Definitions & Conceptual Issues

Last Updated: April 9, 2009

This section explores the concepts used by practitioners, scholars, and international organizations to address issues of economic recovery in post-conflict contexts. The concepts are considered within conceptual debates about the relief to development continuum, as well as within the context of stabilization and peace consolidation. Concepts that seek to define and measure national production and human welfare are touched upon, as they underlie and inform economic recovery choices and have important implications for peacebuilding. Further discussion of the institutional use of economic recovery-related concepts can be found in the "Actors" and "Activities" sections.

Economic recovery

Economic recovery at its core focuses on closing the gap between relief and development in a post-conflict setting. Central to understanding economic recovery is the recognition that, first, its challenges are unique to each country and, second, the post-conflict economy is not simply a "normal" economy in distress.1 While conditions manifest differently in different contexts, violent conflict often leaves behind substantial loss of livelihoods, loss of employment and incomes, debilitated infrastructure, collapse of institutions and rule of law, continuing insecurity, and fractured social networks. There is often an increase in subsistence agriculture and informal economic activities, and post-conflict countries "face serious macroeconomic problems including massive unemployment, moderate to high inflation, chronic fiscal deficits, high levels of external and domestic debt and low domestic revenues."2

Economic recovery can be viewed from several perspectives. At the most narrow economic viewpoint, recovery is defined as "a return to the highest level of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita attained during the five years preceding the conflict."3 However, this measurement has limitations, as pre-conflict growth rates may have been very low or negative. Therefore, countries would want to exceed this marker, rather than return to old levels of economic development. In addition, the idea of human development is not considered in this perspective, nor are the complexities of the post-war economy.

Efforts to conceptualize economic recovery as "re-creating" a viable economy after prolonged conflict,4"restoring basic capacities,"5 have given way to recognition that in many cases it is not desirable to go back to what was there before. It often is preferable to completely transform the economy. A new United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report titled Sustaining Post-conflict Economic Recovery: Lessons and Challenges is premised on this recognition.

Economic Recovery

"Terms such as 'recovery', 'reconstruction', and 'rebuilding' might suggest a return to the status quo before the conflict. Typically, however, developmental pathologies such as extreme inequality, poverty, corruption, exclusion, institutional decay, poor policy design and economic mismanagement will have contributed to armed conflicts in the first instance and will have been further exacerbated during conflict. Accordingly, post-conflict recovery is often not about restoring pre-war economic or institutional arrangements; rather, it is about creating a new political economy dispensation. It is not about simply building back, but about building back differently and better. As such, economic recovery . . . is essentially transformative, requiring a mix of far-reaching economic, institutional, legal and policy reforms that allow war-torn countries to re-establish the foundations for self-sustaining development."

Source: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Crisis Prevention and Recovery Report 2008: Post-Conflict Economic Recovery: Enabling Local Ingenuity. New York: UNDP, October 2008, 5.

Economic recovery recognizes the limitations and challenges of the post-conflict economy and seeks to transform these conditions through economic, institutional, legal, and policy reform to build the foundation necessary for long-term development.6 In addressing the reliefdevelopment gap, it strives to build upon humanitarian programs and ensure their inputs become assets for longer-term development. This transition is understood not as a handover, but rather as "a process of identifying development needs and beginning the work of recovery as early as possible, drawing upon existing development resources and creating new, appropriate and adapted resources for development to respond to these needs."7

For many scholars and practitioners, the concept of economic recovery is intertwined with other concepts, which makes untangling it a conceptual challenge. Tony Addison, deputy director of the United Nations University's World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER), for example, views broad-based recovery as something that "improves the incomes and human development indicators of the majority of people, especially the poor."8 It involves both political reform (i.e., rewriting the constitution, introduction of multi-party elections, and decentralization of power) and economic reform (i.e., economic policy reform, public expenditure reform, revenue reform, trade and currency policy reform, and financial sector reform) strategies. Both must be undertaken in conjunction with a reconstruction agenda.

Addison distinguishes between narrow versus broad-based recovery. Unless communities rebuild their livelihoods, neither reconstruction nor growth will be broad based. Communities cannot prosper unless private investment recreates markets and generates employment. A framework of development policy is needed to lower uncertainty and encourage long-term investment by communities, the private sector, and the state. Neither communities nor the private sector can realize their potential without a development state--one that wields legitimate power and is dedicated to broad-based recovery.9

The new UNDP Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery (BCPR) report has suggested that when the definition of economic recovery is so "maximalist" as to encompass all aspects of socioeconomic well-being, "such a . . . definition runs the risk of conflating recovery from conflict with overcoming underdevelopment more broadly."10 At the same time, BCPR accepts the notion that economic recovery must be "broad based" and "inclusive"; that it is critical for avoiding the recurrence of violence, which is a requirement for human development. The report focuses on identifying "indigenous drivers" to "provide the most viable platform on which to base post-conflict recovery efforts and international support."11  Go to Peace processes and debate, Strategies/models

Economic recovery involves a range of activities, viewed somewhat differently by scholars and practitioners. It broadly covers a range of programmatic and policy-related efforts to jump-start the economy and rebuild and/or transform the institutions upon which that recovery depends, and in a way that serves peace.

