Prosperity 2020: Now you See it – Now you Don’t

The Legatum Institute’s 2020 Prosperity Index measures the prosperity over the last decade of 167 nations that together contain 99.4% of the global population.

Global prosperity reached its highest ever level in 2020. However, only 61% of the global population lived in countries experiencing prosperity in 2020, a substantial decline from 86% in just 2018. Falling prosperity rates pre-COVID raise serious concerns about the capacity of nations to recover from the crises brought about by the current pandemic. It is estimated that COVID could increase poverty rates by up to 10%, setting back reductions in this area by 20 years. This is a particularly grave threat to the Sub-Saharan Africa and MENA regions that have seen a deterioration in economic quality over the last decade. The fact that MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa have fallen further away from the average global prosperity increases have similarly demonstrated the critical need for development assistance today, particularly in these areas.

This kind of assistance is something that the British government has begun to disregard. The merger of the Department for International Development (DfID) into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) earlier this year signalled a lack of will within the British government to continue critical development work. This could impact the least prosperous nations heavily, with DfID having spent £280m over the last two years in South Sudan. Having a well-resourced and independent development department like DfID was largely unique among wealthier nations, and turned the UK into a vital development provider. Recently, chancellor Rishi Sunak has also outlined his intentions to breach a manifesto pledge by reducing the development and aid budget from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5%, in the hopes of saving nearly £4bn.

This is a disastrous decision for a number of reasons. As outlined by Andrew Mitchell, a conservative MP and former international development secretary, this could have tragic impacts and could lead to: 1m fewer girls receiving an education; 3.8m left without access to clean water; 5.6m fewer vaccinations and 100,000 preventable deaths, mainly among children. The impact of reducing the UKs development commitments to the least prosperous nations will thus be devastating, particularly in the midst of a COVID crisis. Due to the pandemic the World Bank estimates that 2020 will bring the first increase in extreme poverty in two decades. This demonstrates that now more than ever development commitments from countries like the UK are needed, particularly to the least prosperous nations and regions. Although the government argues this cut has been forced due to the pandemic, a cut comprising 0.2% of GDP is going to have an extremely minimal impact on overall government finances. The UK government has also committed to a £16.5bn increase in defence spending over the next four years. Britain’s contemporary safety depends in part on the stability of places thousands of miles away, and particularly in regions such as MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa. This is where the Prosperity Index has indicated safety and security, particularly relating to terrorism, has been substantially declining. Reducing investment in these areas could therefore pose a security risk to the UK, and it would represent a much shrewder use of money to invest in the long term development of these areas, as opposed to an increase in the defence budget. Whilst there is a need to have a debate about the aid budget, in light of the COVID crisis and the findings of the Prosperity Index it is clear that many regions and nations are currently facing critical challenges in their development. The potential removal of capital and expertise from development in these regions by the UK government should be seen as a major concern.

Taking the problem apart

The Legatum Institute’s 2020 Prosperity Index works by grouping together almost 300 country-level indicators into 66 elements of prosperity. These elements have been further categorised into 12 ‘pillars’ of prosperity which divide evenly into three domains (illustrated in Figure 1 below).

Figure 1 – A visual summary of the elements, pillars and domains that constitute overall prosperity.

Each of the 66 elements of prosperity have been designed to be recognisable and discrete areas of domestic policy. The elements of prosperity are measured using a combination of publicly available and verifiable data sources, which enables a cross-country comparison of prosperity over the last decade. Within the last decade, all seven regions and 147 out of 167 countries saw an overall increase in prosperity, with global prosperity being at its highest ever level in 2020.

Figure 2 – A summary of the increases in global and regional prosperity between 2010 and 2020.

This near-universal increase in prosperity can be attributed to a multitude of factors. There have been significant improvements almost universally in healthcare, education and social capital. This has resulted in an improved lived experience and living conditions, in particular reducing poverty, improving digital connectedness and access to water and sanitation services. Key facts outlining these improvements are:

  • Health improved in all but 12 countries (including the United States) over the past decade.
  • 150 countries have improved their education over the last decade. Enrolment has increased globally in all levels of education, but particularly tertiary education in which global enrolment has risen from 31% in 2010 to 42% in 2020.
  • Global 2G, 3G and 4G coverage has risen to cover 89% of the global population in 2020, compared to 62% in 2010.
  • Half of the world’s population now use the internet in 2020, compared to 23% in 2010.
  • Since 2010, 152 countries have improved living conditions for their citizens. This has led to the global population on less than $3.20 a day falling from almost 50% in 2010 to less than 10% currently. The percentage of those who survive on less than $5.50 a day has been reduced from nearly 80% of the population in 2010 to less than 25% in 2020.

