Published on Development for Peace

UN-World Bank partnership in crisis settings: Increasing support to the most vulnerable during a devastating year

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Children wear masks to protect themselves against COVID-19 while attending class in Fada, Burkina Faso. Photo: Frank Dejongh/UNICEF Children wear masks to protect themselves against COVID-19 while attending class in Fada, Burkina Faso. Photo: Frank Dejongh/UNICEF

For countries already affected by conflict and crisis, 2020 was a devastating year. The health and socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic came on top of complex and growing threats, from the regional spillover of violent extremism to the effects of climate change.  An estimated 19 to 30 million additional people in fragile and conflict-affected settings were pushed into extreme poverty, while the number of food insecure people more than doubled to 270 million globally in 2020

Countries already threatened by conflict and crisis were among the most vulnerable to COVID-19 , not only in health terms but because such shocks tend to exploit and exacerbate socio-economic inequalities, gaps in social safety nets, weak institutional capacity and lack of public trust. It has never been more critical, therefore, to prevent escalation of violent conflict and to support governments build resilience. 

2020 was also a year of enhanced partnership between the World Bank and UN in crisis-affected settings, as the new United Nations-World Bank Partnership Monitoring Report attests. The UN and World Bank Group continued to build mission-driven partnerships and to leverage their respective mandates, capacities, and expertise to further support countries in the areas of conflict prevention and resilience, COVID-19 response, forced displacement, and food security. The political and economic inclusion of women and girls, as well as climate change, are cross-cutting themes also covered in the report.

Much has happened since the release of the 2019 report, including the launch of the World Bank Group’s Strategy for Fragility, Conflict and Violence (FCV), in February 2020; the allocation of an estimated $26 billion for FCV in the 19th replenishment of the International Development Association (IDA19); and, as part of the UN Secretary-General’s reform agenda, enhanced investments in capacity for conflict prevention and strengthening the link between peace and development actors. The latter includes the creation of a Humanitarian-Development-Peacebuilding and Partnership Facility (HDPP Facility) under the Peacebuilding Fund. These timely developments affirm a shift towards prevention and partnership in both institutions, informed by the 2018 joint UN-World Bank Group report Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict.

Our joint response to COVID-19 has benefited from the years spent in strengthening our partnership,  which inspired fast and creative solutions on the ground to support the most vulnerable and marginalized populations. As outlined in our last joint blog in April 2020 on responding to COVID-19 in conflict-affected and fragile settings, UN-World Bank cooperation is supporting governments in over 30 countries impacted by FCV to help them save lives, protect the most vulnerable communities, and invest in “building back better”. For example, in Yemen, the partnership between the World Bank, WHO, and UNICEF has been key to supporting service delivery, strengthening critical care, and promoting community engagement  –all of which are essential to tackle the pandemic in such settings.

These examples illustrate the United Nations and World Bank’s shared vision on the importance of both a short and a long-term prevention lens in their joint activities, and of addressing drivers of fragility early on in crisis-affected situations. Both institutions jointly discussed these aspects with Member States in the framework of the UN Peacebuilding Commission meetings on COVID-19 response, including those focusing on Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Great Lakes, Liberia, and West Africa and the Sahel, as well as during thematic briefings.

Alongside the focus on COVID-19 response, the World Bank and the United Nations have continued to make progress in the prevention agenda. Conflict-sensitive programs require, above all, a deep knowledge of the local context. For example, in Burkina Faso, the World Bank, UN, EU, and African Development Bank completed a landmark Prevention and Peacebuilding Assessment (PPBA), supporting the national government to prioritize and cost critical peacebuilding needs. Donors pledged $170 million against costed priorities, including for civilian police infrastructure and support to communities hosting those displaced by extremist violence. 

In the key areas of forced displacement and food security, the UN-World Bank partnership continued to deepen its impact on the ground, supporting forcibly displaced people and host communities as part of our joint COVID-19 response  in many countries, such as Burkina Faso, Jordan, Mali, and Niger. 2020 was also the first full year of work for the the Joint Data Center on Forced Displacement established in November 2019 by UNHCR and the World Bank to develop evidence and data that will concretely inform policies and interventions. 

On food security, the UN and World Bank are collaborating to address compounding risks, including the impacts of COVID-19, that threaten livelihoods and long-term development prospects . For example, the World Bank Group is working closely with FAO on the response to the infestation of desert locusts in Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Yemen, and Uganda, which is compounding the impact of COVID-19 on agriculture, food production and food policy reform, as well as exacerbating the risks and impacts of FCV in several contexts.

For more on the results of the UN-World Bank partnership, you can read the full report here.  2021 will be a busy year, as we continue to work together to respond to countries’ demand for a holistic approach to humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding needs in some of the most vulnerable and marginalized communities around the world. 


Franck Bousquet

Former Senior Director of the Fragility, Conflict, & Violence Group

Oscar Fernández-Taranco

Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support

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