Relief to development

Traditionally, conflict and post-conflict activities have been viewed through a paradigm that describes specific and delineated stages and roles for actors. Humanitarian relief has been viewed as appropriate for meeting emergency needs, such as food and shelter, during the conflict. Once a peace agreement has been signed, humanitarian actors, like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), have handed over the longer-term recovery strategies to development actors, such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

It is often difficult to determine, however, when conflict has actually ended and a country can be designated as post-conflict. According to UNDP, "In some situations, conflicts recur after a short period of peace. In other cases, some violence continues even when conflict has ostensibly ended. There is often no easy 'before' and 'after.'"12 Janvier Nkurunziza of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) identifies two markers that can be used to determine the "end" of conflict: (1) a landmark victory by one of the warring parties, such as the fall of a capital city, as occurred in Ethiopia in 1991, or (2) the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement, which may not end all violence but usually significantly decreases it.13

Similarly, literature on peacebuilding increasingly recognizes that there are not steadfast phases between the end of conflict, immediate humanitarian relief, economic recovery and reconstruction, and longer-term development. In reality, all of these agendas overlap and should complement one another. When this does not happen, a so-called "relief to development" gap is created. When activities are implemented with a long-term view along a continuum, rather than sequential stages, relief can serve a developmental role and longer-term development thinking can inform humanitarian policy.14

The following diagram, drawn from noted works, aims to situate the relief to economic recovery continuum within the broader peacebuilding context. While some degree of phasing is inevitable, the phases should not be understood as "hard" phases with distinct boundaries, but rather as overlapping and interactive. Phasing is always likely to be contentious; there remain different interpretations of particular meanings of these terms relating to when they occur, as well as their overall content (i.e., many will view the relief to development continuum as a pillar of peacebuilding). Moreover, as highlighted by a new New York University Center on International Cooperation (CIC) report on early recovery, there is fluidity with time periods. A peace agreement can occur before or after the cessation of hostilities; therefore, certain activities may be possible in geographic areas that are less conflict-affected, irrespective of the status of the peace.

Sources: The peacebuilding continuum is an abridged version of that within: United Nations Peacebuilding Support Office. Measuring Peace Consolidation and Supporting Transition. New York: United Nations, March 2008, 5. The relief to development continuum draws from: Macrae, Joanna. Aiding Peace . . . and War: UNHCR, Returnee Reintegration, and the Relief-Development Debate. London: Humanitarian Policy Group, Overseas Development Institute, December 1999), 9; United Nations, Transition from Relief to Development: Key Issues Related to Humanitarian and Recovery/Transition Programmes (Rome: Secretary-Generals High-level Panel on UN System-wide Coherence in the Areas of Development, Humanitarian Assistance, and the Environment, May 19, 2006), 2.

While "stabilization" is associated with military operations and political/security-oriented action, "transition" remains somewhat ill defined.15 The United Nations (UN) refers to the period between the immediate aftermath of a crisis and the restoration of pre-crisis conditions (or what it terms recovery) or improvement to an acceptable level (called development) as the "transition phase": "Transitions are characterized by a shifting emphasis from life-saving to restoring livelihoods, achieving the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and by an increasing reliance on national ownership through national development strategies."16

A recent Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO) briefing paper suggests four types of transition within the context of UN thinking about when it should depart from a post-conflict setting: (1) the closure or significant downgrading of peace operations; (2) the shift from a largely humanitarian response to an approach that emphasizes reconstruction and development; (3) the phasing out of direct UN-led assistance (executive mandate and direct execution modalities) in favor of country-led consolidation efforts (assistance mandate and national execution modalities); and (4) the "migration" of a country from the Peacebuilding Commissions peacebuilding agenda.17

Despite broad recognition that early recovery interventions should commence during the relief phase,18 the post-conflict environment poses several barriers to this work in the transition phase, such as in severely weakened states. There are also extraordinary challenges in coordinating organizations and governments, as the "architectures of relief and development assistance differ in many respects" and organizations are often limited to certain activities by their mandates. The UN and other international institutions are increasingly developing strategies for addressing the gap, such as the Consolidated Appeals Process, which seeks to provide funding during the transition from relief to early recovery. However, there are serious faults in these mechanisms.19 In addition, despite increasing attention to the concept of a relief to development continuum and economic recovery, there are still debates over the best strategies for addressing these issues. These debates are discussed in more depth later in this sub-section.

