The Humanitarian-Development Divide: Addressing the "New Normal" of Protracted Displacement

For refugees and internally displaced people, business-as-usual is no longer working. The “new normal” of displacement means that development and humanitarian actors urgently need to adapt their approach.

Record numbers of people are forcibly displaced worldwide over longer periods of time, fewer refugees are living in settled camps, and funding shortfalls are reaching all-time highs. The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in May 2016 made important strides in highlighting ways to bridge the humanitarian-development divide. The summit’s outcomes, outlined in the Grand Bargain, reflect agreement on the need for humanitarian and development actors to commit to collective outcomes, identify each sector’s comparative advantages, and work over multi-year timeframes. But there are still large gaps between these high-level principles and actions on the ground.

These gaps are the impetus for a new CGD study group, convened in collaboration with the International Rescue Committee and co-chaired by Cindy Huang and Nazanin Ash. The group, launched in late August, brings together experts and current and former officials from governments, UN agencies, NGOs, and academia to explore what effective partnerships between host governments and development and humanitarian actors might look like. We are guided by a vision of displaced people having meaningful opportunities to not only survive, but thrive—including opportunities for education and legal work—in the context of policies and programs that also promote long-term growth and stability benefitting host communities and countries.

We hope to complement the many important efforts seeking solutions to these short- and long-term challenges by focusing on three critical opportunities.

The Global Policy Opportunity

Key stakeholders—including donor agencies, host governments, and implementing organizations—have expressed a commitment to grapple with these issues, and now is the time to offer concrete ideas to shape their policies and strategies.

For example, world leaders will issue a call for a global compact on refugees at the September 19 UN General Assembly’s high-level summit for refugees and migrants. The compact is expected to be adopted in 2018, with negotiations taking place over the next two years. This compact could have significant implications for system reform, and the study group aims to add value to these negotiations and related efforts by assessing essential questions such as: What types of evidence, innovation, and policy structures are needed to ensure refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) have the support they need to thrive? Who needs to be at the table for these discussions to ensure rhetoric translates into action?

The Critical Need to Address Education and Employment

The study group will focus on education and employment for displaced populations, particularly on improving access to quality schooling and legal work opportunities. Both sectors have emerged in the global discourse as areas of significant need, and as with tremendous scope to enable displaced populations and host communities to achieve self-reliance.

It is also timely to conduct a deep dive into these areas as new funding mechanisms, which were announced at this year’s WHS, are launched. The Education Cannot Wait fund seeks to provide quality education to children and youth in emergencies. And the World Bank has proposed a new Global Crisis Response Platform, along with a specific refugee fund within IDA, to better meet the needs of displaced populations and their host communities, which includes—but is not limited to—improved access to jobs and other livelihood opportunities.

In the coming months, we’ll be working on concrete policy recommendations as the design, structure, and financing modalities of these new facilities take shape.

Win-Win Deals for the International Community

A launching point for the study group’s work is the need to negotiate win-win deals that support displaced populations and their host communities, as Jim Kim and David Miliband discussed at a CGD event in May. As the study group process gets underway, we’re starting to lay out initial questions and ideas on how best to achieve such deals.

What basic policy considerations should be incorporated into new and existing country “compacts” to incentivize sustainable solutions, outcomes-driven partnerships and programs, cost-effectiveness, transparency and accountability for results? In the context of addressing the needs of displaced populations, what policy changes should be required before a compact is signed and during its implementation? How can actors encourage evidence-based approaches and prioritize innovation-to-scale models? How should compact models be tailored to different contexts and financial needs? Meeting the needs of the over 1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon (who represent close to a quarter of the country’s population) and 44,000 IDPs in Sri Lanka will require tailored approaches, but the underlying principles of related to the focus on outcomes, evidence, best use of resources and accountability should remain.

Addressing these issues won’t be easy, but there is tremendous opportunity to influence the way forward. Stay tuned over the coming months as we draw on our expert group to develop concrete ideas and policy recommendations.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.