7. Belgium’s approach to fragility, crises and humanitarian assistance

Belgium’s foreign policy and its commitment to peace and stability emphasise the leading role of the European Union (EU) in these areas by ensuring that forgotten crises and ongoing conflicts are on the EU’s agenda, and by advocating for other donors to remain engaged in fragile contexts. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as in other partner countries and territories, Belgian delegations actively participate in European dialogue to implement the nexus approach and joint European programming (Kingdom of Belgium, 2020[1]). In Burkina Faso, Belgium is involved alongside the EU in the "Donors Troika" and in the Humanitarian Country Team, with a particular focus on implementing the nexus. Similarly, in Mali, Belgium has played a strategic support role alongside the EU to revitalise co-ordination and coherence among EU and likeminded development co-operation providers for the period 2020-24.

Belgian efforts to support peace and the EU's Common Security and Defence Policy are also reflected in a substantial programmatic commitment within the security sector. Thus, Enabel currently implements security projects on behalf of the EU, sometimes in collaboration with the Belgian Federal Police.1

In 2020, Belgium served for the sixth time as an elected member of the United Nations Security Council on behalf of the Western European and Others Group (WEOG). Under its current mandate, Belgium has set conflict prevention, protection of civilians and the performance of United Nations missions as thematic priorities (Chapter 1). It also uses its field expertise – particularly in Central Africa, the Sahel and the Middle East – to champion human security, human rights and respect for international humanitarian law (FPS Foreign Affairs, 2020[2]).

In line with the strategy note and guidance for fragile situations (DGD, 2013[3]), Belgium has developed a comprehensive approach as a means to enable a coherent and effective foreign policy for crisis response (Box 7.1). Based on an ad-hoc government-wide mechanism, this approach has since been formalised in a strategy note (FPS Foreign Affairs, 2017[4]), the implementation of which has been strongly promoted by the Council of Ministers since 2017. The approach builds on pre-existing 3D-LO2 co-ordination efforts within the Belgian administration among five federal ministries and public services (Foreign Affairs, International Development, Defence, Justice and Internal Affairs), which extend co-ordination to complementary areas. It also establishes a steering committee and the possibility of creating co-ordination taskforces on geographic or thematic priorities of common interest (Chapter 4).

In addition, Belgium has continued its efforts to focus its bilateral engagement on issues and geographical contexts linked to fragility (Chapters 2 and 3), and has established a service dedicated to protracted crises and fragility. Thus, 11 of Belgium’s 14 current partner countries and territories are included in the OECD’s 2018 States of Fragility Framework.

By establishing a department responsible for migration issues, the DGD has adopted an evidence-based approach to advocating for and influencing the links between development and migration. This new department also holds organisation meetings on Belgian asylum and migration policies.

Belgium is committed to promoting and ensuring its own implementation of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework and the Global Compact on Refugees in its dialogue with strategic partners, as well as in all the governance bodies of which it is a member (Chapter 1). With the help of the European Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, it has also increased the number of people assisted through its structural resettlement programme in recent years. Between 2013 and the end of 2019, Belgium resettled nearly 3 300 vulnerable refugees and plans to continue its engagement in this area.

Belgium’s proactive and deliberate approach in the areas of migration and forced displacement is also reflected in its choice of multilateral partners, including the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Bilateral programmes to support forcibly displaced persons and their host communities in Uganda and Tanzania further illustrate the priority given to the issue.

The development of guidance on the conceptual and programmatic link between its migration strategy and strategy notes on fragility and climate would enable Belgium to better ensure that these issues are taken into account in the main fragile contexts in which it operates.

As is the case for Belgian ODA as a whole, financing for fragile contexts has remained relatively stable since the successive budget cuts between 2010 and 2015 (Figure 7.1). The share of ODA for humanitarian assistance has considerably increased between 2015 and 2018 (Section 7.B), in line with the upward trend in overall humanitarian needs. However, despite Belgium’s attention to peacebuilding and crisis prevention, the share of ODA earmarked for these efforts remains relatively low. The establishment of a new instrument to support transitional development is a step towards increased strategic and financial attention to this area. However, to date the instrument has only led to a single call for projects of EUR 12 million in 2018. As it does not have its own budget line, its operation is dependent on discretionary allocations. If Belgium considers this area to be a priority, it might wish to embed it in a strategic approach, accompanied by a more sustainable financing modality.