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Related concepts

Economic recovery, economic reconstruction, economic rehabilitation, and economic reform are frequently used interchangeably or are conflated, depending on how one views the terms.20 In many cases, organizations choose a specific term that is defined in terms of their mandate.21 For example, the European Commission (EC) uses reconstruction and rehabilitation, and the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) use post-conflict reconstruction and recovery. Bilateral donors also implement based on different conceptual understandings.  Go to Main Actors

As evidenced by the previous definitions of recovery-related concepts, there is significant overlap in and conflation of the use of these terms. The following chart illustrates this issue.

Post-Conflict Economic Recovery Concepts




Timing / Phasing

Economic Recovery

The goal is to close the gap between relief and development and restore the capacity of government and communities to rebuild and recovery from conflict and sustain peace.22

  • Establish security and rule of law;
  • Establish a macroeconomic policy regime;
  • Institute an oversight framework for the economy;
  • Diversify public investment;
  • Reconstitute social and human capital; and
  • Foster decentralization.23
Transition from relief to development, with overlapping stages.

Economic Reconstruction

Broad term used to describe the structural reform and stabilization of post-conflict economies and the building of institutions and capacities to support sustainable development.

  • Commercial law reform to attract foreign direct investment;
  • Issuance of new currencies;
  • Peace enforcement;
  • Shifting public money from military into development;
  • Resettlement of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs);
  • Disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and rehabilitation (DDRR);
  • Rebuilding basic economic and social infrastructure; and
  • Institution building.
There are debates about levels of reconstruction to happen before reforms.

Economic Stabilization

Neoliberal economic strategy based on economic growth and free trade. Connected to structural adjustment programs and based on orthodox deflationary principles.

  • Macroeconomic stabilization;
  • IMF conditionality programs; and
  • Deflationary policies.
The first task of economic policy for the international financial institutions.

Economic Rehabilitation

Large-scale reconstruction to reinvigorate the economic structures of a particular country.

  • Physical infrastructure; and
  • Recovery of social and economic systems (e.g., schools, housing, food supplies, and stable currencies).
Long term.

Early Recovery

Transition period between humanitarian relief and long-term recovery.

  • Restore livelihoods;
  • Build government capacities;
  • Establish basic social services; and
  • Assess damage to infrastructure, property, and livelihoods.
Starts during humanitarian relief phase and transitions into recovery phase.


Creation of new government institutions and the strengthening of existing ones.

  • Management of the states assets (including the environment, natural resources, and cultural resources);
  • Rule of law;
  • Formation of the market;
  • Administrative control;
  • Provision of infrastructure services; and
  • Mobilization, allocatation and spending of public resources.
Debates about prioritization of statebuilding within the peacebuilding agenda: institutionalization before liberalization?

Human Security

Divergence on scope of definition exists. UNDP definition (broad): Freedom from fear and freedom from want, encompassing such issues as human rights, good governance, and access to economic opportunity, education, and health care. Canadian government definition (narrow): Protects against violent legal and physical security threats to individuals.

  • Establishing legitimate political authority;
  • Combining humanitarian and development assistance;
  • The creation of legitimate employment and self-sustaining livelihoods;
  • Institution building, including the rule of law;
  • Attention to the importance of infrastructure and public works;
  • Education and social services;
  • Generating tax revenue; and
  • Engaging civil society.
New paradigm applies to continuum of phases during and between conflicts that encompass both prevention and reconstruction.

Early recovery

Early recovery is still considered a relatively new conceptone that is in need of greater attention and clarity. UNDP identifies early recovery as addressing a critical gap in coverage between humanitarian relief and long-term recovery, between reliance and self-sufficiency.24

The CIC study describes the usage of the term "early recovery" as "diverse and confused," with it referring to response to disaster and conflict, to phases prior to the cessation of hostilities, and often (loosely) to much later action. While the study points out that the definition as used by UNDP is more focused on the socio-economic elements of recovery rather than the political and security elements, CIC argues for a broader notion that seeks to address gaps in early efforts to secure stability and establish peace; to address economic and social factors by resuscitating markets, livelihoods, services, and the state capacities necessary to foster them; and, finally, to build core state capacity to manage political, security, and development processes.

