Tag Archives conflict

Misinformation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is spreading like wildfire on social media — here’s why we keep reading fake news and what we can do to change it

Can you trust what you read on social media about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Even some of the most popular posts are misleading. With more and more people using social media as their primary news source, how can we make sure that we’re getting accurate information? This question becomes much more relevant in times of conflict, where misinformation could cause widescale violence. In this blog article, Tom Ansell looks at misinformation in times of conflict and what we can do to encourage better reporting in fast-moving and dangerous contexts.

Image source: Pexels

Twitter/X has been accused of stoking the fires of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict by multiplying misinformation. Examples include a video shared over seven million times that supposedly shows Israeli soldiers going house to house in Gaza City. In reality, the video is from 2021 and actually shows an Israeli police operation. Another example is a video of Hamas fighters ‘shooting down an Israeli helicopter’ that is from a video game and has been viewed by over 300,000 people.

These posts are not only pushing false narratives but are also spreading emotionally charged misinformation that can certainly stoke more violence. With the cause of the explosion at the al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza unclear, and with competing narratives from Gazan and Israeli authorities, plenty of misleading accounts have sprung up on Twitter/X that show videos reportedly of the explosion but that are actually from 2022, which has further inflamed tensions.

This is a worrying development for two reasons. First, engagement with and trust in ‘legacy’ media organisations, including national newspapers and media conglomerates, is at an all-time low across the world. Accurate and nuanced reporting that has been factually verified is no longer the dominant way for people to get their news. In various countries worldwide, more than half of people get their news from social media, including in Spain (50%), India (52%), Turkey (54%), Hungary (61%), Greece (61%), Peru (66%), and Nigeria (78%), according to Statista.

Second, people seem to be more likely to spread false information. An MIT study from 2018 suggests that Tweets (or X’s) that contain lies are 70% more likely to be retweeted compared to truthful posts, likely due to users’ ‘novelty bias’ (where new, surprising information is shared), or due to social media websites’ own algorithms.

Meanwhile, only a few weeks ago, the EU formally warned Twitter and Facebook about the growing proportion of misinformation on their networks, a warning that was re-iterated in the wake of the new waves of violence in Israel and Palestine. Whilst there are fact-checking accounts and initiatives on both networks (and also on Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, etc.), the real-world impact of mis- and disinformation that were identified in the COVID-19 pandemic has now come back sharply into focus with the ongoing campaign of violence in Israel and Palestine.


Why we read and spread disinformation

An appetite for quick information and near real-time updates has never been higher. And with few journalists immediately available and able to build a clear picture in a fast-moving context, an information gap grows. It’s precisely this gap that technology-focused and consumer-hungry social media networks fill by providing super quick updates and, often, photos and videos from the centre of a conflict zone that can push emotionally charged narratives and incite further violence.

Whilst there are large numbers of journalists from multinational legacy media organisations that can access conflict zones — usually wearing the famous blue ‘press’ bulletproof vest — — places where there is no authoritative or fact-checked source of news. This is particularly true for acute outbreaks of severe violence, where it is nearly impossible for a news organisation that is held to a high standard of accuracy to access the conflict zone. And when people cannot access authoritative news sources, they turn to alternative sources such as social media.

In protracted and lower-intensity conflicts, too, it is likely that local media will be unable to operate whether due to power cuts, looting, commandeering of equipment, or attacks on staff. And let’s not forget that in contexts with authoritarian governments, an independent local media is likely to suffer. Again, this can feed into a situation where people cannot access information from trusted sources and may turn to social media for the latest news updates.

Moreover, what drives engagement is often activating strong emotional responses in users through, for example, powerful images, videos, or narratives. Particularly within a conflict situation, by definition multilayered and complex, this leads the internal mechanisms of social media companies (“the algorithms”) to spotlight easily accessible and emotionally charged content. This combined with a huge hunger for information seems to lead in one direction: emotionally charged narratives reaching thousands of people without factual verification.


Social media provides lots of information, but often of low quality

As with many laissez-faire approaches, openness and freedom is to a certain extent an illusion. This is because, in the case of Twitter and Meta (the parent company of Instagram and Facebook), the company doesn’t exist to provide an information service- it exists to satisfy its shareholders and investors. The model for making money from social media is now fairly well researched, but in short: social media companies work as advertising platforms and sell advertising space. The longer someone engages with the platform, the more can be charged for advertising space.

The great equalising hope for peer to peer (P2P) media, where anyone can publish their views and ideas without editorial gatekeeping, including social media, is that it can give disempowered people a platform to voice their grievances or struggle and can reach audiences without waiting for a legacy media company to provide that platform. Within a conflict situation, this could extend to giving civilians a voice in the conflict or providing an outlet for non-state actors to give ‘their side of the story’.

However, whilst there are plenty of cases of legacy media organisations stoking hate, there is at least some basis for holding them legally accountable, even if it is slow-moving and limited. Social media companies, on the other hand, are not classified as ‘publishers’ and so do not have to kneel to publishing guidelines and law.


A role for citizen journalists and more strictly regulated platforms?

So, how can we find a balance between providing platforms for those people who are routinely missed by legacy organisations to speak their truths? One option could be equitable partnerships between media platforms and citizen journalists. Outlets like The Guardian seem to have a workable model for this.

Another solution could be strong legislation that considers social media organisations as the publishers that they are, and so holds them legally accountable for spreading misinformation. Perhaps a longer-term and more holistic solution, though, is creating platforms where the overall target is sharing accurate information and true voices, rather than seeking maximum returns on investment.

Image source: Pexels & Pexels.

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About the author:

Tom Ansell is the Coordinator of the Humanitarian Studies Centre and International Humanitarian Studies Association.

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The recent upsurge of violence in Israel and Palestine signifies a “prelude to genocide”. How could this happen?