Despite these global improvements, 15 countries have seen a deterioration in their living conditions. In addition to this, stagnating governance and personal freedom around the world is preventing further improvements in prosperity. Political accountability and executive constraints have weakened in many countries, and particularly in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Rather shockingly, more than 100 countries have seen a decline in Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly in the past decade. 87 countries now have weaker governance now than in 2010, and 74 have weaker personal freedoms. The focus of this article will be on the MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa regions, due to these areas being the primary concern of the Next Century Foundation (NCF). This is particularly poignant given that the least prosperous ten nations all fall within these regions. The NCF is also currently engaged in projects involving five out of the bottom ten nations which include: Afghanistan, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The fact that these nations rank so lowly in the prosperity index emphasises the importance of conducting work regarding these nations.

Figure 3 – The 10 least prosperous nations in 2020.

Middle East and North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa

Figure 4 – Overall regional rankings of prosperity.

Figure 4 demonstrates that the MENA region is the sixth most prosperous global region, followed by Sub-Saharan Africa. This makes them the two least prosperous regions in the world, and they always rank within the bottom three regions for each pillar of prosperity. This indicates these regions fall behind the rest of the globe across a holistic range of factors that constitute prosperity, which points to the importance of work that aims to improve prosperity in these areas. Figure 5 highlights the regional changes in each pillar of prosperity and overall prosperity in the past decade. It highlights that although the overall prosperity for both MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa has increased over the last decade, the gap between their regional prosperity average and the global prosperity average has widened, making these regions relatively less prosperous. As the decade has progressed, these regions have fallen behind in achieving the benefits from global prosperity. It is critical that work is done to help bring these regions prosperity in line with global improvements, to prevent continued regional underdevelopment.

Figure 5 – Overall Prosperity and Prosperity Pillar performance of the MENA (left) and Sub-Saharan Africa (right) regions.

Figure 5 demonstrates a remarkably similar trend in performance over the last decade within each of the prosperity pillars. Within the ‘Empowered People’ domain, both regions have seen relatively large prosperity improvements in living conditions, health and education but with a slight decrease in their natural environments. Similarly, both regions have seen vast improvements in the ‘Open Economies’ domain, but within that have experienced deteriorations of their economic quality. Where both these regions have struggled the most over the last decade is within the ‘Inclusive Societies’ domain, particularly the MENA region. Although both regions have improved their social capital, there has been an alarming decline in governance and particularly in safety and security. Where these regions differ is there has been a small increase in personal freedoms within Sub-Saharan Africa, but a substantial decline within the MENA region. This points to the critical need for the continuation of work carried out by the NCF and similar organisations whose principal work is to find resolutions to conflict, security and governance issues that have deteriorated in these regions over the last decade.

The MENA region has performed slowly in prosperity due to sustained instability over the region, with protracted conflicts in countries such as Syria, Yemen and Libya continuing to destabilise the region. The number of deaths due to terrorism across the region has more than doubled since 2010, and the number from two-sided conflicts has increased ten-fold to 90 deaths per million people. This highlights the extent that safety and security has deteriorated for many nations in this region, emphasising the critical need for swift peace to bring stability and security. The MENA region has also experienced a considerable decline in the quality of its governance, with 13 out of 19 countries seeing a weaker performance than in 2010 as democracy and democratic values are being challenged across the region.

Although Sub-Saharan Africa is the third most improved region for prosperity since 2010, it remains the weakest overall. There have been big regional improvements in healthcare systems and telecommunications infrastructure. However Sub-Saharan Africa has seen, after the MENA region, the biggest regional decline in safety and security that can principally be attributed to terrorism. Economic quality has also deteriorated in the two least prosperous regions. It is important to recognise the advances in prosperity that these regions have made, but for organisations similar to the NCF that specialise in peacebuilding, the declines in economic quality, safety and security, personal Freedoms and governance are extremely alarming and merit greater focus. This is especially important considering these issues have caused both regions to fall behind the rate of global prosperity improvements.

