Conflict sensitivity applies to a broad range of conflict-prone contexts, ranging from areas of severe violence to situations where underlying tensions have not recently resulted in violence (Brown et al., 2009). Bush (2009) notes that while PCIA was originally developed in the context of militarised conflict, it has since been applied to less or non-militarised contexts, such as to indigenous communities in Canada.
Ahmed (2011) emphasises that PCIA involves being sensitive not only to traditional forms of conflict and violence but also insecurities associated with socio-economic disparities, gender inequalities and other forms of inequality with the potential to develop into violent conflict. Similarly, Baradun and Joos (2004, p. 1) extend the prevention of violence to include ‘influencing all people, structures and symbols that employ, encourage, propagate or legitimise violence in any form against women, men, girls and boys’. It may, however, be particularly challenging to engage policy makers and practitioners on issues of conflict sensitivity in seemingly peaceful contexts.
In order for conflict sensitivity to be effective and maximise impact, it should be mainstreamed within an organisation, rather than treated as a separate project component. Without organisational mainstreaming, there may be no incentive or supporting structures to engage in conflict sensitivity (see Challenges for further discussion). Another requirement for effective conflict sensitivity is the need for systematic links between context analysis and the design and implementation of interventions (Paffenholz & Reychler, 2007). This requires consideration of risks and opportunities linked to the conflict setting that are not necessarily linked to project objectives.
Conflict sensitivity needs to be applied consistently at the different levels of intervention (project, programme, sector, policy and inter-agency). Even if conflict sensitivity is applied at the programme level, for example, there could still be negative consequences if the policy level is neglected. Policy changes, such as aid flow disruptions and programme cuts, can be extremely destabilising in fragile contexts. They can contribute to the outbreak of violence if governments are unable to provide promised resources and services; and citizens see less benefit in participating in national institutions (McKechnie & Davies, 2013).
Conflict sensitivity also needs to be applied holistically throughout the programme cycle (design and planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation). Programmes need to be adaptable based on changing situations and M&E findings. Conflict sensitivity also needs to be conducted by different actors, ranging from donors to non-governmental actors to private sector actors – all of whom have the potential to produce inadvertent effects in the environments in which they operate.
Mainstreaming conflict sensitivity requires institutional capacity, commitment and the right incentives (see Challenges). This entails a change to organisational culture, thinking and practice. Lange (2006, p. 164) states that ‘sensitivity to conflict is less about making fundamental changes to existing programmes than describing and thinking about programmes differently’. The Conflict Sensitivity Consortium (‘How to guide’, 2012) notes that institutional commitment can be fostered through buy-in at leadership and senior management levels, commitment across the organisation, conflict sensitivity ‘champions’, an organisational policy on conflict sensitivity, and integration of conflict sensitivity into strategic plans.
Conflict insensitivity at various levels of international assistance to refugees from Syria in Lebanon
Lebanon has experienced an immense influx of refugees escaping the conflict in Syria since 2011. At the policy level, international aid actors have operated largely independently of the Lebanese government in favour of local non-state actors as service providers, undermining the already weak legitimacy of the government. This has strengthened patterns of clientelism and patronage, elements of past system failures. Despite dissemination of conflict sensitive best practice at the institutional level, urgency on the ground has resulted in a gap in their operationalisation at the programme and project level. Health services, for example, provided for free to refugees from Syria but at a cost to Lebanese hosts, are perceived as unequal treatment and have contributed to escalation of tensions. While needs-based assistance is important, decisions about project location and the diversity of recipients, staff and suppliers need to take into consideration the existing political fault-lines in order to ensure impartiality in aid delivery (Stamm, 2013).
McKechnie, A. & Davies, F. (2013). Localising aid: is it worth the risk? London: Overseas Development Institute
Is locally-managed aid more prone to failure? Not necessarily. This study proposes a method for assessing risk and choosing between aid instruments, and applies it to the case of Afghanistan. While fiduciary risks are greater with localised aid, they diminish substantially with mitigation measures. Other risks – programmatic, contextual and institutional – are significantly smaller, meaning that localising aid may be less risky overall than other options. Donors seeking to localise aid might improve their approach to risk management by tailoring the choice of aid instrument to the country context, and implementing special risk mitigation measures in high-risk environments.
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Stamm, S. (2013). Conflict dimensions of international assistance to refugees from Syria in Lebanon. Bern: KOFF/swisspeace
TThe massive influx of Syrian refugees to Lebanon and accompanying humanitarian aid programmes have increased tensions in an already highly fragile context. This discussion paper, based on primary research, highlights conflict sensitivity concerns at policy, institutional, operational/programming, and individual/personal levels. Potential measures to ensure that aid instruments are conflict sensitive include increasing dialogue with Lebanese politicians and ‘non-like-minded’ actors; carefully selecting areas of operation, staff, and suppliers; and designing programmes to strengthen local community capacities to cope with future refugee needs.
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Paffenholz, T. (2006). Nepal: Staying engaged in conflict. Experiences and lessons learnt from Conflict Sensitive Programme Management (CSPM) in fragile context with armed conflict. Brief for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation
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- Ahmed, Z. S. (2011). Peace and conflict impact assessment (PCIA): Lessons from Pakistan. Peace and Conflict Review, 5(2), 12-27. See document online
- Barandun, P. & Joos, Y. (2004). Gender- and conflict-sensitive program management. Bern: Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. See document online
- Brown, S., Goldwyn, R., Groenewald, H., & McGregor, J. (2009). Conflict sensitivity consortium benchmarking paper. Conflict Sensitivity Consortium. See document online
- Bush, K. (2009). Aid for peace: A handbook for applying peace & conflict impact assessment (PCIA) to Peace III projects. INCORE, University of Ulster, and United Nations University. See document online
- Conflict Sensitivity Consortium. (2012). How to guide to conflict sensitivity. London: The Conflict Sensitivity Consortium. See document online
- Lange, M. (2006). Conflict-sensitive humanitarian assistance: building capacity for mainstreaming. In P. Gibbons & B. Piquard (Eds.), Working in conflict – Working on conflict: Humanitarian dilemmas and challenges (pp. 155-170). Bilbao: University of Deusto. See document online
- Paffenholz, T. & Reychler, L. (2007). Planning and evaluating development and humanitarian interventions in conflict zones, Part 3 in Aid for Peace: A Guide to Planning and Evaluation for Conflict Zones (pp 71-127). Baden-Baden, Germany: Nomos.See document summary