State building remains a smart investment in times of austerity

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Unfortunately, Nigeria is not the only country where economic uncertainty and poor governance can breed terrorism. As we’ve seen in Afghanistan and Pakistan, terrorists are able to best recruit in ungoverned spaces; fragile states in West Africa and the West Balkans are often powerless to prevent organised crime; and conflict in Somalia directly impacts prosperity and the potential for long-term growth for everyone.
 
Each one of these scenarios poses a new and evolving threat to U.S. and UK security. In an age of uncertainty, we need to be able to respond quickly and effectively to conflict and state fragility. It is critical not only for our own national security, but also for building a safer and fairer world. Best of all, the effects can spread very quickly.
 
The British government believes that putting poverty reduction at the centre of dealing with national security is morally the right thing to do. Conflict impacts the most vulnerable people, and it is no coincidence that fragile countries account for a third of those living in extreme poverty, half of children not in primary school, and half of children who die before their fifth birthday. That is why our government has made a firm commitment to protect and grow our foreign assistance budget—even as we cut back on other programs.
 
So what does this mean in practice? Well like the U.S., we have recognised the importance of investing much earlier to tackle conflict at source and prevent escalation. Our top priority is to build strong, legitimate and robust societies and institutions in fragile countries capable of managing tensions and shocks. The UK is therefore significantly increasing foreign assistance funding to fragile and conflict-affected states. This is a smart investment during times of austerity.
 
U.S. policymakers take note: it is far more cost effective to prevent conflicts upstream than to pay the price of major crises, terrorism or piracy.
 
Furthermore, our approach on the ground very much needs to be tailored to context. Most countries are vulnerable to shocks, and supporting countries to develop core functions such as security and to meet the expectations of ordinary people is often the key. The UK is working  alongside the U.S. in numerous countries to help build open economies, open societies, inclusive politics, and effective and accountable government, all of which we believe underpin the longer term prospects for development.  
 
Let’s apply these principles to Yemen – a country I have visited many times and have a strong interest in, and where it is no exaggeration to say that the whole relationship between state and society is on the table. The election of Yemen’s national unity government in February was a major milestone, but the coming months will be critical in determining the country’s future.
 
Yemen is widely recognized as one of the poorest and most fragile states in the world, with nearly half a million people displaced by conflict and nearly a million children under five are malnourished – one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world.
 
Therefore, this transition is a time for opportunity, but also significant risk. That is why the U.S. recently announced US announced over $73 million of humanitarian assistance and the UK announced over $43 million. The UK’s contribution alone will provide a great deal to those in desperate need, including emergency food security support for up to 250,000 people, lifesaving nutrition support for 150,000 children, safe water to 68,000 people affected by conflict, emergency shelter to 23,500 internally displaced people, access to health care for 170,000 displaced people, and education for 60,000 children living in conflict affected areas.
 
Most importantly, our work with the U.S. will help build stability in Yemen. However, the US and UK we cannot do it alone. That’s why we’re calling on other donors to follow our lead and increase their contributions to the UN humanitarian appeal for Yemen. Facing a $340 million shortfall for 2012, water, sanitation and hygiene – all basic necessities – are at risk of being underfunded. Furthermore, with budget cuts looming in the U.S. and Euro Zone, we cannot afford to take a step backwards.
 
I believe it is a credit to the Yemeni people that they managed to broker a solution to the political crisis of 2011 and remain on track to implement their agreement. The role of the UN and wider international community should also be commended, but it’s clear there is still much to be done. Without our support, the alternative is a slide towards state failure and an increased threat from international terrorism.
 
Duncan is a member of the British parliament and serves as Minister of State for International Development.