Conflict-Sensitive Programming

Tensions and Co-existence in Crowded Places

South Asia is the most densely populated region of the world, home to almost a quarter of the world population. At the same time, the region is marked by an almost incredible degree of diversity with hundreds of languages, innumerable cultural and ethnic identities and several different religions. When travelling through the Indian sub-continent, tensions between the various ethnic, religious and social groups are tangible at every moment. At the same time, everybody's need for co-existence and for mutual respect is obvious.

"Do No Harm" in South Asia:
Struggling for Social Justice


The biggest democracy in the world is home to more than 1.2 billion people, speaking more than 100 different languages. Apart from the two national languages, English and Hindi, about twenty other languages are used as official languages at state levels, many of them having their own alphabets. These figures show how difficult it is for the people of India to communicate with each other. Many regard it as a miracle that so many different people can live together in one single country, particularly since this co-existence is also affected by different religions and by a hierarchical social system.

One of the original case studies leading to the development of the "Do No Harm" approach had looked at religious tensions in Gujarat, where the Muslim minority had suffered attacks from their Hindu neighbours. The programme of the local Saint Xavier's Social Service Society had addressed these problems by integrating activities linking the two religious communities in ongoing relief and development work. It was expected that this would reduce interfaith violence. The case study can be found in part 2 of Mary B. Anderson's book "Do No Harm - How Aid can Support Peace or War".

As part of its efforts to introduce the "Do No Harm" approach to its partner organizations, the German Church Development Service (EED) had started an extensive training and capacity-building programme in the state of Manipur in the North-Eastern parts of India. As a result, several local "Do No Harm" trainers are available in this remote area of the country.

A wider outreach was anticipated through another programme of the same German organization, addressing "Peace in South Asia". After an initial workshop in Jaipur, which showed the relevance of "Do No Harm" for partner organizations in four countries of the sub-continent, the Church's Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA) took up the role of coordinator for training and sharing of experience on conflict sensitivity and peace-building. The programme also included an international Training of Trainers, which involved two staff members each from four Indian organizations, apart from CASA itself the Church of North India, the Church of South India, and the Institute for Social Democracy.


The birth of Pakistan as an independent nation was the result of inter-religious violence, leading to the separation of Muslims and Hindus in former British India. This violence had not only cost lots of lives and created massive displacement but has also marked the national identity of Pakistan and the relationship to its neighbour India. Tensions between the two countries have remained high throughout the last 65 years, especially in the disputed region of Kashmir. At the same time, Pakistan has faced ethnic violence among its own population and problems of religious extremism, affecting in particular the areas bordering Afghanistan, from where millions of refugees have entered the country.

Partner organizations of the German Church Development Service (EED) had been part of the "Peace in South Asia" programme together with organizations from India, Nepal and Bangladesh. As part of this programme, two staff members of the Church World Service participated in a Training of Trainers in Bangladesh.

A third "Do No Harm" trainer has been added to this small group in 2014 when Oxfam-Novib sent their programme coordinator for conflict transformation to a Training of Trainers in Uganda.


Despite the complex composition of its population with different ethnicities and tribal groups, speaking various languages and following two major branches of Islam, Afghanistan has a particularly strong national identity. The country had resisted all efforts of colonial expansion and had always kept its independence. This resistance was revived in 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and although the foreign troups have long left, the country has never come to peace again. After years of sectarian wars, the fundamentalist Taliban took power and were removed only by another outside intervention. Today, there is again a democratically elected government, which does, however, not have control over the whole country and which is struggling with armed opposition and indiscriminate terror attacks.

Norwegian Church Aid has introduced its own staff and its partner organizations from Kabul, Faryab, Uruzgan and Daykundi to the "Do No Harm" concept, trying to demonstrate how local connectors could effectively be used to gain acceptance for project ideas and to prevent interference by others. At the end of a four-days workshop, an action plan was developed, which also included the participation of one staff member in a Training of Trainers. In the meantime, the basic "Do No Harm" material has been translated into Dari, so that workshops can now be conducted at local level, too.


Following the division of British India into a Muslim and a Hindu state, the region now known under the name of Bangladesh was forming the Eastern part of Pakistan. While it was religious tension that had caused the first split, it was ethnic difference that divided West and East Pakistan in a bloody civil war in 1971. Since then, the extremely densely populated Bangladesh has seen a lot of political divisions, social and religious unrest. Furthermore, there are some ethnic minorities in the Eastern regions who feel marginalized by the central government.

As part of its regional "Peace in South Asia" programme, the German Church Development Service (EED) had invited two partner organizations from Bangladesh to get introduced to the "Do No Harm" concept. One of these, the Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh (CCDB), hosted the first Training of Trainers in Baroipara, where 16 participants from four countries not only learned how to facilitate "Do No Harm" but also applied their skills in three demonstration workshops. Apart from CCDB, the Hill Tracts NGO Forum also sent two staff members to this ToT, establishing an initial pool of four "Do No Harm" trainers for Bangladesh.


Nepal is globally known for the highest mountains on earth and has consequently become a major tourist destination. This has not stopped poverty, however, and many areas of the country have remained isolated from basic infrastructure and public services. Years of political unrest have further contributed to the lack of development. A new chapter in the history of Nepal was opened in 2008 when the kingdom was abolished and the country became a republic, ending the Maoist rebellion that had affected many of the remote areas of the country.

Together with India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Nepal was part of the "Peace in South Asia" programme, funded by the German Church Development Service (EED). Two staff members of the United Mission to Nepal attended the first Training of Trainers in Bangladesh and have since conducted several workshops on their own.

Sri Lanka

Due to its location in the Indian Ocean, the island of Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) had been exposed to influences from Portugal, the Netherlands and England since the beginning of the 16th century, which explains the presence of a sizable Christian minority in the towns. On the South-Eastern coast, however, Islam is the dominant religion which reached the island through seafarers from the Malayan archipelago. On the other hand, the North-East is inhabited by Hindus belonging to the Tamil ethnic group also found in India, whereas the Western and Central regions are the home of the Singhalese majority who practice Buddhism. Regrettably, this fascinating diversity of cultures and religions has not been appreciated by everybody, so that Sri Lanka became the battleground for a long civil war only recently ending with the victory of one side.

In view of the deep-rooted division between the Singhalese and Tamil population groups, two USAID-funded projects tried to work on economic growth and good governance with conflict-sensitive approaches. Staff from USAID itself as well as from the "Supporting Regional Governance" project (implemented by ARD Inc.) and from the "Connecting Regional Economies" project (implemented by AECOM International Development) participated in an exposure workshop in Habarana, looking at ways in which projects could run without favouring one side of the ethnic division and without exposing partners to pressure from military actors.