23/04/2021 - Strengthening community resilience in conflict

The below is a summary of the research report of the International Institute of Social Studies who conducted a research on community resilience in conflict. The full report can be downloaded from te PfR library.

This report describes the main findings and recommendations of research carried out for the Partners for Resilience (PfR) alliance on how the PfR programme is affected by – or may affect – conflict. Although PfR works in different conflict-affected countries and contexts, it does not address conflict or insecurity explicitly. This is potentially problematic for PfR’s effectiveness. It is therefore important to consider whether PfR could or should address conflict more explicitly. For this research, a qualitative analysis of the experiences within the ongoing PfR programme was conducted in all 10 countries: Ethiopia, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mali, Philippines, South Sudan, Uganda and the regional programmes in Asia, Africa and Central America. The research was conducted by consultants and researchers from the International Institute of Social Studies, the Hague. The core of the study consisted of an online survey, for which PfR staff and partners from all countries were invited, in addition to Skype interviews and a desk study. In all, 52 people participated. The main research findings are summarised here.

PfR experiences with conflict

PfR alliance and CSO partners experience conflict in many forms and at all levels, whether between stakeholders in the PfR focus regions, or in the context of large-scale or structural violence and insecurity which hampers the entire environment in which partners work. Resource-based conflicts and social tension are embedded in all aspects of Integrated Risk Management (IRM), occurring within and between communities (for example, those with differentiated status or entitlement), between different resource user groups, or between communities and the government or private companies. Most of these conflicts relate to access to or usage of natural resources such as land, water or forest resources, sometimes complicated by tensions between different ethnic or identity groups. Lack of government regulation or enforcement of existing legislation can also deepen such conflicts, as can inequalities related to wealth, power, gender and marginality. In many conflicts, governments tend to favour the interests of private companies over those of communities. In some cases, the government itself is engaged in commercial resource exploitation. Weak governments often lack institutions that can resolve such conflicts. There is also often a lack of accountability from government towards local communities, which is particularly significant when the local government is a partner in PfR. This means that problems may be addressed and resolved within the network but can also lead to complications and dilemmas over how to address the issues.

Effects of conflict on the IRM approach

The work of PfR and the IRM approach are affected by violence in different ways. Some areas are difficult to access, leading to monitoring challenges. Beneficiaries and CSO partners are sometimes targeted and violated. In some areas, programmes have been downscaled or halted. Threats of violence can lead partners to act with caution and avoid risks in addressing resource management, in particular the access to resources of marginal groups who suffer from structural and cultural violence. Threats are not uncommon but are not always reported on publicly as PfR does not want to expose their partners to further risk. Structural violence similarly stands in the way of IRM effectiveness. This is an issue in all PfR countries: laws and policies pertaining to control of resources and other economic matters can sustain patterns of marginalization and vulnerability. Structural violence against women is found in all countries: women are excluded from economic opportunities as they lack access to productive resources like land. There are also many instances of cultural violence affecting PfR work, including discrimination against indigenous peoples in Guatemala, the caste system in India, and tribal communities in the Philippines. These issues skew dialogue, impede fair resource management and lead to conflict. Civil society, core to the IRM approach, often finds itself at the heart of conflict. In some countries, the government criminalizes CSOs and advocacy groups and brands them as anti-government. Almost 25% of PfR partners experience ‘negative pressures’ from government officials and in some cases from private companies. This has serious consequences for programme implementation: in some cases, the governments prevent CSOs from working on ‘sensitive’ issues related to resource management.

Does the IRM approach exacerbate conflict?

Linkages between conflict and resource issues such as land-use planning make PfR partners a party in possible conflict. They are generally well aware of this and put great effort into navigating this to avoid exacerbating conflict. Many partners monitor evolving conflicts and assess the effects of their interventions on the conflict dynamics. They adapt programmes to changing realities on the ground. Conflicts can occur within and between communities concerning their selection and participation in the programme: who will benefit and how will these benefits be distributed?

PfR partners employ participatory consultations with communities, which can lead to agreement on public and shared benefits. PfR partners indicate that engagement in IRM dialogues can sometimes be a risky business. The more large-scale and complex conflicts become – and the more interwoven with inequalities and identity politics – the more difficult it is to oversee the impacts of programme interventions.

How is conflict experienced differently by women and minorities?

