Peacebuilding is a bargain versus the costs of war

A man flees with his belongings as fire engulfs a vehicle and building following artillery fire on the 30th day on the invasion of the Ukraine by Russian forces in the northeastern city of Kharkiv. Picture: Aris Messinis/AFP

A man flees with his belongings as fire engulfs a vehicle and building following artillery fire on the 30th day on the invasion of the Ukraine by Russian forces in the northeastern city of Kharkiv. Picture: Aris Messinis/AFP

Published Apr 2, 2022


By António Guterres

We are facing the highest number of violent conflicts since 1945. From Yemen to Syria, Myanmar and Sudan.

From Haiti to the Sahel and on and on. And now the war in Ukraine – a catastrophe shaking the foundations of the international order, spilling across borders and causing rocketing food, fuel and fertiliser prices that spell disaster for developing countries. Resources are being diverted away from badly needed support to address the sharp increases in hunger and poverty resulting from Covid-19.

Around the world, we are seeing coups and seizures of power by force. A perilous sense of impunity is taking hold. On the other hand, nuclear arsenals are growing. Human rights and international law are under assault.

The spirit and letter of the UN Charter are being flouted. Criminal and terrorist networks are fuelling – and profiting from – divisions and conflicts. The poorest and most vulnerable pay the highest price. One quarter of humanity lives in conflict-affected areas – 2 billion people.

Last year, 84 million were forcibly displaced because of conflict, violence and human rights violations. And this year, we estimate that at least 274 million will need humanitarian assistance.

The report under discussion is a call to ensure that our peacebuilding architecture is fit-for-purpose in this rapidly changing environment. This is in line with my proposed New Agenda for Peace. The report contains a number of examples in which the UN is working to advance peace and prevent conflict.

From Ivory Coast, where we worked with communities to ease tensions following the 2020 presidential election, and created conditions for an inclusive political dialogue – one that included the voices of women and young people. To Iraq, where our Cooperation Framework supported the country’s Covid-19 response, and programming around social cohesion, protection and inclusion.

To our regional and cross-border approaches. This includes the Comprehensive Development Plan supporting peace in Central America. And it includes our efforts in the Great Lakes region, where my special envoy has worked with partners like the AU to deliver a comprehensive disarmament, demobilisation, repatriation and reintegration programme. We can also point to the efforts to support the peace process in Papua New Guinea, Colombia and the Central Africa Republic.

And how our Resident Co-ordinators and Country Teams are working closely together in the field, from Haiti to Myanmar to Yemen. Peacebuilding works – it is a proven investment. We’ve developed mechanisms to expand and grow the resources required to deliver. And we’re making progress.

The Peacebuilding Fund has been steadily growing – investing $195 million (about R3 billion) last year. The fund remains dependent on voluntary contributions from a small number of donors.

Meanwhile, the needs far outpace resources. Despite larger contributions, the fund has been forced to scale back allocation targets over the last three years. That’s why financing is a primary focus of the new report – and the defining issue of next month’s highlevel meeting at the General Assembly.

That’s why I presented a separate report to the fifth committee on a proposal for an annual $100m in assessed contributions for the Peacebuilding Fund. I would like to highlight three areas where I encourage member states to maintain a strong focus.

First, I urge member states to implement the financing recommendations included in my report. This includes ensuring adequate, predictable and sustainable financing for peacebuilding, especially for peacekeeping operations.

We also need urgent investments in all the tools of prevention, including stronger early-warning systems, mediation capacities, and strategic data and analytics to address hate speech, and detect and avoid looming crises.

We also urge member states to work with the UN system to support flexible funding for local peacebuilding programming, especially for women and young people. And we repeat our call for member states to devote at least 20% of their Official Development Assistance to peacebuilding in conflict settings.

Second, to support these critical investments, I encourage member states to come to April’s high-level meeting with concrete solutions. We also need to see commitments by member states for assessed contributions for peacebuilding.

Assessed contributions offer the predictable and sustainable base that we need to deliver results over the long-term. Third, we need member states, the UN system, and all partners to do far more to join-up to our humanitarian, peace and development efforts.

The report calls for a renewed push to ensure that all societies are focused on accelerating progress towards the sustainable development goals. This means urgent investments in universal health coverage, in social protection, in education and job-creation.

It means working to end inequalities that deny entire groups of people access to civic and economic life and the levers of decision-making. It means balancing the scales of power and participation equally for women – including as peacebuilders.

It means accelerated action to combat climate change, and helping developing countries make the transition to green economies. And transforming our commitment to human rights from words to practice in every context.

Over the last decade, the world has spent $349bn on peacekeeping, humanitarian relief and refugee support. And global military expenditures rose to nearly $2 trillion in 2020. But let’s not forget that war’s greatest cost is its human toll.

Countless innocent lives lost over the decades. People wounded and maimed by the fighting. Lost generation after lost generation of children whose education and development have been cruelly snatched away.

Refugees and internally displaced people forced to flee their homes. Schools, hospitals, playgrounds, homes and entire neighbourhoods levelled. When we consider the costs of war – to the global economy but most of all to humanity’s very soul – peacebuilding is a bargain, and a prerequisite for development and a better future for all.

* This is an edited version of Guterres statement to the Peacebuilding Commission on the Report on Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace

* António Guterres is the United Nations Secretary-General