Inclusive Societies 

Inclusive societies are essential for prosperity, a society can only prosper and attract investment in an environment of safety and security for all its citizens. Nations also benefit from higher levels of national income when citizens’ personal liberties are protected. The rule of law, strong institutions and regulatory quality also significantly contribute to economic growth. Particularly poorly performing countries in this domain overall include: Libya (rank 159), Sudan (163), Afghanistan (164), Yemen (165), South Sudan (166) and Syria (167). These nations are in particular need of resolutions to their conflict and governance issues within the MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa regions. Below is a break-down of the worst performing countries in these regions for pillars that have experienced decline and are relevant to the work of the NCF, to highlight the most pressing areas where resolutions are needed.

Safety and Security

Safety and Security is an integral component of prosperity. Nations can only prosper in an environment of safety and security for all their citizens. Measures within this pillar of prosperity include issues relating to crime, terrorism and war. Figure 6 demonstrates the alarming decrease in Safety and Security across the Sub-Saharan Africa and MENA region. It also highlights an alarming increase in terrorism that has caused declines in regional Safety and Security. The weakest 7 performing global countries for this pillar are contained within these regions: Sudan (161), Libya (162), Iraq (163), Yemen (164), Syria (165), Afghanistan (166), South Sudan (167). This highlights the critical need for conflict resolution strategies in these regions and nations in particular.

Figure 6 – Regional and Element changes in Safety and Security between 2010 and 2020.

Personal Freedom

The Personal Freedom pillar measures the extent to which the population of a country is free to determine the course of their lives. This includes freedom from coercion and discrimination, as well as freedoms of movement, speech and assembly. Although the Sub-Saharan Africa region overall saw a small increase in this pillar over the last decade, many nations within this region perform extremely poorly. The MENA region also saw a considerable decrease in Personal Freedom over the last decades. It is also important to recognise that there are big discrepancies within this pillar. There have been substantial improvements in social tolerance over the last decade, but the declines in Personal Freedom have been brought about by an alarming and significant deterioration in Freedom of Speech and Access to Information, as well as Freedom of Assembly and Association. This emphasises the urgent need for work that rebuilds individual freedoms, and states that allow these freedoms within nations that perform poorly in the Personal Freedom domain. Particularly this includes: Sudan (158), South Sudan (163), Yemen (164), Iran (165) and Syria (167) who find themselves within the bottom 10 nations for this domain.

Figure 7 – Regional and Element changes in Personal Freedom between 2010 and 2020.

Governance

The governance pillar measures the extent to which there are restraints on political and executive power, and whether states can operate effectively and without corruption. It also includes issues relating to political accountability, and the effectiveness of the rule of law and regulations. Good governance is important in driving a strong economy. Of the 80 nations seeing an improvement in their governance in the 2020 Prosperity Index, 77 also saw an improvement in the openness of their economy. The Sub-Saharan Africa region has seen small regional decline in governance, but there has been a large decline in the MENA region. This particularly concerns executive constraints, political accountability and the rule of law. This identifies the need for particular focus to be paid in this region to ways forward for governance that successfully delivers accountability and responsibility to both citizens and the law. Although Sub-Saharan Africa overall was not the worst performing region, within the bottom 10 nations there is Sudan (162) and South Sudan (165) showing certain countries in this region still require considerable governance improvements.

Figure 8 – Regional and Element changes in Governance between 2010 and 2020.

Economic Quality 

Both the Sub-Saharan Africa and MENA region also saw a decrease in prosperity regarding economic quality. This measures how robust an economy is, as well as how stable and sustainable these economies are. Economic quality is therefore an essential component in delivering prolonged prosperity. There has been a particular decline in the areas of fiscal sustainability and macroeconomic stability of national economies within both regions. This is particularly the case for South Sudan (164), Sudan (166) and Yemen (167) who rank as three of the bottom four nations for economic quality.

Figure 9 – Regional and Element  changes in Economic Quality between 2010 and 2020.

South Sudan

As the overall least prosperous nation, South Sudan is in an alarming situation. What is further damaging for the nation is that it is performing much below the regional average of Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in the ‘Empowered People’ domain which includes key issues such as living conditions, health and education. This is important because national development entails far more than GDP growth, it requires the right socio-economic conditions that allow populations to flourish.