Among the research participants, there was a broad understanding that women are affected by structural and cultural violence. There were many examples of community-level conflicts directly related to gender, inequalities and identity politics. All research participants provided evidence on how they address gender inequalities in their programmes. There appears to be a PfR-wide deeply felt awareness that it is important to include women and make sure they have a voice in IRM. However, the attention to gender is not explicitly geared to the conflict dimensions and there was little evidence of using conflict-sensitive gender approaches. Survey responses also suggested insufficient attention to the question to how PfR addresses violence against other marginalized groups, for example ethnic minorities or lower castes. A number of responses conveyed how the inclusive IRM approach of PfR, favouring a strategy of dialogue rather than confrontation, may lead to situations where partners refrain from explicitly addressing underlying conflicts and the ways these affect marginalized groups. It also became clear that, even in programmes where specific attention was focused on the inclusion of women, these approaches may have unintended effects. For example, men sometimes reacted to feeling left out, or women ended up bearing the double burden for participating in ‘women’s’ programmes as well as carrying out their many other existing responsibilities.

How does PfR deal with conflict?

Addressing conflict is integral to the IRM approach. We distinguish three major aspects – monitoring conflict; addressing conflict in programme implementation; and conflict resolution – but in PfR practice they are often intertwined. In all three aspects, PfR partners and CSOs rely on dialogue and participation. Most have a ‘do no harm’ policy and prefer a ‘non-confrontational’ approach based on facilitating stakeholder dialogue to deal with conflicting interests. Research participants say this gives the best results as it increases understanding between parties and can build bridges between communities and government and other stakeholders. The trade-off of taking a non-confrontational approach is that it may hinder addressing root causes and explicitly advocating for marginalized groups. PfR and CSO staff seem to be well aware of this inherent dilemma and portray their work as a balancing act. Certain pieces of information do not surface during formal multi-stakeholder meetings. This can be dealt with by complementing the meetings with informal interactions.

PfR draws on many different participatory tools such as interest mapping, power analysis, survey and assessment tools, context analysis and conflict risk assessments. Many of these tools have been provided by the Dutch partners, but there is no shared set of tools at the level of PfR. The conflict-related tools are separately introduced from the IRM tools, even though some participants observed that the IRM tools could be useful for conflict-related analysis. Some participants mention that having tools available does not mean that they are being used in practice. While there is a lot of knowledge and practice of conflict monitoring, conflict sensitivity and conflict resolution, it stems mainly from ‘learning by doing’ and many participants expressed a need for further capacity building, theoretical frameworks and guidelines. In sum, there are many concrete examples of how PfR was able to defuse or resolve a conflict. The examples were mainly geared to community-level and resource-based conflicts based on small-scale diplomacy with authorities to protect the interests of marginalized or oppressed groups. Large-scale, escalated and structural conflicts are often beyond the scope of influence of PfR.

Conclusions: opportunities for PfR

Conflicts and violence form part of the realities that PfR seeks to change through IRM. This means that conflict monitoring, conflict sensitivity and in many cases conflict resolution are part of the everyday practice of the PfR programme. Yet in the first two phases of the PfR programme from 2010-2020, there has been no explicit attention to conflict, and as a result conflict-related activity has mainly been developed through ‘learning by doing’ and sensitive deployment of IRM tools. A special challenge for PfR is that local-level resource-based conflicts and forms of structural violence occur between actors that are all included in the IRM approach of PfR, which is rooted in acceptance, dialogue and participatory multi-stakeholder activities. Whereas this inclusiveness is considered to be effective for PfR, it makes it challenging to directly confront the root causes of conflict. This creates operational dilemmas, and there is currently no space in PfR to report on dealing with conflicting interests within the programme, and hence there is no space for jointly discussing and learning from these dilemmas. A non-confrontational approach towards injustices may often be the best choice, but it is not the subject of policy discussion or reflection, and the question of how this affects the space to address the root causes of disaster risk remains largely unaddressed. PfR partners already have ample experience in elements of conflict-sensitive programming, such as conflict risk analysis and assessments, inclusive planning and engagement in multi-stakeholder dialogues. The development of new PfR programming provides a good opportunity to integrate conflict dynamics in the overall resilience framework of PfR and to support partners and CSOs to advance their conflict-sensitive work and conflict risk reduction.






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