How The Government Is Doubling Down On Britain's Commitment To Building Peace

Preventing and ending conflicts is not only the right thing to do – it is the smart thing to do
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Our world is, sadly, less peaceful than it was a decade ago. During this time, the number of violent conflicts around the world has risen. So too has the number of deaths from these conflicts, and the number of people forced to flee their homes.

I have seen first-hand the physical and mental scars this brutal, bloody violence has left on children, women and men around the world. I have met those who have suffered unspeakable horrors inflicted by Asad’s regime in Syria and Daesh.

If the suffering and loss from violent conflict is not terrible enough, it also poses one of the greatest obstacles to ending extreme poverty – a goal which the UK is firmly committed to.

We can no longer skirt around this issue, hoping that the delivery of education, health or economic growth programmes to unstable countries will be enough to bring an end to their extreme poverty. If we want to ensure that the two billion people who live in countries affected by fragility are not left behind, then we must address conflict and instability head on and change the way we deliver aid.

Preventing and ending conflicts is not only the right thing to do – it is the smart thing to do. And it works.

Countries once engulfed in conflict, like Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Tajikistan now have boys going to schools instead of joining militias. In these countries nurses are returning to work in clinics, the jobs market is growing, and the building of roads and infrastructure is boosting trade and creating more prosperous futures.

But dealing with grievances and tensions – ideally before they become violent – is not easy, and it requires political will, persistence and patience. After World War II, the UN and its member states committed themselves to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” Yet still too many children across the world, including in Syria and Yemen, have tragically never lived a life free of conflict.

The UK’s role is clear: we will continue to stand by those desperately in need of life-saving aid, but we are also committed to promoting global stability which will in turn reduce those needing emergency assistance.

In Yemen, for example, the UK is making strenuous efforts through the UN Security Council to bring this complex conflict and devastating humanitarian crisis to an end. Equally as important, we need to think longer-term; two thirds of conflicts relapse after just five years, and we need sustained international support so that peace lasts long after the guns have gone silent.

DfID spends half of its aid in fragile states, and it’s right that we are increasingly investing in tackling the underlying causes of instability. This is part of a long-term strategy to build global peace and prosperity.

With a permanent seat on the Security Council and as its third largest donor, the UK also works extensively to tackle conflict through the UN. One of the most important tools available to the UN and member states is the Peacebuilding Fund – the Secretary General’s only dedicated fund that supports high-risk, rapid action to prevent or resolve conflict.

Its work is preventing the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Burma. In Mali it has dramatically improved access to justice for the victims of gender based violence. In Kyrgyzstan it has increased trust among communities and almost completely eliminated inter-ethnic violence in areas where it has been active. Its excellent work has inspired others. It is estimated that for every $1 the fund spends, $7 is leveraged in as a result from other governments and organisations to support the wider peacebuilding mission. The UK was at the heart of the creation of this important fund.

Today I am announcing that the UK will double its contribution to the fund from £16million to £32million between now and 2020. Why? Because we know all too well that prevention is better than the cure.

We should be very clear that our contribution to this fund is benefitting the UK as well. The fall-out from conflict in nations thousands of miles away eventually reaches our shores, whether in the form of refugees, terrorism, infectious diseases or organised crime.

Endlessly responding to violent crises with emergency aid is not a long-term sustainable response. As it stands, by 2030 the cost of humanitarian assistance is likely to more than double to $50billion.

The heart-wrenching images of suffering and pain that emerge from conflicts around the world can easily leave us feeling hopeless. But we can and have made progress by working to empower those on the side of peace. By stepping up our contribution to this fund today, we are clearly showing our commitment to this absolutely essential work.

Alistair Burt is the Minister for the Middle East and Conservative MP for North East Bedfordshire


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