Current country intervention portfolios remain focused on development co-operation, and are aligned to some extent with the partner country or territory’s development strategy (Chapter 5). However, on the whole, country documents do not make it possible to identify how Belgium intends to mobilise all of its public administration stakeholders (including diplomacy, development, defence and humanitarian action) around common objectives to reduce risks and vulnerabilities in fragile contexts. In the absence of a shared results framework in most countries, Belgium is also unable to measure the contribution and effectiveness of its overall approach (Chapter 5). Setting common objectives for Belgium’s engagement in fragile contexts should be based on a theory of change and a realistic choice of indicators, tailored to the context (Chapter 6).

In line with its decision to target least developed countries (LDCs) and fragile contexts, Belgium has identified programmatic risk management and the achievement of results in fragile contexts as key issues for attention in its bilateral co-operation (Chapter 6). To strengthen its impact in fragile contexts, Belgium has developed a multidimensional analysis and risk and opportunity management tool called FRAME (Fragility Resilience Assessment Management Exercise) (Box 7.2). This tool has been mobilised in Mali to ensure that key Belgian stakeholders share a common understanding of the context during the initial planning phase. By maintaining and strengthening the use of this tool over time, the DGD will be able to ensure that all of the actors involved have a better sense of ownership. In this respect, risk and opportunity analysis with the FRAME method could serve as an entry point for a more systematic identification of solutions to these challenges during the different phases of the programming cycle,3 in particular through contingency scenarios (see next section).

Gender mainstreaming in fragile contexts is particularly reflected in the focus on tackling violence against women. In 2016, Belgium adopted its third four-year “Women, Peace and Security” action plan, which clearly sets out how it intends to promote this issue at the international level and to integrate it into Belgian actions in the areas of conflict, peace and security. In Mali, for example, Belgium recently funded a programme to support the implementation of United Nations resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, which follows on from other projects funded in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Despite its relevance in fragile contexts, the objective of gender mainstreaming is, however, still poorly reflected in the analytical tools that guide strategies, policies and actions (Chapter 2). A more thorough consideration of gender and diversity aspects in the initial context analysis would facilitate a more targeted programmatic approach in this area.

Recent changes in the institutional framework that governs Belgium’s development co-operation have the potential to strengthen coherence between the long-term strategic vision and short and medium-term programming cycles in fragile contexts. The new programming framework consists of projects that are included in Enabel’s five-year country portfolios, which are themselves structured around development co-operation strategies covering a longer period. In this way, country portfolios provide an intermediate strategic framework that would make it possible to integrate shorter, and therefore more flexible, project cycles into a long-term vision (Figure 7.2), which guarantees the strategic relevance of Belgian engagement in each fragile context. In addition, Enabel’s new country portfolios include a flexible financing envelope which allows for programmatic changes in response to unforeseen circumstances during the five-year implementation period within agreed objectives (Box 4.1). This increased flexibility was illustrated in 2020 through the rapid financing that Enabel granted to various actors involved in providing institutional support to Niger’s health system’s COVID-19 emergency response as part of the EU’s Team Europe initiative.

However, the contingency scenarios identified during the initial context analysis are not sufficiently taken into account when establishing intervention portfolios. Enabel’s country portfolio in Burkina Faso 2019-23 (Enabel, 2018, p. 32[7]) provides an example: it anticipates a deterioration of the security situation in the rural areas of the Centre-East region, where Enabel has planned to concentrate a significant part of its interventions. Despite this, it does not provide concrete guidance for readjusting programming when the identified risks materialise and prevent the use of standard administrative procedures. As a result, Belgium is depriving itself of an opportunity to improve its agility and responsiveness to foreseeable risks.

Financing channels make it difficult to harness the potential of partners with a dual mandate of humanitarian and peace work for the nexus and resilience. Currently, Belgium’s approach to resilience is reflected in specific disaster risk reduction activities to protect livelihoods in the event of shocks and to make food production systems more resilient and better able to absorb the impact of crises. However, as Belgian ODA is organised through separate financing channels and partnerships,4 there is little scope for financing other types of projects by bilateral and multilateral partners which combine humanitarian, development and peace-protection activities. There is also limited scope for shifting from a development approach to an emergency response in the event of new crises.

In some cases, this siloed operation within the DGD results in internal divergence in how to approach the nexus. In Burkina Faso, for example, it was finally decided not to adapt Enabel’s development programming to strengthen the resilience of newly displaced people in the agency’s areas of intervention, but instead to leave this task to humanitarian actors. This example underlines the need to strengthen common understanding of the comparative advantages of the various implementation modalities and types of intervention in order to strengthen the links between humanitarian aid, peace and development.

