How does conflict sensitivity relate to stabilisation?

Stabilisation can generally be thought of as a form of engagement in fragile conflicts that seeks to establish a political settlement and level of stability that enables an area to return to civilian life following a period of violence. While there are different approaches to undertaking stabilisation, it generally includes a set of activities that build the political and security conditions required for normal development programming. Such activities can include those that help to prevent violence, protect and/or rebuild institutions providing basic services, rebuild local and national governance structures, and that increase public trust in the environment and local or national institutions.

Stabilisation is aligned with conflict sensitivity in that there are three types of stabilisation (as described in ‘The UK’s Government’s Approach to Stabilisation’), much like there are three types of conflict sensitivity considerations: 

Through promoting an supporting a political process to reduce violence. This interacts with the first conflict sensitivity consideration of the impact of aid on the ability and willingness of political actors to negotiate a solution. 

By protecting the means of survival through addressing immediate security concerns and building space for peaceful political processes. This interacts with the second conflict sensitivity consideration of the impact of aid, as a new resource, on local violence levels. 

By preparing a foundation for longer term stability. This interacts with the third conflict sensitivity consideration of the how aid reinforces or weakens political, economic, or social structures. 

However, stabilization is the most difficult form of aid to make conflict sensitive. This is because it usually entails purposeful reinforcement of, or alignment with, political actors. As such, stabilization programming requires a greater level of conflict sensitivity support than other types of aid. 

What does conflict sensitivity mean for the relationship between humanitarian, development, and peace aid (the nexus)?

As noted above, the international assistance community has struggled to balance effective delivery of humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding assistance in a conflict sensitive manner. This is because the three respective communities can have very different perspectives on how assistance should relate to conflict:

  • Humanitarian actors will strive to follow the principles of neutrality and impartiality, and will advocate that humanitarian space is protected from political manipulation.
  • Development actors will look to adhere to norms on effective aid delivery in fragile and conflict-affected contexts, and will be more interested in the structural changes required for a sustainable impact. This involves de facto collaboration with national counterparts that will necessarily be aligned with one party to the conflict.
  • Peacebuilding actors will strive to influence humanitarian and development work so that it addresses the root causes of conflict or helps provide momentum for peace agreements.

While protection of the humanitarian space is essential for those actors to be seen as neutral and to access in-need groups, as a conflict endures this type of assistance can contribute toward the degradation of national capacity, and hence there is an increasing need for development-type programming. However, if donors shift to development-type programming without adequate protection of the humanitarian space, it can negatively impact critical human needs. As such, there is a need for proactive planning and interaction between these three types of aid organisations to ensure their overall conflict sensitivity; and that their work does not undermine each other. 

How does conflict sensitivity relate to humanitarian principles?

Conflict sensitivity means working within the mandate of each organisation and hence does not require humanitarian organisations to develop political goals. The opposite is true; it should help humanitarian actors become more effective in delivering their assistance, while at the same time enabling a meaningful conversation with other aid actors so that there is a joint approach generally (see below). 

How does conflict sensitivity relate to peace promotion?

Being conflict sensitive does not amount to ‘peacemaking’ or ‘peacebuilding’ – understood as a wide range of programmes aiming to prevent and stop violence and reinforce peaceful societies. An organization/intervention that ignores conflict dynamics or treats them only as a negative externality that can create risks for it and its operations is said to be ‘working around conflict’. An organization that has as its mandate the prevention and reduction of violence (e.g. peacebuilding or mediation support) is said to be ‘working on conflict’. An organization/intervention that understands that it can negatively affect conflict dynamics and also has the possibility to have a positive impact on conflict dynamics through what and how assistance is delivered is said to be ‘working in conflict’ - this is where conflict sensitivity sits. 

Peacebuilding is not the goal of conflict sensitivity and conflict sensitivity operates within the restrictions of each organization or intervention’s mandate. This means that organizations/interventions would only take actions that help to deliver their mandate and are within their ‘comfort zone’ of action, as conflict sensitivity does not entail ‘working on conflict’.

How is conflict sensitivity distinct from Do No Harm?

