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Albert Gonzalez Farran / UNAMID

Chapter 15.3 DRR, social crisis and conflict

Conflict sensitivity

Photo: Albert Gonzalez Farran / UNAMID

Aid interventions in disaster-prone areas or post-disaster periods can exacerbate conflict. Badly planned programmes may increase social tensions if interventions appear to favour some sections of society over others. DRR needs to be conflict sensitive and must not cause unintended harm. All assistance programmes involve transferring resources of some kind: these might include seeds, tools, housing, water and sanitation, financial services, food, health care and technical skills. In areas suffering from instability and conflict such resources may be scarce, those who control them gain power and wealth as a result, and the resources themselves become part of the conflict.

Over the past 15 years or so, many agencies have adopted the ‘Do No Harm’ approach and frameworks in emergency and development programming (see also Section 15.4: Situation analysis).+See and M. B. Anderson, Do No Harm: How Aid Can Support Peace – or War (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner,1999). Organisations working in DRR may not possess specialist conflict resolution or peace-building skills, but they should be conflict-sensitive, seeking to avoid contributing to social tensions and conflict through their interventions. There may be instances where natural hazard management interventions can stimulate dialogue and collaboration between social groups (see Case Study 15.2: Overcoming social tensions through DRR).

Case Study 15.2 Overcoming social tensions through DRR

For some years, farmers in coastal villages in Central Java, Indonesia, experienced destructive floods, while local fishermen found their access to the sea at low tide hindered by the deposition of river sediments. Both farmers and fishermen laid the blame on deforestation by the inhabitants of villages upstream, and for some time relations between the two groups of villages were unfriendly.

A local NGO, Society for Health, Education, Environment and Peace (SHEEP), began a community-based DRR project in the area in 2009. It decided to work in both upstream and downstream villages, seeking to encourage dialogue between communities and to create a community DRR network. Community organisers worked in each village with farmers’ and fishermen’s groups and other community organisations. During 2010 the groups, organisers and community leaders collected information on changes in land use, water management and environmental conditions to produce community risk maps that were presented, discussed (and corrected) in the villages. Meetings between upstream and downstream villagers were organised, at which community representatives explained their conditions. This greatly improved awareness of all the causes of the flood and landslide problem in the different locations. The whole process took about a year. As a result, relations improved and a flood early warning system was set up linking upstream and downstream villages.

‘Reducing Flood Risk by Overcoming Prejudices Between Upstream and Downstream Villagers, Central Java’, in ICCO and Kerk in Actie, CBDRM and Its Transformative Potential: Reworking Power Relations To Reduce Disaster Risks at Community Level (Utrecht: ICCO and Kerk in Actie, 2012).

There is some potential for linking DRR and conflict management work, even though they may require different skills and a range of different organisations may have to be involved: for example, agencies working in human rights and protection or conflict resolution, together with those specialising in technical and organisational aspects of disaster management. A recent review of disaster risk management in insecure contexts suggests that DRR programming should become ‘conflict-sensitive’ and peace-building should be ‘hazard-proof’.+A. Mitchell and E. M. Smith, Disaster Risk Management for Insecure Contexts (Paris: Action Contre la Faim (ACF), 2011), In other words, DRR should be implemented in ways that do not provoke further disputes or conflict, and community cohesion must be protected against the disruption that hazards and the unsustainable use of natural resources can cause. Environmental management, conflict management and DRR should not be seen as separate activities but as linked to each other, as well as to poverty reduction and livelihoods programmes. Clearly this works better for some types of conflict (e.g. environmental conflict or conflict over contested natural resources) than others (e.g. power struggles or ethnic conflict).

If carried out sensitively, DRR programming can be a form of conflict management, especially where the conflict is linked to scarcity of resources. Disputes over natural resources can be reduced by introducing techniques that use those resources more efficiently (for instance improved irrigation schemes or water-efficient agricultural practices in drought-prone areas), by replacing lost resources in times of crisis (food aid or restocking livestock) and by establishing more participatory and transparent systems for resource sharing and management. The Kenya Red Cross installs boreholes in drought-prone communities as part of its DRR programming and, because this is often in areas of conflict over scarce water, collaborates with local peacebuilding organisations to get communities to work together to manage the boreholes.+A. Ahmed et al., Conflict Management and Disaster Risk Reduction: A Case Study of Kenya, Feinstein International Center, Kenya Red Cross Society, Nairobi Peace Institute-Africa, 2013, However, it is also important to remember that the legacy of conflict – physical, economic and social – is long-lasting. Recovery from natural disaster events may also take much longer in unstable contexts.