For Help Contact:
CARE International UK Conflict Team

29. Conflict Sensitivity

Emergency responses often operate in complex conflict environments, whether the emergency is directly caused by conflict or by a natural disaster (or a combination of both). If emergency responses are insensitive to conflict, programmes may be affected by the conflict and be less effective. More crucially, they may inadvertently trigger, prolong or increase violence and suffering. The humanitarian imperative to respond to those most in need is the key driver of emergency interventions but agencies also have a responsibility to consider their impact on conflict, social cohesion, and violence. Conflict-sensitive approaches to aid seek to minimise negative impacts and maximise positive impacts of humanitarian assistance on conflict. They can be applied to all interventions at all stages of the programme cycle (preparedness, assessment, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation) and in all contexts (not only war zones).

Conflict-linked challenges in emergency response include displaced populations being deliberate targets of violence, perpetrators of violence being indistinguishable from target groups, problems of distributing resources in situations of scarcity where violence is used as a tool to obtain a livelihood, and civilians experiencing deliberate rights violations and abuses (including sexual exploitation by parties to conflict or by personnel of peacekeeping or aid missions – refer to Chapter on Prevention of and response to sexual exploitation and abuse). Conflict sensitivity is integral to protection approaches and quality and accountability measures particularly communications and feedback systems. Much of conflict sensitivity is simply a reinforcement of good programming and risk management. (See CET Chapter 32 Quality and Accountability).

With the majority of the UN’s Level 3 emergencies now conflict driven, it is clear that CARE’s biggest (Type 4) responses will very often be in protracted conflict settings. CARE’s emergency programming in conflict contexts must systematically build conflict sensitivity into our operations, combining protection, gender, accountability and security processes. At a systemic level, the effects of climate change are now more than ever interacting with political dynamics to further weaken fragile states and trigger outbreaks of violence.  Political, economic, environmental and social impacts are now all required areas for attention in planning for emergencies and helping communities to build resilience. Trends that CARE will have to focus on in coming years include:

o   More operations in situations of protracted crisis such as the DRC and South Sudan with mixed development and humanitarian programming creating tensions between supporting governance, stabilisation and statebuilding and adhering strictly to humanitarian principles;

o   Shrinking access with more aid workers targeted by armed groups necessitating more and complex remote management of partners;

o   Shrinking operational space due to the growing antipathy of host governments towards NGOs, legal restrictions on principled action by donors framed around counter-terrorism, and a weakening of the international system to enforce humanitarian access over state sovereignty.

o   A greater emphasis on protection mainstreaming, and a focus on gender transformation in emergencies (including more meaningful participation of women)

o   Increasing levels of urban violence,

Understanding the context and how an intervention interacts with it is the foundation of conflict sensitivity. Emergencies and responses to them change local social, economic and political dynamics. Humanitarian agencies’ work can affect conflict dynamics through choice of local partners, selection of beneficiaries, relationships to authorities, timing and structure of interventions, procurement, or staffing profile. An emergency response may become enmeshed in existing conflict dynamics, contribute to a war economy, provide a new arena for competition or even create new tensions between groups/communities previous living in harmony. Even in contexts where there is no obvious conflict, aid has the potential to create division, tensions and ultimately violence if it is delivered without regard for local realities.

Conflict sensitivity requires the ability to be flexible and adjust programme activities, change modes of implementation, redraw budgets, renegotiate partnerships or access, and ultimately to freeze or abandon operations where they negatively impact on the conflict.

1.1 Definition of conflict sensitivity

1.2 Suggested minimum standards for conflict-sensitive emergency response

2.1 A ‘good enough approach’ for rapid onset crises

2.1.1 First Phase: Do No Harm basic

2.1.2 Phase 2: Partners, Beneficiaries and Diversion

2.1.3 Phase 3: Strengthening monitoring systems

2.1.4 Phase 4 – Evaluation

2.2 Slower onset and more detailed analysis

2.2.1 Conflict Analysis

2.2.2 Suggested questions for a detailed conflict analysis:

2.2.3 Understanding the link between the intervention and the conflict

2.2.4 Key questions to ask about the intervention: To/by whom, where, what and when?

2.3 Acting upon the understanding

2.4 Case study: Unintended impacts of food aid distribution in Burundi

3.1 The impacts of aid – both positive and negative

A CARE CO should consider consulting an expert in conflict sensitivity if an emergency response is being implemented in an area currently experiencing conflict or with a history of violent conflict that could re-emerge. It is particularly important to call in help where the CO and its staff have no or little experience of conflict-sensitive approaches (the CO should first establish whether any emergency response staff has expertise in conflict sensitivity gained elsewhere). Often, staff will not realise the potential for the CO’s response may have a negative effect on conflict dynamics. In this case, external support can help them to recognise potential impacts and guide them to act accordingly.

Support may be available through local organisations with expertise in conflict sensitivity. If there is no obvious local resource organisation, the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator with support from CARE member partners can advise, suggest approaches and resources, refer the CO to experts elsewhere within CARE (ideally in the appropriate region), or recommend external consultants.

4.1 Case studies: Aid exacerbating conflict

CARE International has widespread experience of working in conflict-affected countries, both to deliver emergency and development aid in a conflict sensitive manner, and to implement peace-building programmes. We believe that to address the underlying causes of poverty we must also address the causes of conflict. CARE’s work on conflict seeks to address the underlying causes of conflict as well as the suffering it causes.

Many CARE COs have explicitly sought to mainstream conflict sensitivity across their programming, and in organisational structures and systems including CARE COs in Burundi, Uganda, Somalia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Kosovo, Georgia, Yemen, Afghanistan, DRC and others.  Significant experience now exists within these COs.

Within the CARE context, conflict sensitivity is often approached through analysis tools such as Do No Harm (DNH) (see Annex 29.3), which was specifically designed with emergency response in mind.

Africa Rights 1994

Humanitarianism unbound? Current dilemmas facing multi-mandate relief operations in political emergencies. Discussion paper no. 5.

Anderson, Mary B 1999.

Do no harm: How aid can support peace-or war. Boulder, CO: Lynne Reinner Publications.

Anderson, Mary B (ed.) 1999

Options for aid in conflict: Lessons from field experience. Cambridge. Collaborative for Development Action. 2000.

Bloomfield, David, Fischer, Martina & Schmelzle, Beatrix (eds) 2005

Dialogue series no. 4: New trends in peace and conflict impact assessment (PCIA). Berghof Research Centre for Constructive Conflict Management.

Emergency Capacity Building Project (2007).

The Good Enough Guide to Impact Measurement and Accountability in Emergencies. Oxford: Oxfam Publishing.

Fisher, Simon, Ibrahim Abdi, Dekha, Ludin, Jawed, Smith, Richard, Williams, Sue & Williams, Steve 2000.

Working with conflict: Skills and strategies for action. London. Zed Books.

Kornfield, Ruth 2005.

The Impact of Food Aid on Community Power Relations and Social Networks: A Case Study on a Hillside in Burundi. CARE Burundi.

The Sphere Project (2011).

Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response. Bourton on Dunsmore: Practical Action Publishing.