The Humanitarian-Development Nexus: Opportunities for Canadian Leadership


Kevin Dunbar, CARE Canada & James Milner, Carleton University

[RRN/CRS Policy Brief Submitted to the Government of Canada, December 2, 2016]

Executive Summary

A prominent feature of recent global policy discussions has been the need to promote closer collaboration between humanitarian and development programming. In adopting the 2016 New York Declaration, states agreed to create greater linkages between humanitarian and development programming to reduce the gap in humanitarian funding, reduce refugees’ reliance on international assistance, and mitigate the impact of large refugee movements on host communities. Such approaches are not new, however, and were a prominent feature of responses to refugees in Africa since the 1960s. The evolution of this area of policy and practice holds important lessons for current discussions, including the centrality of solutions for refugees, the need to uphold refugee rights, and the features of past responses that have maximized the benefits of more integrated responses between humanitarian and development actors. Canada’s ability to lead in this area will be enhanced if it adopts predictable, multi-year humanitarian financing that includes tolerance for risk and supports innovation, and that supports resilience and capacity building, along with a more prominent emphasis on the role of local, women-led civil society groups in the planning and delivery of humanitarian assistance programs.


  1. Future discussions on the humanitarian-development nexus should be informed by an understanding of the conditions that have historically allowed refugees to contribute to local economies.
  2. Future discussions on employing the zonal development approach to hosting refugees should include safeguards for the rights of refugees, including freedom of movement.
  3. Future discussions on the humanitarian-development nexus should include a more rigorous understanding of the benefits of similar approaches in contemporary cases, along with an understanding of the factors that explain the support for such initiatives by host states.
  4. The drafting of a Global Compact on Refugees by 2018 should be informed by a more detailed understanding of historical and contemporary examples of the humanitarian-development nexus and practical examples of innovation and change.
  5. The ultimate objective of closer links between development and humanitarian approaches should be the leveraging of solutions for refugees.
  6. To reinforce the benefits of the humanitarian-development nexus, Canada should move to predictable, multi-year humanitarian financing that includes tolerance for risk and supports innovation.
  7. Canada should adopt humanitarian assistance mechanisms capable of supporting immediate responses in emergencies, as well as longer-term resilience programming, while ensuring organizations are able to pivot between activities as the operating context evolves.
  8. Canada, in partnership with INGOs, should promote capacity building for civil society in host states and partnerships as a separate, critical component of humanitarian programs and outputs.
  9. Canada should increase its prioritization of humanitarian programming that is designed in consultation with women and girls, and work in partnership with local, women-led civil society groups. This should include a strict requirement that all humanitarian response programs it supports be underpinned by strong gender analysis and assessed against the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Gender Marker tool.
The full policy brief can be downloaded HERE.

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