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  • Report
  • 5 December 2019

Donors at the triple nexus: lessons from the United Kingdom: Chapter 1



Working across the ‘triple nexus’ (humanitarian, development and peace: see box 1) to build synergies between short-term humanitarian assistance and longer-term development and peacebuilding approaches is crucial for addressing the immediate and longer-term livelihood needs of vulnerable and crisis-affected people. This is especially relevant in protracted crises where humanitarian, development and peace agendas come together, and is a precondition for aid effectiveness.

This argument has long been understood – emerging from older concepts such as Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development and transition financing – and reflected in the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) commitments to ‘leave no one behind’. The nexus has since been the subject of renewed policy focus with the New Way of Working and the establishment of the UN Joint Steering Committee to test approaches for achieving ‘collective outcomes’[1] across the humanitarian and development sectors. This ‘dual nexus’ emerged from the World Humanitarian Summit (2016) as a core aspect of the Agenda for Humanity. Building on this, the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) recommendation on the Humanitarian–Development–Peace (HDP) Nexus agreed in February 2019 provides a set of working principles for DAC donors on the nexus, cementing donor commitments on this agenda and adding the peace component to form a more transformational triple nexus. The report of the UN Secretary-General in May 2019 on peacebuilding and sustaining peace also helped make the case for the inclusion of peace within the triple nexus, and the integration of a peace lens into development work.[2] The DAC defines the triple nexus as “interlinkages between humanitarian, development and peace actions” with the aim of “strengthening collaboration, coherence and complementarity”.[3]

Achieving collaboration, coherence and complementarity can mean different things to different actors. We understand the three ambitions to sit on a spectrum from complementarity to coherence, with complementarity being the minimum requirement for approaching the nexus. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the nexus can fundamentally challenge existing divisions between humanitarian, development and peace systems, encouraging stronger coherence and working towards shared outcomes. We also understand that there are three dual nexuses within the ‘triple nexus’: the well-established humanitarian–development nexus; the humanitarian–peace nexus, which is less developed; and the development–peace nexus, which is an emerging priority for the UK in line with the 2015 Aid Strategy.

Financing is a central aspect of the nexus approach, not just in terms of funding responses but also for incentivising joined-up working across all aspects of the programming cycle. Donors clearly play a vital role in testing and developing innovative approaches to operationalise and finance the nexus, yet most donors are in the initial stages of implementing nexus policy in terms of how they work, both internally and externally.

All donors face similar questions at strategic, principled and practical levels – situated in the political context of their aid agenda. Strategically, what scale of ambition to aim for in the spectrum from complementarity to coherence; to what extent is the focus on system transformation as well as internal change? In terms of principles, how to maintain neutral and impartial humanitarian action while pursuing peace and development priorities? And practically how to balance top-down approaches with contextually-tailored initiatives and how to progress new approaches in crises, but also maintain momentum of development efforts?; And ultimately, they all face the same central questions: what’s possible within their structures and resources, and what works for affected people?

This report is part of a series of studies which aims to document and share current donor practice at the nexus, with a view to informing practical global learning and dialogue. Drawing on the findings of two reports which take a detailed look at the experiences of the UK and Sweden, the series draws out key lessons, practical examples and questions of wider relevance to donors.

This report provides an overview of key learning drawn from the experiences of the UK as a major donor demonstrating leadership on the nexus. At the latest count, the UK was the third-largest government donor of ODA in 2017 and the third-largest DAC donor of humanitarian assistance in 2018.[4] This report is structured around three key pillars: (1) how policy and strategy have created conditions for delivering on the nexus; (2) how the approach taken at different stages of the programming cycle has enabled or hindered the nexus in practice; and (3) how operational structures and systems lay the foundations for risk, resilience and peace. Key lessons are highlighted throughout the report.

Our research has primarily focused on the efforts of the UK Department for International Development (DFID) on the ‘triple nexus’ but also covers DFID’s involvement in cross-government processes and initiatives relevant to the nexus, especially the peace aspect and the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF). Given the increased role of non-DFID government departments in spending ODA (as a result of the 2015 Aid Strategy), we recognise the importance of understanding cross-government efforts on this agenda. The research has explicitly focused on the UK’s approach to the nexus within the remit of ODA spend, while recognising that non-ODA resource flows also play a key role.

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Box 1

A note on terminology

This report uses ‘nexus’ as a shorthand term to refer to the connections between humanitarian, development and peacebuilding approaches. It aligns with the definition in the OECD DAC recommendation:

Nexus approach refers to the aim of strengthening collaboration, coherence and complementarity. The approach seeks to capitalise on the comparative advantages of each pillar – to the extent of their relevance in the specific context – in order to reduce overall vulnerability and the number of unmet needs, strengthen risk management capacities and address root causes of conflict.

In referring to resilience, we align with the OECD DAC definition:

The ability of households, communities, and nations to absorb and recover from shocks, while positively adapting and transforming their structures and means for living in the face of long-term stresses, change and uncertainty. Resilience is about addressing the root causes of crises while strengthening the capacities and resources of a system in order to cope with risks, stresses and shocks.

We are clear that working ‘at the nexus’ to make these connections is not an end in itself but a means of addressing and reducing people’s unmet needs, risks and vulnerabilities, increasing their resilience, addressing the root causes of conflict and building peace. However, as noted in recent research on financing the nexus at the country level, the scope and ambitions of the nexus are not yet clear.[5] Whether the ambitions of the nexus are to work on technical issues within humanitarian and development programming of limited scale and impact, or to address more fundamental challenges in terms of engaging with the political economy, requires further clarification.


  • 1
    As yet, there is no international consensus on the definition of ‘collective outcomes’. For the purpose of this research and drawing upon the ‘key elements’ articulated by the IASC Task Team on the Humanitarian–Development Nexus, a ‘collective outcome’ is understood to refer to a jointly envisioned outcome which has the aim of addressing vulnerabilities and risks and requires the combined efforts of humanitarian, development and peace actors, among others.
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  • 5
    Poole, L. and Culbert, V., 2019. Financing the nexus: gaps and opportunities from a field perspective Geneva: FAO; UNDP; NRC
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