South Sudan is the weakest overall nation in the ‘Empowered People’ domain. It is the weakest global nation for education, the second weakest for living conditions and the third weakest for health. This is despite the Sub-Saharan Africa region seeing large increases in prosperity across all of these factors, particularly in regional health where it was the best performing region in the 2020 Index. This exemplifies that while regional trends in prosperity are useful indicators, there exists key national level anomalies within these regional trends. The example of South Sudan highlights the critical need for targeted assistance to be attentive to specific national contexts.

UN Oral Intervention: Failures in humanitarian aid to Yemen

The following has been submitted in the format of an Oral Statement to the 45th session of the UN Human Right’s Council, and was prepared by Next Century Foundation Research Officer, Antoni Mikocki.

The world is concerned by the daily tragedy of the Republic of Yemen’s people. The reality of starvation, war, death, disease, and ecological catastrophe, even if ignored, is well known.

While aware of the need for peace-building – we would like to spotlight the issue of humanitarian aid.

The Next Century Foundation voices serious concern about the efficacy of efforts to provide Yemen’s people with humanitarian aid, especially with regard to:

  1. Delays in the delivery of aid, caused by unnecessary restrictions in the process, especially during unloading and distribution of cargo;
  2. The use of humanitarian aid for political ends or for profit, by factions which seize control of the aid, and either monetize it or condition its distribution politically;
  3. Regional disparity of distribution of the humanitarian aid, made evident by the  lack of provision of effectively any aid to North Yemen, and the insufficient supply of aid to large parts of South Yemen.

With regard to the above, the Next Century Foundation urges warring factions to respect international humanitarian law, and ensure that the following conditions are met:

  1. Humanitarian aid must, without delay, be made available to the people of Yemen. To this end, the naval blockade of Yemen by the coalition led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and supported by the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, must be lifted.
  2. The Houthi allied warring factions must provide effective guarantees that aid, if provided, does not again become unevenly distributed.
  3. Humanitarian aid should be provided to North Yemen, and reach the interior of the Southern territories of the country.

The Next Century Foundation appeals to the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and The Houthi movement (Ansar Allah) that they both cooperate with the United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen in an effort to enact these (or similar) conditions.

Syrian reconstruction – the West is caught between a rock and a hard place

Bashar Al-Assad’s government has this week continued hammering settlements in South Western Quneitra and Deraa Governorates, most notably in Nawa, where at least 14 have died and over 100 have been injured in air raids, part of an offensive intended to remove the last remnants of rebel strongholds in South Western Syria. This comes just days after government forces seized al-Haara Hill, a strategic post overlooking the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights; and after Syrian rebels in Quneitra reached an agreement which, according to UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), “provides for a ceasefire, the handover of heavy and medium weapons and the return of government institutions in the area”. Focus has also been on Idlib Province in the North West, where 6,000-7,000 pro-government civilians have just been evacuated by bus from the besieged, Shia-majority towns of al-Foua and Kefraya, following a deal reached between Damascus and anti-government rebels, in return for the release of many detained in state prisons.

This week’s activity demonstrates two things: that while government forces make significant advances in the South West, the Syrian conflict is very much still in full-swing; and that such conflict continues to cause untold destruction across the country. As conflict rages on, many question how Syria will begin to reconstruct in the wake of a war with a price tag far in excess of $250 billion, the figure estimated by United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, back in November. The true cost of the war is expected to be much higher. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) also initially estimated, early in the conflict, that it would take 30 years for Syria’s economy to recover to its pre-2011 level – this would now likely take far longer. The challenge facing the Syrian government, and the international community is therefore monumental. The question is, who will foot the bill?

Syria’s Allies

It is clear that the cost of reconstruction is far beyond the capacity of President Assad’s government, and even beyond the reach of its two closest allies in the conflict, Russia and Iran. That is not to say that they are not eager to take part in the reconstruction. In fact, Russia was quick, back in early 2016, to sign infrastructure rebuilding contracts amounting to $1 billion; and this will likely only continue. Iran too has signed lucrative contracts to rebuild phone networks and the national power grid. The commercial branch of their Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has already proved a valuable force in the reconstruction effort, having lent support throughout the conflict. They are well versed in the field of post-war reconstruction, and have built a significant reputation for rebuilding within Iran, following their devastating war with Iraq in the 1980s. In April, President Rouhani further renewed state-support for the Syrian government and its rebuilding efforts, stating that Iran “stands beside the country and people of Syria and will continue to aid it in defending against the forces of evil and returning security and stability throughout the Syrian Arab Republic”. Likewise, their Lebanese allies, Hezbollah, would also seek a role in the rebuilding effort, having already offered their support to the Syrian Arab Army.