The challenges of making the links between humanitarian assistance and development are also evident in Belgium’s funding to multilateral organisations that are active in protracted emergency contexts. For reasons specific to Belgian financing channels, these agencies are assigned the “label” of either humanitarian or development organisation, which is often perceived as an unnecessary straightjacket, ill-adapted to the complex realities of crisis and fragility contexts. Several partners would therefore like to be able to call on a broader range of Belgian funding channels, depending on the situation.

Multilateralism is a key instrument of Belgian foreign policy in fragile contexts. In particular, Belgium is a strong advocate of common European external action and joint programming (Chapter 5). The importance attached to multilateralism is also reflected in the country’s engagement in governance bodies and in the significant resources it gives to multilateral institutions: in 2018, it channelled 33% of its ODA to fragile contexts through contributions to various pooled funds and by funding its multilateral partners’ central budgets. Belgium considers pooled funds to be particularly useful in fragile states and for institution building. Belgium also provides substantial and regular funding to country-based pooled funds, such as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, and endeavours to actively participate in their governance bodies. However, Belgium’s contributions to the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund are irregular and it does not contribute to the Special Purpose Trust Fund for the Resident Coordinator system, which is designed to better co-ordinate United Nations and all partner efforts in the field in accordance with the nexus approach. Moreover, it does not fully mobilise dual-mandate multilateral actors (see previous section).

Belgian co-operation actors have made significant efforts in recent years to adapt their functioning and skills to the specific operational situations of fragile contexts. Thus, to strengthen the links between diplomacy and development, in 2018 Belgium upgraded its development offices in Mali, Niger, Benin and Guinea to fully-fledged embassies. This increased presence of Belgian diplomacy in such contexts makes it easier to take into account factors of political and governance fragility. At the same time, Enabel’s presence in these contexts guarantees Belgium’s capacity to analyse other dimensions of fragility through the lens of its programmatic engagement. In the same vein, in 2017 and 2019, the DGD organised training workshops on the use of its new approaches and tools for existing staff and partners in the field.

At headquarters, the section responsible for prevention, transition and peacebuilding issues has joined the humanitarian assistance team in Unit D5 (Annex C). This merger puts D5 in a privileged position to link the different approaches, while protecting their respective principles of action and modus operandi.

By continuing to establish a broad skills base for all its agents and operational partners, the FPS Foreign Affairs and the DGD will be able to capitalise on the strategic efforts made in this area in recent years.

Belgium’s approach is based on humanitarian principles. It has become a valued champion in this area as an elected member of the United Nations Security Council (Chapter 1). Belgium has also made ambitious commitments in the context of the Grand Bargain (Grand Bargain, 23 mai 2016[8]), which are reflected in a dedicated and regularly monitored action plan. It also demonstrates its commitment to the humanitarian agenda in European-level forums (the Working Party on Humanitarian Aid and Food Aid and the Humanitarian Aid Committee) and within the Humanitarian Advisory Group.

Belgium is a major contributor to common humanitarian funds, ensuring synergies and flexibility in its funding. On the strength of this commitment, and as recommended in the 2015 peer review (OECD, 2015[9]), Belgium now actively participates in the decision-making bodies of the agencies, funds and programmes that it supports, taking a particular interest in innovation, the role of the private sector and assistance to the most vulnerable. Having assumed the chair of the UNHCR Executive Committee, Belgium ensures, inter alia, that it follows up on the commitments of the Global Forum on Refugees.

The introduction of a new annual planning document, distributed to all its diplomatic posts, ensures strategic focus and increases the predictability of its humanitarian allocations. Belgium could further increase the predictability of its humanitarian funding by opting for two-year or three-year planning.

Belgian humanitarian assistance is channelled through specialised United Nations agencies and NGOs. These organisations prioritise action based on sound needs assessments and are increasingly co-ordinated through joint appeals. Between 2015 and 2018, Belgium’s total gross disbursement of humanitarian assistance rose from USD 145 million to USD 179 million (expressed in 2017 constant prices), reflecting the unprecedented increase in global humanitarian needs (Figure 7.1). The year-on-year increase in Belgium’s contribution to the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund reflects the same trend. However, the growing gap between the humanitarian budget and staffing levels poses a serious reputational risk (Chapter 4).

In accordance with Belgium’s commitments within the framework of the World Humanitarian Summit and the Grand Bargain, more than half of its humanitarian funding is granted on an unearmarked basis over a period of at least two years. This flexibility enables a more immediate response to sudden-onset crises. With regard to financing for specific emergencies, Belgium involves its partners in the selection of crisis contexts to ensure that its choices reflect real needs of affected people.