Economic reconstruction

The term "economic reconstruction" is used in a broad sense to describe not only the reconstruction process itself but also, as noted by Graciana del Castillo, "all the policy measures, including stabilization and structural reform as well as institutional and capacity building activities, necessary to reactivate the economy and bring it to a sustainable development path."25 Reconstruction strategies therefore address the socio-economic conditions in a particular country and the access to external financing required for the reestablishment of production and trade. Hunjoon Kim notes, "Special care is necessary to address the main concerns of macroeconomic policies. Introducing effective macroeconomic management is related to creating the right framework for international assistance."26

According to a major study of peacebuilding concepts and usages led by Michael Barnett, the term "economic reconstruction" is grouped with social, developmental, and humanitarian reconstruction and is defined as "aid for physical reconstruction of buildings, utilities, and structures."27 The World Bank, the United States Department of State, the United States Department of Defense, and the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office (UKFCO) use this term with varying definitions, including those outlined in the chart above.28

Some refer more broadly to a "reconstruction agenda." A volume put out by Tony Addison identifies this as including "a daunting range of tasks--everything from conflict resolution to peace-enforcement to demobilization to shifting public money from the military and into development (to cite just four priorities). It is accompanied by, and interacts with, the agendas of economic and political reform."29

Economic rehabilitation

The European Union (EU) is among those that favor the concepts of "rehabilitation" and "reconstruction," which pertain to the "reestablishment of a working economy and institutional capacity."30

A groundbreaking work by Krishna Kumar in the late 1990s conceptualized economic "rehabilitation broadly to encompass reform and reconstruction, with three interrelated elements," restoration, structural reform, and reconstruction.31 The terms "rehabilitation," "reconstruction," and "rebuilding" are used interchangeably in that "all refer to the efforts to rebuild political, economic and social structures of war-torn societies."32

Jeroen de Zeeuw of the "Clingendael" Institute discusses rehabilitation programs as "large-scale reconstruction programme(s) to reinvigorate the economic structures of a particular country," focusing in particular on physical infrastructure and recovery of social and economic systems in the form of schools, houses, food supplies, and stable currencies. This type of rehabilitation was introduced into the international lexicon with the Marshall Plan following 1947 and has continued to dominate "contemporary thinking on rehabilitation."33 However, "apart from humanitarian aid, most donor countries seem to be reluctant to commit themselves to long-term rehabilitation programmes. . . . For this reason alone, the repetition of a Marshall Plan for contemporary 'post-conflict' settings seems highly unlikely."34

Human security

Human security introduces a new paradigm that links security and development, essentially prioritizing the security of individuals over the security of states. It joins the two as mutually dependent, as security relies on more than just traditional approaches to economic recovery, which usually consist of liberalization, privatization, and macroeconomic policies. It argues that separate treatment of these issues can actually worsen the root causes of conflict, and instead advocates for a new conceptual framework that combines human rights with human development.35

The scope of the concept ranges from more narrow to more broad interpretations. The narrow view, first offered by the Canadian government, protects against violent legal and physical security threats to individuals (possibly including genocide, torture, slavery, inhuman treatment, and grave violations of human rights, as per the International Criminal Court statute).36 The broad UNDP definition is freedom from fear and freedom from want. This broader notion protects against critical and pervasive threats to individuals and communities, including political, civil, social, economic, and cultural factors that endanger security. It encompasses human rights, good governance, and access to economic opportunity, education, and healthcare.37

Some scholars, like Mary Kaldor, take a middle path, suggesting that human security is fundamentally about reducing extreme vulnerabilities.38 Amartya Sen concludes it to be narrower than human rights or development, and rather about the "downside risks" that threaten daily human survival. Kaldor suggests it is based on five core principles: the primacy of human rights, legitimate political authority, the principle of multilateralism, a bottom-up approach, and a regional focus. It purports to address the causes of conflict and the deeper causes of insecurity.39 This aim is rooted in a new concept of development and economic recovery that advocates for institution building, promoting alternative livelihoods, and curtailing illicit commerce and the trade of illegal arms.

The implications of this new concept are a greater investment in development assistance tied to conflict prevention policy development, civil society engagement, and local ownership of processes, legitimate employment, and long-term livelihoods. These activities elevate the social and economic well-being of the individual over macroeconomic stabilization and growth, both of which, its proponents argue, are false indicators of risk factors.40 Human security is thought to be the framework through which sustainable peace can be achieved.

