Section 7: Programming in Emergencies


Conflict sensitivity

Conflict sensitivity is the ability of an organisation to:

  1. understand the conflict and power dynamics in the context in which it operates

  2. understand the interaction between the intervention and that context, and

  3. act upon this knowledge and understanding to minimise negative impacts and maximise positive impacts on conflict.

How can we be conflict sensitive in an emergency response?

  • Application of conflict sensitivity should take place at every stage of the emergency programme cycle, including preparedness, assessment, design, implementation and evaluation.

  • Conducting a structured conflict analysis and updating it throughout an emergency response to inform the way interventions are designed, implemented and evaluated, is the cornerstone of conflict sensitivity.

  • Conflict analysis takes a systematic approach to:

    • understanding the background and history of the conflict

    • identifying all the relevant groups involved

    • understanding the perspectives of these groups and how they relate to each other

    • identifying the causes of conflict.

  • In some situations it may be too contentious or sensitive to talk of conflict analysis. Using the broader term context analysis can help to overcome this challenge. However, it is important to differentiate between a context analysis that examines a broad array of social, economic, political and cultural issues and a conflict analysis that specifically seeks to understand conflict and power dynamics.

Key questions to answer in a conflict analysis

Conflict profile

  • What is the political, economic and socio-cultural context? (Physical geography, population make-up, recent history, political and economic structure, social composition, environment).

  • What are the emergent political, economic, ecological and social issues? (Elections, reform processes, decentralisation, new infrastructure, disruption of social networks, mistrust, returnees or refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), presence of armed forces, HIV/AIDS).

  • What specific conflict prone/affected areas can be situated within this context? (Areas of influence of specific actors, frontlines around the location of natural resources, important infrastructure and lines of communication, pockets of socially marginalised or excluded populations).

  • Is there a history of conflict? (Critical events, mediation efforts, external interventions).

Conflict causes

  • What are structural causes of conflict? (Illegitimate government, lack of political participation, lack of equal economic and social opportunities, inequitable access to natural resources, poor governance).

  • What issues can be considered as proximate causes of conflict? (Uncontrolled security sector, light weapons proliferation, human rights abuses, destabilising role of neighbouring countries).

  • What triggers can contribute to the outbreak/further escalation of conflict? (Elections, arrest/assassination of key leader or political figure, military coup, rapid change in unemployment, natural disaster, increased price/scarcity of basic commodities).

Conflict actors

  • Who are the main actors? (National government, armed groups, private sector, multilateral organisations, religious or political networks, civil society, political parties, neighbouring states, traditional authorities, diaspora groups, refugees/IDPs).

  • What are their main interests, goals, positions, capacities and relationships? (Religious values, political goals, access to economic resources).

  • What institutional capacities for peace can be identified? (Civil society, traditional authorities, political institutions judiciary, regional and multilateral bodies).

  • What actors can be identified as (potential) spoilers? Why? What are their incentives? (Groups benefiting from the war economy, leaders/authority figures who may feel undermined by a project).

Conflict dynamics

  • What are the current conflict trends? (Escalation or de-escalation, decrease in inter-group violence).

  • What are windows of opportunity? (Are there positive developments? How can they be strengthened?).

  • What scenarios can be developed from the analysis of the conflict profile, causes and actors? (Best case, middle case and worst-case scenarios).

‘Good enough’ conflict analysis

Applying conflict sensitivity to an emergency response can be challenging due to the complexity of the contexts in which emergencies occur and the speed with which organisations need to react, which leaves little opportunity or time for the use of sophisticated and in-depth analyses. The assessment phase of an emergency is a particularly challenging period where the demand to start providing lifesaving assistance is very high. As time is limited, opportunities to integrate conflict sensitivity need to be realistic, practical and easily understood.Taking on board these simple steps may avert negative unintended consequences:

Assessment phase

Undertake a ‘good enough’ conflict analysis as part of the first-phase emergency response. This analysis should be short and easy to integrate with other aspects of a multi-sectoral emergency assessment, and clear enough to be used by people with no conflict sensitivity expertise. Try and use participatory methods with partners and affected communities as much as you can. In some cases, access may be restricted and it may not be possible for remote teams to complete the assessment.

If this is the case, an analysis can be drawn up in the short-term on the basis of the knowledge of existing staff and/or programmes operating in these regions, including from other agencies operational in these areas.

Try to deepen the conflict analysis in later stages of the emergency intervention. As the dynamics of any given situation are constantly changing, it is important to update the analysis at regular intervals. This can be achieved by cross-referencing with other agency analyses or talking with communities or other groups who were not part of the original analysis. PRRPs, real time evaluation meetings or intra-agency co-ordination meetings are excellent opportunities to integrate a deeper level of analysis.

Design phase

Use participatory conflict analysis from both the preparedness (if possible) and assessment stages to inform programme design and risk management. Develop a risk matrix that considers how potential conflict flashpoints may be mitigated.

Guiding questions for ‘good enough’ rapid conflict analysis:

  1. What is the history of the conflict in the area being assessed? What is it about and how long has it been going on? What has the intensity of the conflict been?

  2. What groups of people are involved?

  3. What kinds of things divide these groups (e.g. caste, tribe, access to resources) and what connects them (e.g. shared cultural practices, local peace initiatives, shared assets)?

  4. Where are the conflict-affected areas geographically located?

  5. Does conflict get worse at any particular time or period (time of day, season, during elections, during religious festivals etc)?

  6. What are the best, worst and most likely scenarios for the future of the conflict in the context? What does each scenario depend on?

Integrating conflict sensitivity into an emergency response proposal check list

  • Does the ‘background’ description demonstrate a sound understanding of the operational context (including a conflict analysis)?

  • Have comprehensive assessments been conducted, including those involving the affected population?

  • If the project is in a highly volatile context, have indicators for conflict sensitivity been included (e.g. whether target groups perceive that the intervention is contributing to conflict)?

  • Are there mechanisms and resources in place for effective inclusion and communication with affected/targeted people, including the most vulnerable, throughout the project cycle, in particular during the project design phase? What about also talking with factions to make sure they understand that aid is neutral and based on humanitarian principles?

  • Does the intervention offer effective feedback and complaints mechanisms available to all beneficiaries/participants and non-beneficiaries/ participants in the project area?

Further Reading