‘Do No Harm’ (DNH) understands that assistance into a conflict context can influence the ‘connectors’ and ‘dividers’ between groups in conflict. When an organisation takes a DNH approach, it looks to understand this influence, and to ensure it does not undermine connectors or reinforce dividers. Conflict sensitivity builds on the ‘Do No Harm’ (DNH) framework in three key ways: 

  • Conflict sensitivity entails going beyond trying to do no harm towards, when possible, achieving tangible peace and stabilisation dividends.
  • DNH does not take into consideration the impact of the conflict context on an organisation/intervention and its objectives. As such, DNH also has a ‘one-way’ focus.
  • Because of its focus on connectors and dividers between groups in conflict, DNH is also more useful in localised inter-communal or inter-tribal conflicts, categorised by clear identity groups that compete for access to, and control over, resources and opportunities. Conflict sensitivity has proven to be more applicable for multi-level conflicts, or those with a strong political or religious dimension (see ‘key conflict 
What have we learned from attempts to be conflict sensitive in other conflict areas?

Conflict sensitivity has become a foundation of aid delivery, and has been prioritised in a wide range of contexts including Colombia, Libya, South Sudan, Nepal, and Sri-Lanka. Learning from experiences to date indicate the following lessons: 

  • Conflict sensitivity needs to be applied at a sector level: Conflict sensitivity is often applied at the programme level, where it can help to ensure that an individual organisation’s programme can be delivered effectively. However, each organisation’s understanding of, and capacity for, conflict sensitivity can differ dramatically, resulting in very different approaches on the ground. Experience has demonstrated that unless all programmes operating within the same location in a sector ascribe to conflict sensitivity and implement it in the same manner, then it is very difficult for individual organisations and interventions to be conflict sensitive. 
  • Conflict sensitivity needs to be applied at the policy and strategic levels: The international community has developed a strong set of skills for integrating conflict sensitivity into the design and delivery of individual projects. However, there has not been the same level of progress in ensuring conflict sensitivity is properly integrated into overall policies and strategies on assistance in conflict-affected contexts. Individual projects will struggle to be conflict sensitive if the overall policy and strategy context within which they are operating is not. 
  • Importance of field-based capacity support that is context specific and collective: It is important that conflict sensitivity is not understood as a process of analysis, but rather as an approach to strategic engagement and delivering assistance that requires strong capacity and skills specific to each context. It is also essential that the approach to capacity development: (1) reinforces organisations as a whole rather than individuals in them (and hence is not lost during turnover); and (2) is at an equal rate across organisations, so that they take the same approach to being conflict sensitive. 
  • Balance between humanitarian and non-humanitarian assistance: During protracted conflicts, the international assistance community has struggled to balance effective delivery of humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding assistance in a conflict sensitive manner. This is because the three respective communities can have very different perspectives on how assistance should relate to conflict. As such, there is a need to ensure planning on conflict sensitive actions across different types of aid delivery
What have we learnt about how aid to Yemen can be made more conflict sensitive?

Based on its 2018 research, the YCSP project team identified the following actions as essential for making aid in Yemen more conflict sensitive: 

  • Internal capacity: There is a need to develop internal capacity within organisations on conflict sensitivity through establishment of shared resources for training, mentoring, and institutional development. 
  • Collective analysis and learning: While internal capacity development is a good start, it is also essential that organisations work together to share conflict analysis and learning on delivering aid in a conflict sensitive way. This should include: third party data gathering on conflict dynamics to be made accessible to aid agencies; pooling of sector and geographic-specific lessons on aid delivery; and immediate research into the conflict sensitivity of supply chain and procurement.
  • Collective planning: The collective analysis and learning should provide the basis for planning between aid agencies for: (1) joint approaches in particularly challenging geographic locations; (2) the simulation of and planning for worst-case conflict scenarios; and (3) collective positions on key policy and strategy questions. Importantly, this planning should take place across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, and with opportunities for the inclusion of national civil society perspectives. Collective planning should take place under an existing UN framework. 
  • Shared mediation and crisis management capacity: Delivery of the collective planning should be through a shared mediation and crisis management capacity, through leveraging peacebuilding expertise or collective funding of a pool of dedicated mediators.
  • Donor group on conflict sensitivity: INGO and UN agency action by itself will not be enough to enhance the conflict sensitivity of aid. It will be important to form a leadership group of key donors and delivery agencies to provide sufficient strategic support to aid delivery agencies. The key focus of the donor group would be to provide practical guidance to aid delivery agencies and ensure that conflict sensitivity is integrated into new funding and delivery mechanisms, including (inter alia) the Peace Support Facility and stabilisation programmes. 
  • Develop understanding and support with the Yemeni public, Yemeni authorities, and regional actors: Key to conflict sensitivity is getting all the constituencies in the Yemen conflict to the same level of understanding. This should be done through: strategic communication on aid to the Yemeni public that increases the perception of aid modalities as ‘fair’ so as to reduce local tensions; work on mutual accountability frameworks with the parallel authorities, and separate work to build their capacity; and outreach and capacity building for regional actors funding aid into Yemen. 
What are the main conflict sensitivity challenges in Yemen?