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Economic recovery is often viewed as a component of statebuilding, which itself is at the heart of building a durable peace and human development and the subject of an expansive and growing literature.41 Statebuilding involves the "rebuilding or establishing at least minimally functioning state institutions."42 As highlighted by Charles Call and Elizabeth Cousens, for some, statebuilding should focus on institutions to ensure law, order, and repression of resurgent violence. For others, it implies a focus on the institutions of decision making and legitimation, and, for still others, it involves the very foundations of economic recovery in the form of revenue generation, rule of law, and the creation of an investment environment.43

The ability of the state to collect and manage public resources is at the heart of statebuilding,44 a core aspect of economic recovery. James Boyce and Madalene O'Donnell argue that there is a two-way relationship between state legitimacy and revenue collection, as both are dependent on the other to succeed.45 More generally, without functioning and legitimate state institutions, post-conflict societies are much less likely to escape violence and poverty.46  Go to Public Finance and Economic Governance

An Overseas Development Institute (ODI) report underscores the economic components of statebuilding, arguing that an effective state has 10 core functions it must perform, five of which are concerned with economic policy:47

  • Legitimate monopoly on the means of violence;
  • Administrative control;
  • Management of public finances;
  • Investment in human capital;
  • Delineation of citizenship rights and duties;
  • Provision of infrastructure services;
  • Formation of the market;
  • Management of the states assets (including the environment, natural resources, and cultural assets);
  • International relations (including entering into international contracts and public borrowing); and
  • Rule of law.
Astri Suhrke, Torunn Wimpelmann, and Marcia Dawes view this list as too restrictive to serve as a model for statebuilding, particularly as it does not address questions of equity and excludes (re)integration issues.48 Drawing on literature and associated policy debates, they do view economic recovery and reform as one category of six state functions that are relevant to statebuilding in a post-conflict setting.49

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Measures of national production and human welfare

Concepts that seek to define and measure national production and human welfare are introduced here, alongside human development itself and the Millennium Development Goals, because of their conceptual and practical linkages with economic recovery. These concepts and measures inform choices, explicitly or implicitly, made in economic recovery, with wider application to and implications for peacebuilding. They often underlie assumptions and debates, and arguably need to be referenced more explicitly and debated in connection with economic recovery aims and requisite strategies.

Gross domestic product (GDP)

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), "Gross domestic product is an aggregate measure of production equal to the sum of the gross values added of all resident institutional units engaged in production (plus any taxes, and minus and subsidies, on products not included in the value of their outputs). The sum of the final uses of goods and services (all uses except intermediate consumption) measured in purchasers' prices, less the value of imports of goods and services, or the sum of primary incomes distributed by resident producer units."50

The United Nations defines GDP a bit more succinctly: "GDP is the total unduplicated output of economic goods and services produced within a country as measured in monetary terms according to the United Nations System of National Accounts (SNA)."51

GDP as a measurement of human welfare is often critiqued for its lack of attention to distributive concerns and a focus on income. According to UNDP, "Comparing rankings on GDP per capita and the HDI can reveal much about the results of national policy choices. For example, a country with a very high GDP per capita such as Oman, which as a relatively low level of educational attainment, can have a lower HDI rank that, say, Uruguay, which has roughly 60% of the GDP per capita of Oman."52

Human development

Human development is described by its founder Mahbub ul Haq as the "enlargement of all human choiceswhether economic, social, cultural or political."53 The emergence of this paradigm in the 1980s was a significant departure from the economic growth school of thought, although its roots are the teachings of Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, Adam Smith, and Karl Marx.54

As expanded upon in the 2006 Liberia National Human Development Report, in addition to "enhancing people's choices and access to life-sustaining opportunities"55 human-centered development means that "people are the primary targets of the process and therefore the prime benefactor of development efforts and outcomes."56 Human development includes both "evaluative" and "agency" aspects--"the former means improving human lives as an explicit development objective, while the latter refers to what people can do to improve their lives through individual, social and political processes."57 The elements of human development are described as: social progress (greater access to knowledge and better nutrition and healthcare); equity (distributive justice and fair distribution of incomes and assets through equal access to opportunities); sustainability (concern for not only present but also future generations); security(from conflict and against disease, hunger, unemployment, displacement, famine, etc.); and participation (empowerment, democratic governance, gender equality, civil and political rights, cultural liberty, etc.).58

As underscored by UNDP, which has made it the conceptual foundation of the institution's development vision, the human development approach is holistic and integrated in that "it strives to find the balance between efficiency, equity and freedom and recognizes that there is not automatic link between economic growth and human progress."59

In its new economic recovery report, the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery emphasizes that economic recovery is a requirement for human development.60 Alternatively, human development can be viewed as the paradigm that should normatively and practically inform economic recovery efforts.

