Who spends what to prevent which crises? Are these investments timely enough?


To be sure, global investment in civilian crisis management has grown a lot: from about €1 billion in 2004 to about €4 billion in 2019 (the last year with OECD data).

As part of their crisis spending, OECD members report specific investments in “peacebuilding and prevention.”

These investments have also grown a lot – but mostly before Guterres and other world leaders made their pledges in 2017.

If we separate acute crises from actual preventive cases, we find much lower figures:

In our estimate, global investment in aid for prevention was in the range of €650–820 million in 2019 – only marginally higher than in 2017, when world leaders signed on to Guterres’ prevention agenda.

Important donors, most notably the UK, have even cut their spending, while Germany and the EU have driven a large portion of the most recent global expansion of investment.

Peacebuilding and prevention investments rest on a small number of shoulders: the top four donors alone account for 68% of the global spend.

Germany is now by far the world’s largest peacebuilding and prevention donor in terms of official aid.

The top donors favor breadth over depth: up to 71 countries per donor receive money, but almost no country receives more than €1 million per donor – likely far too little to make a difference.

This falls far short of the €85–850 million per country per year, focused on a handful of countries with good prospects for preventive success, that the UN-World Bank model finds necessary for effective prevention.

Almost every country that receives prevention spending at all (orange), receives it from all four top donors (97%).

Beyond the aggregate data, we also developed another approach to identify preventive action based on the timing of projects in relation to early warning in six case studies from 2004 to 2019.

Take the example of Iraq: As the US withdrew their troops in 2010, the warning signs were well understood.

But Top Four donor investments in peace or prevention went down year after year. They only began to rise again a year after the war had re-started, when donors began to invest in stabilization.

Or take Myanmar, for a slightly different finding:

The country has seen mass atrocities since at least 2012. Violence escalated in waves and reached the level of genocide by 2017.

Unlike in Iraq, three of the four top donors spent more for peacebuilding and prevention with each wave.

When we look into the project information, it appears as if the purpose of the increased spending was indeed to prevent further escalation and build peace.

What Should You Take Away From Our Findings?

Across our six case study, we found no indication of preventive action in Georgia before the 2008 war, in Mali before the Tuareg rebellion of 2012, in Iraq (shown above), or in Ukraine before the war that began in 2014. We do find possible examples of limited preventive action in Myanmar (shown above) and in Burkina Faso since 2016.

In these two cases, donors may have engaged in “operational prevention” — that is, a targeted political strategy to prevent a type of crisis that was specifically anticipated based on the available warning signs. In none of our case studies, however, do we see the observable investments adding up to plausible attempts at “structural prevention,” the kind that is most consistent with most — particularly European — donors’ policy documents.

What To Do, Government Edition

For governments to become more effective actors in prevention, we recommend to:

  1. Invest more in at-risk situations for which actors have developed plausible political strategies whose success is decisively aided by project support.
  2. Improve early warning/early action processes to provide the information necessary to persuade decision-makers to act in the most urgent and most feasible cases for preventive action.
  3. Learn why some political strategies have been more successful than others, and why some projects have been more successful in supporting political strategies.

What To Do, Advocacy Edition

To legislators, civil society activists and academics who would like to support governments in becoming more effective at crisis prevention, we recommend to:

  1. Hold governments accountable, not only for budgeting or reporting the highest amount of money for prevention, but for having a robust early warning system, for turning each serious warning into the best conceivable strategies for early action, and for making a plausible preventive effort subject to independent external evaluation.

There Is More...

Our full study explains how we developed our two estimates of preventive investment, includes a lot of additional data, charts and infographics about country cases, and provides additional analysis on what the findings mean and what to do about them.