Russia and Iran are clearly keen to help, and by doing so may seek to increase their influence in the country. And this certainly fits with President Assad’s government’s intention to offer contracts to those few who have stood by Damascus throughout the conflict, and in return for continued political support. So reconstruction may present opportunities for mutual gain to both Syria and its allies. 

However support from Syria’s allies only goes so far; and what little support is given, will be allocated in line with the government’s own interests. This means selective rebuilding in areas loyal to President Assad through clientelist contractors, likely in return for short term profits. Investing in loyal areas also means investing in those areas relatively unscathed by government siege. This means significant rebuilding cannot occur in the areas most damaged, and therefore those most in need of recovery. This would lead to even deeper divisions within Syria, with wealth distributed between Damascus and those loyal to the government, and contrasted with a poorer, devastated periphery. This promises to merely exacerbate existing divisions.

China

China has maintained a slightly more impartial position in the Syrian conflict, though it maintains a cordial diplomatic relationship with Damascus. They also have clear vested interests in Syrian investment. They are likely keen to stem the flow of the some 4,000-5,000 radicalised Uighur Muslims passing between Xinjiang province and North Western Syria, where many have joined anti-government jihadist groups. Syria is also part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), their land and maritime project to foster international development and trade across Eurasia. China therefore has an obvious interest in rebuilding, particularly in areas of Northern Syria, with an eye on the next step of their grand development strategy. China, much like Iran and Russia, enjoys the ability to invest in Syrian reconstruction, due to its ongoing diplomatic relations with the Assad government; and because its investment is not conditional on any political reform, resisted by Damascus, but so strictly pursued by Western governments.

The United States

The US is unlikely to fund any long term reconstruction efforts inside Syria without some substantial political conditions. This by no means implies that the US is seeking to ignore the ongoing conflict altogether, however. By January 2018, USAID had provided nearly $7.7 billion in humanitarian assistance to Syrians and more than $875 million in “stabilization” and other non-humanitarian assistance (often distributed through rebel groups). This is alongside active support for opposition groups inside Syria, in its ongoing effort to eradicate the threat posed to its own national security by the Islamic State group. The Syrian government also continues to face tough US sanctions. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated emphatically in January that the United States would only encourage the normalisation of economic relations between Syria and other nations “once Assad is gone from power”. It therefore seems that a concerted US effort to rebuild parts of Syria, the damage in much of which the US itself is responsible for, through its arming of Syrian rebel groups and airstrikes on government facilities and IS strongholds like Raqqa – 80% of which has been destroyed – will not be made until real political change happens.

But this change does not seem to be coming any time soon, with Assad vowing to remain in power until at least 2021. Any election or any substantial political reform seems out of the question until this point, despite the UN Security Council’s support for free and fair elections to be held within 18 months of Resolution 2254 back in December 2015. And while the Trump-Putin Summit in Helsinki last week might have shown a degree of willingness on the part of the US to engage Syria’s ally over the conflict, details of their discussion have so far been lacking. A 2017 RAND study suggests that the longer the US boycotts reconstruction, the stronger will be the Russian and Iranian positions in the country. This implies the US does have a geopolitical interest in supporting the rebuilding effort. America’s refusal to give aid direct to the government however, means that it may instead seek to leverage influence over the World Bank, IMF and UN to offer assistance at the local level, in return for a degree of local democratic reform. 

The EU

The EU likewise has proved unwilling to offer unconditional assistance.  The European Council’s Syria strategy document produced in March 2017 “reiterates” that Europe “will be ready to assist in the reconstruction of Syria only when a comprehensive, genuine and inclusive political transition … is firmly under way.” Similar to the US, intervention by some European states has led some to question whether they have an obligation to help in the reconstruction, given their part in the destruction of some Daesh enclaves and support for anti-government rebels. 

They also have another clear motivation to engage in rebuilding; to help stem the flow of Syrian refugees towards Europe. The UNHCR had already counted roughly a million asylum applicants in Europe in mid-2017, and many others of the 5 million refugees outside Syria continue to add pressure on European governments. A comprehensive reconstruction program to rebuild homes, communities and industries back home in Syria would certainly help alleviate much of this pressure. Sadly, European governments are caught between offering support through the Assad government, or small-scale investment projects, themselves largely conditional on the will of the central government when taking place in government-held areas or working with government approved local partners.