Human development index (HDI)

According to the United Nations Development Programme, the human development index (HDI) "is a summary composite index that measures a country's average achievements in three basic aspects of human development: health, knowledge, and a decent standard of living."61 Health is measured by life expectancy at birth. Knowledge is measured by a combination of the adult literacy rate and the combined primary, secondary, and tertiary gross enrollment ratio. Standard of living is measured by gross domestic product at purchasing power parity per capita (PPP US$). (Purchasing power parities are the rates of currency conversion used to eliminate the differences in price levels between countries.)62

The HDI is intended for use within the context of other measurements and assessments in facilitating an understanding of human development. The measurement, for example, does not reflect political participation or gender inequalities. The HDI and other composite indices can therefore only offer a broad proxy on some of the key issues of human development, gender disparity, and human poverty.63

Human development reports (HDR) provide country-specific HDI information. The HDR presents statistics in human development indicator tables, which provide a global assessment of country achievements in different areas of human development and statistical evidence in the thematic analyses in the chapters, which may be based on international, national, or sub-national data. The HDR also incorporates assessment of Millennium Development Goals indicators in the human development indicators tables.64

Other human development indices that can be found within the HDRs are the Gender-related Development Index (GDI), the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM), and the Human Poverty Index (HPI).65

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

The member states of the United Nations ratified the "Millennium Declaration" in September 2000 at the UN Millennium Summit, which recommitted the nations to UN goals and values and created a new dedication to reducing extreme poverty by 2015 by setting out a series of targets. These eight time-bound targets are now known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and have become the platform for poverty eradication plans worldwide.66

Considering links with human development, UNDP has highlighted that while the MDGs are considered human development goals, they do not reflect all of the key dimensions of human development:67 "The MDGs highlight the distance to be traveled; the human development approach focuses on how to reach these goals."68 Some critics argue that MDGs do not address structural issues and inequality, although they are intended to be pro-poor and to be linked with poverty reduction strategy papers.69

Millennium Development Goals

(1) End poverty and hunger: Halve the proportion of people suffering from extreme poverty and hunger.
(2) Universal education: Guarantee that all children complete primary school.
(3) Gender equality: Ensure that girls have the same opportunities as boys.
(4) Child health: Reduce by two-thirds a childs risk of dying before age five.
(5) Maternal health: Reduce by three-quarters a mothers risk of dying from pregnancy-related causes. Halve the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water.
(6) Combat HIV/AIDS: Stop and reverse the spread of HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis (TB).
(7) Environmental sustainability: Protect the worlds ecosystems and biodiversity.
(8) Global partnership: Ensure that rich counties grant steeper debt relief, more foreign aid, and fairer opportunities to trade.

Sources: United Nations (UN). End Poverty 2015: Millennium Development Goals; Vandemoortele, Jan. The MDGs and Pro-Poor Policies: Can External Partners Make a Difference? Pretoria: Southern African Regional Poverty Network, December 2003).

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Conflict sensitivity

Conflict sensitivitybroadly refers to the notion of systematically taking into account both the positive and negative impact of interventions, in terms of conflict or peace dynamics, on the contexts in which they are undertaken, and, conversely, the impact of these contexts on the intervention.70 Conflict-sensitive approaches to recovery, development, and any other sector, program, or policy, then, involve ensuring such efforts are undertaken with these considerations in mind. Conflict sensitivity is particularly important for early recovery and broader economic recovery. The CIC study points out, "The deeply political nature of post-conflict recovery cannot be overstated. Decisions that in normal development contexts have low costs can in early post-conflict contexts have serious repercussions, putting a premium on training and conflict sensitivity."71

As noted by scholar practitioners Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and Erin McCandless, "Approaches concerned with 'conflict sensitivity' and conflict prevention . . . elevate the need for understanding the historical, social, political-economy conflict context, and for developing mechanisms to address them."72 James Boyce and Madalene O'Donnell provide one framework that can facilitate understanding of the contexts that need to be considered for the development of conflict-sensitive policies and strategies.

Contextual Considerations for Developing Conflict-Sensitive Strategies



The type of transition and the resulting balance of power among contending parties

Negotiated settlement with power-sharing arrangements versus a winner-take-all victory.

The level of economic development

Per capita income, human development indicators, levels of macroeconomic stability, and ratios of revenue and expenditure to gross domestic product (GDP).

The scale of external assistance

Relationship between aid inflows, the local economy, national income, and the state budget.

The role of natural resource extraction and narcotics

The presence of natural resources or illicit drugs and the role this played in financing conflict.

The fault lines of conflict

Levels of tension along lines of ethnicity, race, religion, language, or class.

The neighborhood

National interests of neighboring countries, international relationships, and conflict in the region.

The presence of an agreement on final status

The level of final-status resolutions in comprehensive peace agreements.

The history of relations with aid donors

Colonial ties and existing donor-patron relationships.

Source: Boyce, James K., and Madalene ODonnell, Peace and the Public Purse: An Introduction, in Peace and the Public Purse: Economic Policies for Postwar Statebuilding, ed. James K. Boyce and Madalene ODonnell (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2007).


