European Commission - SPaN (2019) Operational Note 9: Fragility

This Operational Note is part of the Supplementary Volume of 10 Operational Notes to the Reference Document No 26 on Social Protection across the Humanitarian-Development Nexus. A Game Changer in Supporting People through Crises. It was produced as part of the ‘Guidance Package on Social Protection across the Humanitarian- Development Nexus’ (SPaN). It is the outcome of an initiative jointly led by the European Commission’s Directorate- General for International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO), Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) and Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (NEAR) with the support of DEVCO Unit 04 and the MKS programme. Numerous Commission staff members working in various Delegations of the European Union (EU) and ECHO field offices provided comments on early drafts. Further comments were received from EU Member States, United Nations agencies (such as WFP and the World Bank) and reputable Think Tanks (such as OPM) and research institutions (e.g. Witwatersrand University). As this is an emergent field of knowledge, the guidance and recommendations of the Operational Notes reflect the independent views of the authors. The contents of this publication do not necessarily reflect the official position of the European Commission. 

About this Operational Note:

The world is seeing some of the worst levels ever of violence and displacement, driven by political instability, conflict, complex emergencies, failed peace agreements and disasters. The international humanitarian system delivers assistance and protection to more people than ever. Many countries requiring assistance are affected by multiple and compounding crises, such as conflict, natural disasters and forced displacement. Between 2004 and 2014, 58 per cent of deaths from disasters occurred in countries that are amongst the world’s top 30 most fragile states. Such global trends have also led to displacement on an unprecedented scale. And crises are lasting longer: two thirds of international humanitarian assistance now goes to long-term recipients. Extreme poverty and deprivation is also increasingly concentrated in fragile and conflict-affected states. According to estimates, by 2030, more than 80 per cent of the world’s extreme poor will be living in such states. Yet less than one in five of these countries are on track to meet the SDGs.

There is increasing recognition of the need to protect the development gains achieved during stable times from being eroded by recurrent and predictable shocks and stresses. If this situation is not urgently addressed, global SDG targets will not be met. Traditional models of humanitarian and development assistance are being challenged by such trends. Frequent, complex and protracted crises are placing extreme demands on the humanitarian system. Providing short-term humanitarian support to complex, long-term challenges can compromise the impact of assistance. And traditional development-oriented social protection faces the challenge of both scaling up in fragile and conflictaffected contexts and adapting to the changing nature of shocks and vulnerabilities, in order to better complement emergency assistance. New approaches are therefore needed to better address the needs of vulnerable populations living in fragile and conflict-affected situations and help ensure they are not left behind.

Against this background, international commitments to foster greater collaboration and coherence across the humanitarian-development nexus have strengthened. Social protection and humanitarian assistance, particularly cash or food-based assistance, offer opportunities for common programming due to their prevalence, coverage, well-established impacts, including in fragile and conflict-affected situations, and the design and operational similarities between some humanitarian and social protection approaches.

This guidance note provides an overview of how to foster greater links between social protection and humanitarian assistance in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. It sets out the anticipated benefits of, and policy mandate for, this approach. It outlines an intervention framework, underlying principles, and factors that shape response options and levels of engagement. An illustrative process for operationalising the approach is set out. Links to tools and further resources are provided throughout. 

Note to reader

For updates on SPaN, readers are invited to join two specific communities of practice created to offer a direct link between learning and performance:

• The global, open online community on ‘Social protection in crisis contexts’ on, 

• The unrestricted group, mainly for EU staff members and on ‘Social Protection across the humanitariandevelopment nexus’ on capacity4dev.

These spaces are exclusively designed to collectively and progressively build the knowledge base around the nexus between social protection and humanitarian assistance. Through these groups, readers can share ideas and news, ask questions, share experience through testimonials, upload and access documents, take part in online events, expand your network and much more.

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