Increasing awareness of a conflict sensitive approach to aid interventions in Syria

There are many groups and countries involved in Syria, who bring their own agendas to the context, making conflict dynamics extremely complex.  In 2018, Peaceful Change initiative worked to bring together International NGOs, UN agencies and donors, working in Syria to start a conversation on the delivery of humanitarian, development and peacebuilding assistance. The aim was also to explore understanding around conflict sensitive approaches and the interaction of aid with the conflict, which can have positive and/or negative effects.

Two meetings were convened for representatives from 7 Syrian NGOs, from both government and opposition controlled areas and 13 International NGOs and UN agencies. In the meetings, the Syrian context was analysed to support increasing awareness of what drives peace and what drives the conflict in Syria. This helped implementing agencies to apply a conflict sensitive approach, when delivering aid, in efforts to minimise negative effects and the risk of exacerbating the situation – and maximise positive effects by identifying opportunities, to build peace.

A one one-day exploratory War Economy Retreat was also convened for 7 Syrian NGOs, alongside a parallel retreat organised for 9 donors and 15 international implementing agencies. Some examples of how assistance interacts with the conflict were explored with a couple of examples outlined below.

Distribution Effects

  • The benefits of assistance are distributed unevenly and reinforce existing social, political or economic divisions or tensions
  • Or assistance can reduce tensions between groups when assistance is delivered across existing tensions or divisions in a collaborative manner

Economic market effects

  • Intervention may distort the local economy
  • Or the intervention could build supply chains across conflict lines

Some key insights from these meetings include:

  • It is not the norm for projects in Syria to explicitly take conflict sensitivity into consideration and the development of conflict sensitivity tools could enhance the effectiveness of aid
  • Embedding conflict sensitivity into a project cycle may create challenges due to the monitoring limitations in Syria