1. Introduction

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 on 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.

Conflict sensitivity means ‘the ability of your organisation to:

  • understand the context in which you operate;
  • understand the interaction between your interventions and the context
  • act upon the understanding of this interaction, in order to avoid negative impacts and maximise positive impacts.’

Conflict Sensitivity Consortium, 2012 How to Guide to Conflict Sensitivity

The components of a conflict sensitive approach are:

  • To conduct a conflict analysis (and update it regularly)
  • To link the analysis with the programming cycle of the intervention
  • To design, implement, monitor and evaluate the project/programme in a conflict sensitive way.

Research undertaken by CARE suggests the following minimum standards for achieving this, whilst recognising that longer term responses can, and should, go beyond this.

  • Long-term emergency response preparedness plans include a regularly updated conflict analysis, as well as conflict-sensitivity training for both senior and operational staff
  • A ‘Good Enough’ conflict analysis, which considers potential impacts of the interventions, is included as part of the rapid emergency assessment phase (see 3.1 below)
  • Partnership strategies (including the selection, identity and spread of partners) are analysed in relation to potential conflict risks
  • All new staff, both international and local, are given orientation including information on the conflict context
  • Participatory methods are used to foster community engagement in developing targeting criteria and managing distributions, non-beneficiaries are consulted
  • During post-distribution monitoring and conflict-related questions are included in post-distribution monitoring tools
  • Conflict benchmarks are included within Real-Time Evaluations and After Action Reviews.

Source: CARE International UK and CAFOD 2011. Learning Review on Conflict Sensitivity in Emergency Response: Current Practice and Recommendations for the Future.

To reflect this we have a rapid onset emergency checklist, as well as guidance for slower onset situations where more time is available for analysis and developing programming options.