The YCSP team undertook an assessment of the conflict sensitivity of aid in Yemen in 2018 and identified the following key challenges:

Impact of conflict dynamics on aid delivery:

  • Individual agencies’ aid delivery is authorised through constant negotiation with political and community leaders. These negotiations, and the variations in approach by agencies when negotiating with parallel authorities, can limit the effectiveness of aid at the political and local levels by slowing down delivery, increasing the risk of diversion, and potentially impacting end beneficiaries. 
  • Aid workers and organisations’ resources are at risk of being intentionally or unintentionally targeted and harmed. Intentional targeting is a particular risk when an agency does not make the concessions required by relevant authorities or is felt to be openly critical. 
  • The ability of aid agencies to deliver assistance is undermined by: (1) the collapse and division (between the competing governments) of governance and service delivery capacity, meaning that aid agencies lack consistent and sufficiently equipped partners; and (2) the conflict economy, as agencies struggle to procure and supply humanitarian aid, and to make payments through the formal banking system. 

Impact of aid delivery on conflict dynamics:

  • Conflict actors attempt to use aid to reinforce their position in the national conflict and among local communities. 
  • Beneficiaries are sometimes at risk from targeting and harm after receipt of aid, especially if some groups perceive beneficiaries to be unfairly privileged in receiving assistance, or that they should not be allowed to access aid due to their tribal, ethnic, political, or other affiliation.
  • Aid distribution and the design of aid programmes has on occasion exacerbated conflict tensions at three levels: (1) inside local communities, as people felt unfairly excluded from beneficiary lists for cash payments, food, and fuel; (2) between communities, as aid is felt to unfairly privilege some groups – this is most evident with water aid and support for displaced families; and (3) across the national political divide, as aid is perceived to be politicised and to favour ‘the other side.’
  • Regional actors have become the largest funders of aid into Yemen, meaning that: (1) their aid strategies and delivery processes are critical to the overall effectiveness of international assistance; (2) aid effectiveness is increasingly shaped by Yemeni perceptions of regional actors and their intentions. 

While no robust analysis has yet been conducted, there are concerns that the modalities for delivering assistance can reinforce the fragility of the Yemeni state and society, and ultimately prolong the humanitarian 

Why is conflict sensitivity important?

Conflict sensitive approaches benefit aid agencies by:

  • Ensuring assistance gets to the right people at the right time
  • Reducing the likelihood that aid will lead to increased conflict – and in some cases actively contributes to the resolution of conflict drivers
  • Enhancing the safety and security of staff on the ground
  • Enabling quick adaptation of programming in response to changes in context dynamics
  • Allowing agencies to plan ahead for changes in the conflict  
  • Help agencies manage difficult relationships with local authorities and informal power-holders
  • Increase safety and security of beneficiaries. 
What is conflict sensitivity and what does it entail for aid delivery?

At the heart of conflict sensitivity is the idea that all interventions interact with the conflict dynamics. In other words, they are never neutral and can have a range of impacts on the nature and trajectory of armed conflict, both positive and negative. These are often hard to predict. 

The goal of a conflict sensitive approach is to minimise risks that assistance inadvertently contributes to conflict dynamics and drivers – and to maximise opportunities (appropriate to an agency’s mandate) to contribute to peace and stability. Responding to this challenge requires that aid agencies take steps to: (1) understand the conflict environment in which they are operating, (2) design and adapt to respond to changing conflict dynamics, and (3) continually monitor the relationship between interventions and conflict events on the ground.