Similar to the Boyce/O'Donnell framework, a recent Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery report on economic recovery identifies contexts that differentiate conflict-affected countries: (1) countries may be differentiated by their level of per capita income, which can also influence infrastructure development, human and institutional capacities, aid dependence, and levels of indebtedness; (2) the extent that horizontal inequalities exist influences policy design and implementation, especially in the post-conflict context where these inequalities may have been a major cause of conflict; and (3) the presence or lack of natural resource abundance affects the financing of economic recovery efforts because countries with high revenues from natural resources will be more able to finance recovery efforts independently and attract foreign investment. However, the presence of natural resources has often been linked with conflict risks, like high levels of corruption and rent seeking.73  Go to Private Sector

Conflict-sensitive approaches incorporate methodologies for understanding the interaction of a given setting and an intervention, which is vital in an era with enhanced awareness that many policy interventions may unwittingly do more "harm" than good.74 Conflict-sensitive approaches are applicable to all phases of policy making and programming; that is, the planning cycle, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation. They should be incorporated into all phases of the relief to development spectrum.

As with other terms, conflict sensitivity and conflict prevention are often used interchangeably, referring broadly to efforts to prevent or mitigate the harmful actual and potential effects of policy making and programming. UNDP tends to favor the former concept in its work, often with reference to the need to address structural sources of conflict: "Social and economic change can be destabilizing. It is therefore important for development and conflict-prevention strategies to address issues such as inequitable distribution, exclusion, inequality, burden-sharing and displacement and their impact on conflict."75 The World Bank tends to favor the latter, stating, for example, "To be sensitive to conflict, a PRSP must be specific to the country context and flexible in responding to changing circumstances, while taking into account potential risks."76

While conflict sensitivity may go beyond conflict prevention in suggesting an ongoing process,--with capacity and commitment to considering the ways in which all new policies and programming interact with conflict--conflict prevention approaches may have a stronger commitment to identifying and addressing structural causes of conflict.77