Belgium has been funding multi-year interventions aimed at strengthening the capacities of local humanitarian actors. Several of these programmes were refinanced in 2019. This ongoing support enables humanitarian actors to develop more preventive and effective intervention capacities. Under the framework of the Grand Bargain, Belgium committed to allocating 25% of humanitarian assistance to local actors by 2020. This objective is mainly achieved through its multilateral funding, particularly to country-based pooled funds. Similarly, Belgium has undertaken to increase the proportion of its emergency aid channelled through cash assistance. Within this framework, the knowledge and working methods of the DGD’s humanitarian staff have been strengthened to support the use of cash assistance.

Belgium implements its humanitarian strategy through four funding mechanisms, seeking to promote the comparative advantages of each mechanism. Its unearmarked core funding enables it to support rapid and large-scale emergency interventions and to build sustainable partnerships. Its support for international humanitarian funds provides an almost immediate financing channel for priority needs identified in new crises. Its programme modality serves as a mechanism for multi-year funding of geographic or thematic priorities. And finally, project-based contracts enable Belgium to respond in the short term to specific emergency needs, for example under-funded or forgotten crises.

Belgian NGOs generally appreciate their flexible partnership with Belgium and highlight the DGD’s efforts to ensure harmonised reporting, in line with the recommendations of the previous DAC peer review (OECD, 2015[9]). Multilateral partners are very positive about the quality of their strategic dialogue with Belgium, as well as the large share of Belgian contributions allocated on an unearmarked and flexible multi-year basis. One of Belgium’s distinctive features in recent years has been its interest in innovative or experimental humanitarian approaches, from the launch of the first “Humanitarian Impact Bond” (a financing instrument that encourages social investment from the private sector in conflict-hit contexts) to the organisation of a humanitarian hackathon bringing together various players in the field of new technologies in the search for innovative solutions in response to humanitarian needs.


[3] DGD (2013), “Note stratégique pour les situations de fragilité”, FPS Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Brussels, https://diplomatie.belgium.be/sites/default/files/downloads/note_strategique_situations_de_fragilite.pdf.

[7] Enabel (2018), “Portefeuille Pays - Burkina Faso 2019-2023” [in French], Belgian Development Agency, Brussels, http://www.diplomatie.be/oda/BKF_Portefeuille_pays_def_v._30-11-2018.pdf.

[2] FPS Foreign Affairs (2020), Belgium @ UNSC: Mandate of Belgium in the Security Council (2019-2020), Permanent Mission of Belgium to the UN, https://newyorkun.diplomatie.belgium.be/belgium-unsc (accessed on 20 April 2020).

[4] FPS Foreign Affairs (2017), “Note stratégique - Approche globale” [in French], FPS Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Brussels, https://diplomatie.belgium.be/sites/default/files/downloads/note_strategique_approche_globale.pdf.

[8] Grand Bargain (23 mai 2016), “The Grand Bargain: A shared commitment to better serve people in need”, Report of the Secretary-General for the World Humanitarian Summit, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Grand_Bargain_final_22_May_FINAL-2.pdf.

[1] Kingdom of Belgium (2020), “DAC Nexus Advisory Group Mapping: Belgium”, Kingdom of Belgium.

[5] OECD (2020), Creditor Reporting System (database), OECD, Paris, https://stats.oecd.org/index.aspx?DataSetCode=CRS1.

[9] OECD (2015), OECD Development Co-operation Peer Reviews: Belgium 2015, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264239906-en.

[6] Vervisch, T. (2017), “Fragility Resilience Assessment Management Exercise (FRAME) - Analysing Risks and Opportunities”, Acropolis, http://www.diplomatie.be/oda/frame_methodology.pdf.


← 1. Enable executes 13 security sector projects at the national level in 8 African countries and one regional project in West and Central Africa for a total amount of more than 63 million euros.

← 2. Defence, diplomacy, development, law and order.

← 3. To date, the tool has been field-tested in three countries: Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and – most extensively – Mali.

← 4. Humanitarian and development, government and non-government co-operation.

Metadata, Legal and Rights

This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area. Extracts from publications may be subject to additional disclaimers, which are set out in the complete version of the publication, available at the link provided.

© OECD 2020

The use of this work, whether digital or print, is governed by the Terms and Conditions to be found at http://www.oecd.org/termsandconditions.