Address of the UN Resident Coordinator at the 17th Annual Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development (DIHAD) Conference

The UN Resident Coordinator, Ms Nathalie Ndongo-Seh, addresses the 17th annual DIHAD Conference on; 'Africa: the Impact of Conflict and Humanitarian Crises'.

Director of DIHAD, Ambassador Gerhard Putman-Cramer,

Representatives of Member States,

Esteemed Chair of this panel, Mr. Patrick Youssef, and esteemed panellists,

Ladies and gentlemen,

All protocols observed.


It is with utmost humility that I address you today on the topic: ‘Africa: impact of conflicts and humanitarian crises’. Indeed, it is a privilege to do so in this distinguished platform of the 17th Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development Conference. I thank you for your invitation and deeply regret not being able to join you in-person: travel restrictions as a result of COVID-19 are a sign of the times we are living in. I am grateful to join you online.

As the world continues to fight a war against the deadly coronavirus pandemic which knows no boundaries and “does not care about nationality or ethnicity, faction or faith”, “armed conflict continues to rage around the world, as stressed by the UN Secretary-General, Mr António Guterres.

In 2019, Africa registered more than 21,600 incidents of armed conflict: an extraordinary increase of 36 percent from the prior year. The continent has witnessed an intensification of violence in Central Africa, the Sahel, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Horn of Africa, the Lake Chad region and Mozambique. Today, there are 13 UN peacekeeping operations worldwide; of which, six are in Africa. There are also countless humanitarian missions on the continent to address the devastating impact of conflict and armed violence, as well as global pandemics and natural disasters.

Conflicts on the continent are rooted in complex historical and socio-economic factors, in the devastating legacies of authoritarian regimes including the mismanagement of natural resources, in discriminatory policies, international pressures, and in local obstacles, to name a few. In turn, they are exemplified in poverty; famine; mass displacement of persons, the destruction of livelihoods; weak institutions; the dysfunction of basic health, education and other social services; gross human rights violations, rape and forced enrollment of child soldiers; ethnic marginalization; small arms and light weapon proliferation; corruption, and so on.

As conflicts and armed violence are diminishing and shifting resources away from development and social spending, they deprive generations of opportunities, perpetuate hunger and poverty, and put pressure on humanitarian organisations to address the needs of the affected populations where the state is unwilling or unable to meet those needs.

Humanitarian needs are rising exponentially due to conflict across the continent with more than 8.3 million internally displaced persons and 4.6 million refugees in the East African region. In Southern Africa, the climate crisis and socio-economic impact of COVID-19 have deepened the many existing vulnerabilities: as a result, severe food insecurity is affecting an incredible 15.9 million people; an increase in nearly four (4) million from 2019.

In 2020, conflict in northern Mozambique has led to the region’s first major displacement crisis in more than a decade. Mozambique ranks tenth in countries most vulnerable to disaster risks; the devastations of which are compounded by the rising violence in the country.

Conflict has substantial effects on a nation’s public finances, limiting governments’ ability to respond in an effective manner to people’s needs and, in turn, aggravating economic and social costs, and further threatening social cohesion and political stability.

I wish to illustrate the human, economic and development costs of conflicts with the following 2 examples on the continent.

First: South Sudan. In 2011, the country became independent as an oil State, but in the short years following its independence, it suffered total economic collapse due to the brutal conflict since 2013 - 2015 which devastated the lives of the majority of the South Sudanese people. It has killed tens of thousands, and placed nearly a third of the population at risk of famine.

The costs of conflict have been substantial in South Sudan:

  • In 2015, it was estimated that, if the conflict would continue for 1 to 5 years, it would cost South Sudan between US$22.3 billion and $28 billion. Conflict’s effects, as measured over 20 years, could establish a far greater loss between $122 billion and $158 billion.
  • Additionally, South Sudan’s spending on security could increase by a further $2.2 billion, should the conflict last for another 5 years.
  • It is further estimated that 5 countries– Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda – could save up to $53 billion if the conflict were resolved within 1 year, rather than allowed to last for 5 years.

2ND example:  DRC

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the second-largest country in Africa, has been mired in conflict for decades. A country of paradoxes, it is a land rich in natural resources, but its people are among the poorest in the world.

While the DRC has vast amounts of oil, diamonds, gold, and other natural resources, 64% of the population is considered extremely poor and lives on less than $1.90 a day, according to World Bank estimates (2018).

The country is fraught with political instability, armed clashes, and human rights violations. Nationally, 2.1 million people were newly displaced in 2017 and 2018, making the DRC the African country with the highest number of internally displaced people — 4.5 million. About 13 million people lack adequate food, including more than 1.3 million children under 5 affected by severe acute malnutrition.

The UN estimates that psychosocial needs, education and nutrition are especially ill funded. OCHA estimates that only 8 per cent have received the help they need.

Humanitarian organisations and actors play a critical role in addressing the increasing needs and vulnerabilities of the African people during conflicts, disasters and pandemics such as Ebola or COVID-19.

Reality on the ground demonstrates that, increasingly, across the continent, security forces and armed groups gain control of resources intended for civilians, either through theft or imposing levies. Lootings by armed groups have also targeted humanitarian actors. As a result, humanitarian organizations have often relocated their employees or reduced their presence; have not been able to reach areas and evaluate humanitarian needs, thus affecting their response capacity significantly.

Sustainable development and durable solutions to humanitarian relief are not possible without peace. It is critical to recognise the humanitarian/development/peace nexus, which focuses on the work needed to coherently address people’s vulnerability before, during and after crises.

Achieving the right mix of humanitarian, development and peace approaches is critical. This involves rethinking finance mechanisms, ways of working, the expertise needed, and a more deliberate and consistent integration of conflict sensitivity and enhancing local capacities for peace.

There should be programmes that are responsive to changes in context and enable capacity-sharing and collaboration between humanitarian, development and peace actors.

The UN and the World Bank have set up the New Way of Working (NWoW) to deliver the nexus approach. All UN agencies and many donors and multi-mandated NGOs are supportive of the approach. The broader changes to the system, and to some extent the way in which donors deliver funding, indicate that the nexus framework is more likely than previous initiatives to impact how aid is coordinated, funded and delivered. This approach is being used by a wide range of actors to stabilise the Sahel region.

With only ten years remaining to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, a sustained focus must be placed on SDG Goal 16, which seeks to: “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels by 2030.” Together, we must silence the guns.

I thank you.

Speech by
Nathalie Ndongo-Seh
Resident Coordinator
Nathalie Ndongo-Seh
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Resident Coordinator Office