"If you’re trying to help people whose homes are knee-deep in water, your priority is to respond quickly," says CAFOD's Anne Street, “but it’s really important to take the context into account, or you can end up making things worse."
Anne, our Senior Humanitarian Policy Adviser, has co-authored a new report on "conflict sensitivity" in emergencies, which is launched on 9th November 2011.
“In a humanitarian emergency, aid workers don’t always have the time to think ahead and consider the full implications of what they’re doing," she explains. "For example, food distributions can cause massive resentment. There have been situations where one ethnic group has thought that another group is being favoured, and it’s led to serious conflict between them.
“There was an instance in Sri Lanka where the government provided cooked food for displaced people who were living in a camp – but it hadn’t been prepared in a way that was culturally appropriate for the Muslim community. They felt they were being marginalised in favour of the Sinhalese. It caused a lot of tension. But when the government started providing dry rations instead, and set up committees representing the two groups, tensions eased.
“The report draws on research from Haiti, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as well as interviews with more than 50 humanitarian staff. It recommends minimum standards for agencies in taking conflict into account when they respond to an emergency. Big improvements can be made through relatively simple steps.”