as the number of people in extreme poverty is expected to rise by 22 million in a worst case scenario), with areas experiencing active conflict and protracted refugee situations at particular risk.

An effective response to a global health crisis of this nature – which straddles the priorities of humanitarian, development and peacebuilding actors – demands a joined-up or ‘nexus’ response, which brings these actors together. It is clear from other health emergencies, such as the Ebola outbreak in DRC, that underlying instability and underdevelopment both worsen the impact of such emergencies but also hamper recovery and undermine future disease control. Short-term humanitarian responses alone will not address the longer-term implications of COVID-19 on people’s livelihoods and the need for ongoing support to national health systems, which will require coordination with (and, where possible, leadership from) national and local authorities.

Taking a nexus approach to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic is imperative for responding effectively to this crisis and protecting those who are most vulnerable. Here are three things that need to be done to put this approach into practice:

1. Establish joined-up assessments, planning, programming and results frameworks at the country level to respond to COVID-19

The starting point for a nexus approach should always be complementarity (as a minimum) and (ideally) joined-up assessments and planning at the country level – both within and between agencies and donors. Mechanisms for coordinating such an approach to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic are already beginning to emerge at the country level – in Cameroon for example, led by the UN in coordination with the government – but need to be adopted more widely.

Experiences from DI’s ongoing research on the nexus at the country level, reinforced in the World Health Organizations' (WHO’s) new COVID-19 Operational Planning Guidelines, suggests that establishing strong coordination mechanisms and a division of responsibility between existing in-country humanitarian, development and peace actors, and (where appropriate) leadership from national governments, will be vital.

Humanitarian, development and peacebuilding actors should come together to jointly assess the likely impacts of COVID-19 on social, economic and conflict dynamics and build in opportunities to regularly review these. A key part of this will be identifying outcome-level indicators on risk, resilience, peace and recovery and a shared vision of success. To effectively operationalise a joined-up approach, it will also be important to ensure the right mix of staff across the nexus or specialised ‘nexus experts’ are in place in all phases of the crisis (including post-crisis).

When selecting and prioritising specific programming approaches for responding to the impacts of COVID-19, identifying where to adapt or scale-up existing programmes before filling gaps will be an important first step. It will also be crucial that humanitarian, development and peacebuilding programmes are delivered in parallel. Examples of how this could be achieved include: addressing the risk of a lasting COVID-19 crisis and future pandemics by increasing resilience; building peace dividends in areas at risk of new or intensified conflict as a result of COVID-19 alongside delivering humanitarian assistance; and laying the foundations for longer-term recovery and development through humanitarian action and cash-based programming. Taking this approach would expand the current focus of country responses (as captured in the new WHO guidelines) beyond preparedness and immediate response.

2. Deliver more and better funding by looking through a nexus lens

Coordinated planning and programming can only go so far on its own. Adequate resources and appropriate financial mechanisms are needed to ensure actors can meet needs and flex in response to the emerging health crisis.

Simplify and make flexible existing humanitarian funding arrangements to make the most of limited resources

With humanitarian appeals already underfunded globally, there is an imperative not to divert funds away from existing priorities, as outlined in the recently launched Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19. Therefore, humanitarian funding to the COVID-19 crisis is likely to be a very small proportion of official development assistance (ODA). Given this, it is critical that existing humanitarian funding arrangements are simplified and sufficiently flexible to respond to changing and emerging needs.

Understand the important role that developmental ODA can play

Developmental ODA, comprising much larger volumes, could play an important role in responding to the pandemic. But for this to be realised, existing development programmes must be flexible, enabling funds to be reallocated and topped-up as necessary. Donors will now need to review existing funding and partnership agreements to identify ways to strengthen provisions for multilateral organisations and NGO partners to adapt planned activities in response to the pandemic. A high degree of budget flexibility and in-built programme contingency financing mechanisms are key ways of doing this – and preferable to establishing stand-alone COVID-19 funding mechanisms at the country level, which would only silo the pandemic response.

Directly support local and national actors in leading the response

Lessons from the response to the Ebola crisis in 2014 highlighted the vital role of local actors in leading the response. Donors and partners will need to urgently identify ways to directly support local and national actors who are closer to and can respond more flexibility, through for example scaling up existing country-level pooled funds and strengthening their accessibility to local actors. And this of course will require donors to find new ways of managing associated risks of funding through local partners in these unprecedented circumstances.

Embrace innovative financing mechanisms to enable a nexus approach

Because grant funding is often slow and short-term in nature and likely to be much smaller than what is available outside of the aid sector, there is potential for innovative financing mechanisms to play an important role in enabling a nexus approach to the pandemic. For example, insurance-based mechanisms (which transfers the risk to the private sector) and blended finance (which uses public finance to mobilise private investments) could support country governments in crisis contexts to take a longer-term development approach to rising needs. Several new financing modalities are being announced, including a US$3 billion COVID-19 social bond from the African Development Bank, and the World Bank’s US$14 billion COVID-19 response plan which will complement its existing insurance-based Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility by supporting national systems for public health preparedness through loans. It will take time for the impact of emerging grant-based and innovative financing mechanisms to be realised; but understanding how effective they are could inform the global response to future pandemics through a nexus lens.

3. Take a long-term and holistic approach to coordinating response to crises, now and in the future

Governments and global institutions were largely caught off-guard by the reality and scale of impact of COVID-19. This has demonstrated the need for stronger planning and pre-arranged flexible financing to be in place, to address the prolonged impact of both this pandemic and any future ones. Coordination is fundamental to achieving this, not only in the aid sector through a nexus approach, but more broadly through a joined-up inter-governmental and response. Pandemics, like COVID-19, do not respect borders and cannot be addressed in isolation.