International funding for peacebuilding: Will COVID-19 change or reinforce existing trends?

Pauline Veron and Andrew Sherriff look at trends in financial support for peacebuilding and argue that the COVID-19 crisis is likely to put funds under even more financial and political strain.

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    COVID-19 has exacerbated factors influencing international support for peacebuilding, including a more volatile geopolitical order and changes in domestic priorities in donor countries. Peacebuilding and a conflict-sensitive approach have not yet been at the forefront of the international responses to COVID-19, undermining attempts to ‘build back better’ in a world where negative conflict dynamics are increasingly apparent.

    This paper takes stock of trends in financial support for peacebuilding, building on ECDPM’s 2018 study ‘Supporting peacebuilding in times of change’. While official aid for peacebuilding has never been higher going into the crisis, peacebuilding is a comparatively low priority which relies on a small number of donors. As such, peacebuilding is vulnerable to shrinking aid budgets and donors’ shifting priorities as a result of COVID-19. Philanthropic support – while having a unique role – has so far been limited compared to support to other areas and the scale of official support.

    The pandemic, together with growing questions about racial justice and the decolonisation of international relations and development, will also push the overall aid system to evolve. These developments will profoundly impact the predominantly Western-funded international peacebuilding sector in 2021 and beyond.

    More adaptation and engagement is needed from an already vulnerable peacebuilding community. Transformational change – towards building consistent political and financial support – will require articulating the relevance of peacebuilding in a (post-)COVID-19 world for the dominant economic and climate-related themes of recovery. In the long run, these evolutions may well lead to more locally-led, diverse and sustainable approaches to peacebuilding, but the transition will certainly be turbulent, and the forces for change don’t necessarily all point in a positive direction.

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