In any case, the government does not have the luxury of rejecting bottom-up support from European governments – they are still far shy of their vast $250 billion target. A bottom-up approach would certainly be more complicated than directing assistance through the central government. However, a top-down approach would mean diverting funds solely to areas loyal to the government. Any government-led redevelopments in former opposition areas, like the Basateen al-Razi in Western Damascus – which boasts to be rehousing 60,000 residents – or Jouret al-Shayah in Homs, are viewed by some as a means of consolidating power through patronage among potential dissidents and of therefore controlling the local population.

The bottom line

The international community has two options. They can pursue reconstruction in isolation from a political solution; in a piecemeal way through small scale rebuilding initiatives in non-government-controlled areas (which are shrinking daily), while the government continues to award contracts to its allies to rebuild in less devastated, loyal areas. Or they can continue to withhold reconstruction until a political solution is reached. Once political reform, or even a change of government occurs, rebuilding may happen on physical, societal, economic and political levels. A joint statement by NRC, SAVE, CARE, Oxfam and IRC last year argued that in the absence of the “respect for human rights and protection of an independent civil society” that would come from a political solution, “a move towards reconstruction assistance risks doing more harm than good”. This may be true. The former of the two options would see reconstruction pursued slowly and inefficiently, at a time when over half of Syria’s hospitals, two-thirds of its schools and a quarter of all homes have been damaged or destroyed; while over half of Syria’s pre-war population is still in need of humanitarian assistance. It would also see the government and its allies consolidate their influence across the country. Meanwhile, Assad’s government continues to make progress and shows no sign of making the political concessions necessary for more substantial reconstruction to take place. What is certain is that Syria will take far longer than the 30 years initially predicted by the UNRWA for it to recover. Western governments have a huge responsibility on their hands, and a difficult decision to make.

The ‘Good Guys’ & Sexual Abuse and Exploitation

There has been a tide of stories in the international press and a definitive buzz surrounding allegations of sexual misconduct by aid workers at some of the world’s largest humanitarian organisations, most notably Oxfam. People expressed anger that the very same organisations that advocate an end to human rights abuses, including sexual violence and the exploitation of vulnerable peoples, are engaging in these practices. Now this buzz has died down. The international media is consumed by the next salient issue. Yet this does not mean that the issue is no longer as important as it was several weeks ago. The business of humanitarian workers committing acts of sexual misconduct, exploitation and violence has been a problem for decades, a sinister part of both aid and peace efforts.

Sexual violence against women and girls, particularly in conflict, is a topic that has rooted itself firmly in academia and on the agendas of international bodies. The London School of Economics’ Centre for Women, Peace and Security was opened.  The United Nations also contributed to work on sexual violence in conflict and since 2009 the Secretary-General includes the issue in the UN annual report. Yet the same attention has not been afforded to those on the supposedly ‘right’ side of these debates and initiatives. Brian Concannon who is executive director of the Institute for Democracy and Justice in Haiti claimed that Oxfam is just one of 23 organisations in Haiti that have allegedly engaged in sexual exploitation which hints at the scale of the problem. UN Peacekeepers across multiple missions including Cambodia, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have also come under fire for their role as perpetrators in the sexual exploitation and abuse of vulnerable peoples. Allegations have been made since the early 2000s but there has been little done to both stop it and punish those who are guilty. Ultimately, a dark shadow is cast over the positive work done by the UN and other humanitarian organisations.

In light of the recent allegations, Oxfam has established an internal safeguarding mission to address such serious reports. With regard to the UN, peacekeepers have been ‘expelled’ from missions in response to allegations against them although it is still the responsibility of their nation states to punish them. It would be wrong to say that the international community is making no effort to stem these continuous wrongdoings but they definitely are not doing enough. The actions of organisations should not just be reactive, punitive measures. There need to be concrete, regulatory mechanisms in place that disallow sexual misconduct and, in the unfortunate circumstance that it happens, justice must be meeted out. The international community needs to support these mechanisms and each nation should champion them, showing an awareness of the actions of their citizens overseas. A large part of the continuation of sexual exploitation and abuse is down to the lack of measures or the ineffectiveness of those that exist, especially if nation states do not actively support the regulation of peacekeepers or aid workers. The UN and indeed all these organisations have a responsibility to be vocal, to be firm and to take definitive action for the sake of those they seek to protect.