Remote areas in poor nations need far more investment to undercut recruitment by militant armed groups, in a shift from development policies focused most on cities, the head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said.
Achim Steiner, visiting Oslo for a May 23-24 conference on preventing violent extremism, told Reuters there was no purely military way to defeat groups such as Islamic State (IS), Boko Haram or Al Qaeda.
UNDP, a U.N. agency with about $5 billion in donor contributions a year, was seeking to boost investments in remote rural areas to help end poverty and marginalisation, for instance in the Sahel region in Africa.
“A traditional development economist might a few years ago have looked at how to invest a million dollars in supporting small and medium-scale enterprise (in) the capital city, maybe one or two other cities in the country,” Steiner said.
“Today if we want to deal with the phenomenon of exclusion, of potential radicalisation, we will look at who will have the greatest added benefit,” he said.
That could mean investments in remote rural areas prone to cross-border incursions by militants, “that traditionally would not have been at the forefront” of development spending”.
“Even now with a peacekeeping force in Mali there are parts of the country that are essentially not stable and secure ... even a country like Nigeria has struggled to contain Boko Haram,” he said.
THREAT REMAINS HIGH
Investment for people in rural areas “may be education, it may be access to health services, it may be access to microfinance so that they can invest in their own businesses,” he said.
The successes of such investments were harder to gauge than a cost-benefit analysis of a business set up in a city, he said.
But it might have hidden long-term benefits, for instance averting a need to deploy an international military force that could easily cost hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
UNDP said there were contradictory trends in the struggle to contain militants.
“Even though violent extremist organisations such as Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and IS are losing territorial control, (the) threat of fragmented and persistent insecurity remains high,” it said in a statement about the Oslo talks.
“Deaths caused by terrorism decreased by 13 percent from 2015 to 2016, representing an overall global decline by 22 per cent since 2014,” with declines in nations including Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria, it said.
At the same time, “there is an increase in the number of countries that recorded at least one terrorism-related death, from 65 countries in 2015 to 77 countries in 2016,” it said.