Conflict-Sensitive Programming

Why is conflict sensitivity so important?

The provision of "aid" follows the explicit intention to do something good, in order to overcome human suffering or to help in the development of local capacities. Very often, however, assistance is given in a situation which is marked by tensions or even by violent conflicts. In such a situation, "normal" approaches to development will not work. Unless the complexities of the situation are taken into consideration, project interventions risk to cause even more violence and contravene their very intentions.

"Do No Harm":
How Aid Can Support Peace - or War

Aid and Conflict

In any situation of humanitarian crisis, local and international agencies feel pushed to intervene and alleviate the suffering of human beings. Very often, such situations are the result of violent actions perpetrated by groups or individuals within that context. It is the mandate of humanitarian or development organizations to assist the most vulnerable people and to do whatever possible in order to reduce the suffering and save lives. Experience from Somalia in 1992 and from Rwanda in 1994, however, clearly showed that "aid" is never impartial and becomes part and parcel of the context in which it is given. Accordingly, interventions may be pereceived as biased towards a particular group in a conflict setting, and resources may be misused for the purpose of prolonging a conflict. As a consequence, it almost becomes an obligation to plan projects in such a way that negative impacts are minimized which may come as an unintentional result of well-meant interventions.

The "Do No Harm" concept takes the potential impact of relief or development projects into consideration and allows organizations to conduct their activities in the least harmful way. By understanding the potential effects of programming decisions and of institutional policies on a particular conflict setting, it becomes possible to avoid negative impacts on the dividing factors in a society and instead contribute to peaceful co-existence. While health, agriculture or education projects might not be able to end conflicts, they might still find ways to delegitimize systems and structures that promote violence and destruction.

Seven Lessons

The Local Capacities for Peace Project has drawn seven lessons out of the various case studies used in the development of the concept. These lessons should be taken into consideration wherever a project intervention is planned within a conflict setting:

Lesson 1:

Assistance becomes a part of the CONTEXT. It is not neutral, but becomes part of the conflict.

Lesson 2:

There are two realities in any conflict situation: DIVIDERS and CONNECTORS. Dividers are those factors that people are fighting about or cause tension. Connectors bring people together and/or tend to reduce tension.

Lesson 3:

Assistance has an IMPACT on both dividers and connectors. It can increase or reduce dividers or increase or reduce connectors.

Lesson 4:

RESOURCE TRANSFERS are one mechanism through which assistance produces impacts: what aid agencies bring in and how they distribute it.

Lesson 5:

IMPLICIT ETHICAL MESSAGES are the other mechanism of impact: what is communicated by how agencies work.

Lesson 6:

The DETAILS of assistance programmes matter: what, why, who, by whom, when, where, and how.

Lesson 7:

There are always OPTIONS for changing assistance programmes to eliminate negative impacts (increased conflict) or to improve positive contributions to peace.