1. Ohiorhenuan and Kumar, "Sustaining Post-conflict Economic Recovery," 2.
2. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery (BCPR), Post-Conflict Economic Recovery: Enabling Local Ingenuity (New York: UNDP, 2008), xvii.
3. BCPR, Post-Conflict Economic Recovery: Enabling Local Ingenuity, 4.
4. Ohiorhenuan and Kumar, "Sustaining Post-conflict Economic Recovery," 1-2.
5. Ibid., 6.
6. BCPR, Post-Conflict Economic Recovery: Enabling Local Ingenuity, 5.
7. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Afghanistan Crisis: UNDP Strategy (New York: UNDP, October 30, 2001).
8. Tony Addison, From Conflict to Recovery in Africa (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 3.
9. Ibid., 3-16.
10. BCPR, Post-Conflict Economic Recovery: Enabling Local Ingenuity, 4.
11. Ibid., xvii.
12. BCPR, Post-Conflict Economic Recovery: Enabling Local Ingenuity, 5.
13. Janvier Nkurunziza, Civil War and Post-Conflict Reconstruction in Africa (Geneva: United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, July 28, 2008), 5.
14. Joanna Macrae, Aiding Peace . . . and War: UNHCR, Returnee Reintegration, and the Relief-Development Debate (London: Humanitarian Policy Group, Overseas Development Institute, December 1999), 1.
15. Center on International Cooperation (CIC), "Recovering from War: Gaps in Early Action," report for the United Kingdom Department for International Development (July 1, 2008), 4.
16. United Nations (UN), Transition from Relief to Development: Key Issues Related to Humanitarian and Recovery/Transition Programmes (Rome: Secretary-Generals High-level Panel on UN System-wide Coherence in the Areas of Development, Humanitarian Assistance, and the Environment, May 19, 2006), 2.
17. United Nations Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO), "Measuring Peace Consolidation and Supporting Transition," briefing paper (March 2008), 2.
18. UN, "Transition from Relief to Development," 4; Macrae, Aiding Peace . . . and War, 1.
19. UN, "Transition from Relief to Development," 4-5.
20. Barnett, Michael, Hunjoon Kim, Madalene O'Donnell, and Laura Sitea, Peacebuilding: "What Is in a Name?" Global Governance 13, no. 1 (2007): 38-43.
21. Ibid.
22. United Nations Development Group (UNDG), Inter-Agency Framework for Conflict Analysis in Transition Situations (New York: UNDG, November 2004).
23. Ibid.
24. United Nations Development Programme Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, "Early Recovery."
25. Graciana del Castillo, Economic Reconstruction in Post-Conflict Transitions: Lessons for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (Paris: OECD Development Centre, November 2003), 5.
26. Kim, "Development," 130.
27. Barnett et al., "Peacebuilding: What Is in a Name?" 56.
28. Ibid., 36-37.
29. Addison, From Conflict to Recovery in Africa, 8.
30. Barnett et al., "Peacebuilding: What Is in a Name?" 43.
31. Krishna Kumar, ed., Rebuilding Societies after Civil War (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1997), 3.
32. Kumar, Rebuilding Societies after Civil War, 3.
33. Jeroen de Zeeuw, Building Peace in War-Torn Societies: From Concept to Strategy (The Hague: "Clingendael" Institute, August 2001), 7.
34. Ibid., 8.
35. Mary Kaldor, Human Security (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007), 183.
36. Kaldor, Human Security, 184.
37. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Human Development Report 1994 (New York: UNDP, 1994).
38. Ibid.
39. Kaldor, Human Security.
40. Kaldor, Human Security, 191.
41. See, for example, Charles T. Call, "Building State to Build Peace? A Critical Analysis," Journal of Peacebuilding and Development 4, no. 2 (2008); Roland Paris and Timothy D. Sisk, Managing Contradictions: The Inherent Dilemmas of Postwar Statebuilding (New York: International Peace Institute, November 2007).
42. Charles T. Call and Elizabeth M. Cousens, Ending Wars and Building Peace (New York: International Peace Academy, March 2007), 7.
43. Ibid., 7.
44. James K. Boyce and Madalene ODonnell, "Peace and the Public Purse: An Introduction," in Peace and the Public Purse: Economic Policies for Postwar Statebuilding, ed. James K. Boyce and Madalene ODonnell (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2007).
45. Ibid., 6.
46. Call and Cousens, Ending Wars and Building Peace, 7.
47. Ashraf Ghani, Clare Lockhart, and Michael Carnahan, Closing the Sovereignty Gap: An Approach to State-Building (London: Overseas Development Institute, September 2005).
48. Astri Suhrke et al., Peace Processes and Statebuilding: Economic and Institutional Provisions of Peace Agreements (New York: World Bank/United Nations Development Programme/Chr. Michelsen Institute, 2007), 5.
49. Ibid., 5.
50. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), "Glossary of Statistical Terms: Gross Domestic Product (GDP)."
51. United Nations Statistics Division, "Social Indicators."
52. United Nations Development Programme, "The Human Development Index (HDI): Questions about the Human Development Index (HDI)."
53. Mahbub ul Haq, "The Human Development Paradigm," in Readings in Human Development, ed. Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and A.K. Shiva Kumar (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 17.
54. Ibid.
55. Government of Liberia, "Liberia National Human Development Report 2006: Mobilizing Capacity for Reconstruction and Development."
56. Ibid.
57. Ibid.
58. Ibid.
59. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), The Human Development Concept: Support Package to HDR Focal Points (New York: UNDP, 2006).
60. BCPR, Post-Conflict Economic Recovery: Enabling Local Ingenuity, xvii.
61. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), "Human Development Reports: Frequently Asked Questions: General Questions about Data in the Human Development Report."
62. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), "Prices and Purchasing Power Parities (PPP)."
63. UNDP, "Human Development Reports: Frequently Asked Questions."
64. Ibid.
65. UNDP, The Human Development Concept: Support Package to HDR Focal Points.
66. United Nations, "End Poverty 2015: Millennium Development Goals 2015."
67. UNDP, The Human Development Concept: Support Package to HDR Focal Points.
68. Ibid.
69. Jan Vandemoortele, The MDGs and Pro-Poor Policies: Can External Partners Make a Difference? (Pretoria: Southern African Regional Poverty Network, December 2003).
70. Centre for Conflict Resolution, Africa Peace Forum, Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, Forum of Early Warning and Early Response, International Alert, and Safer World, Conflict-Sensitive Approaches to Development, Humanitarian Assistance and Peacebuilding: A Resource Pack (Nairobi: African Peace Forum, 2004).
71. CIC, "Recovering from War," 7.
72. Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and Erin McCandless, "An Integrated Framework for Peacebuilding, Development and Human Rights: Reflections on Liberias PRSP," in Peacebuilding in Liberia (Aldershot: Ashgate Press), 194.
73. BCPR, Post-Conflict Economic Recovery: Enabling Local Ingenuity, 9.
74. Fukuda-Parr and McCandless, "An Integrated Framework for Peacebuilding," 194.
75. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), The Role of the UNDP in Crisis and Post-Conflict Situations (New York: UNDP, 2001), 6.
76. World Bank, Toward a Conflict-Sensitive Poverty Reduction Strategy (Washington, DC: World Bank, June 30, 2005), 59.
77. Fukuda-Parr and McCandless, "An Integrated Framework for Peacebuilding," 215.

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