The tragedy that has been continually unfolding in Palestine for the past 75 years recently took a dramatic turn when Palestinian armed groups broke through the steel gates closing off Gaza and entered Israel on 7 October 2023. While the details of what occurred are gruesome, but also very unclear, their actions led to a further escalation by Israel, with senior figures in the Israeli government vowing revenge in terms that are tantamount to an incitement to commit genocide. The massive loss of human life and deliberate targeting of civilians has been accompanied by feelings of incredulity. People are asking: How could this happen? In this article, human rights and legal mobilisation scholar Jeff Handmaker provides some context.

Boiling point reached after many years of oppression

Even for someone like myself who has been closely following the situation in Palestine for more than 25 years, the human cost of what we have been seeing in the past few days has been difficult to fathom. Veteran Ha’aretz journalist Amira Hass in describing the sheer scale of what’s currently happening noted that:

In a few days Israelis went through what Palestinians have experienced as a matter of routine for decades, and are still experiencing – military incursions, death, cruelty, slain children, bodies piled up in the road, siege, fear, anxiety over loved ones, captivity, being targets of vengeance, indiscriminate lethal fire at both those involved in the fighting (soldiers) and the uninvolved (civilians), a position of inferiority, destruction of buildings, ruined holidays or celebrations, weakness and helplessness in the face of all-powerful armed men, and searing humiliation.

Hass’s statement captures why it is so challenging for Israelis and Palestinians (and their supporters) to recognise the other’s humanity. Israelis find it hard to see the other’s humanity, as they have been promised that they would be safe and secure behind colonial borders and have only now experienced atrocities at this scale. Palestinians also find it hard to see the other’s humanity as they have never suffered the illusion that they were safe and secure behind colonial borders and have been experiencing atrocities at this scale for more than 75 years.


The Hamas attack didn’t come out of the blue

It is important in this context to understand what was behind the attacks by Hamas-affiliated groups, purportedly in response to Israel’s appalling treatment of Palestinians who remain under occupation in the Gaza Strip. It was purportedly also linked to the Israeli government’s open support of settler colonialism in the West Bank, as well as brutal attacks against largely peaceful demonstrators during the “Great March of Return”  in 2018 and recent provocations around the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. One should remember what life in Palestine looks like at present, particularly in the Gaza Strip, and how it got there.

To begin with, Gaza is one of the most densely populated regions in the world, with more than two million people living in an area of approximately 362 square kilometres (smaller than the Caribbean island of Curacao, which has a population of 153,000). Moreover, Gaza has been subject to a strict military blockade since 2007 that has limited the freedom and opportunities of Palestinians in a fundamental way. It is frequently described as an open-air prison, and many have called the oppressive governance of the area by Israel as nothing other than an apartheid state. This is why the attack on 7 October has been referred to by commentators such as Israeli journalist Amira Hass as part of a “cycle of violence” that “shouldn’t surprise anyone”. In other words, it should be seen in context and not as an isolated event.


Reacting to a long history of domination and oppression

To grasp the deeper context of the current violence, it’s also important to understand three key historical moments, none of which obviously excuses the committing of international crimes. Each of these historical moments has involved extensive human rights violations and international crimes in the context of Israel’s long record of domination and oppression of Palestinians.

The first key moment was in 1948, when Zionist founders of the State of Israel committed a series of operations which, according to scholars such as Walid Khalidi, Ilan Pappe, and Nur Masalha, amounted to a mass expulsion and ‘ethnic cleansing’ of historical Palestine. This is referred to by Palestinians as the ‘Nakba’, or ‘Catastrophe’. Approximately one-third of uprooted and dispossessed Palestinians ended up living in refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, assisted by the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies. Around one-quarter of these refugees today reside in refugee camps in Gaza, and comprising around two-thirds of the population of Gaza.

The second key moment was the Israeli military’s capture of additional territories in 1967, including the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Golan, and Gaza. This resulted in further and forced displacement, movement restrictions, and other daily restrictions as Israel established settlements in the occupied territory. Israel withdrew the settlers 38 years later but has continuously maintained its occupation of the Gaza territory by air, sea, and land.

The third and most recent moment is Israel’s blockade of the territory starting 2007 in its current, extreme form, whereby it has been extremely difficult, and at times impossible, for Palestinians living in Gaza to access medicine, building materials, food, humanitarian assistance, and even electricity and water. Patients requiring advanced medical care that the overstretched hospitals in Gaza cannot provide have limited options due to the blockade, and as a result, many – including children – have died of easily treatable ailments. According to Physicians for Human Rights, the deteriorating healthcare situation has been particularly straining for women in Gaza. The ability of students to study abroad has also been extremely limited. Moreover, according to the United Nations, during the course of several brutal military operations, Israel has killed more than 6,400 Palestinians.

While these were key moments in what many commentators have characterised as Israel’s settler-colonial and apartheid regime against Palestinians, it is impossible to explain all dimensions. Suffice it to say that numerous documented violations that have been committed throughout these periods are currently the subject of an international criminal investigation by the International Criminal Court, albeit greatly delayed.


From oppression to onslaught

This brings us to 9 October 2023, when the government of Israel announced a “total” blockade of the Gaza Strip, including cutting off the electricity, food, and water supply to the area. Gazans were warned by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that they are to pay an “immense price” for the actions of Hamas and have warned Palestinians to “get out of there [Gaza] now” as the Israeli military was going to “turn all Hamas hiding places … into rubble”.

Of course, Netanyahu knows full well that Palestinians in Gaza have nowhere to go; Israel’s military have even bombed the one remaining exit route, the Rafah Crossing, and have refused to set up a humanitarian corridor. Thus, at a bare minimum, Israel’s actions amount to the war crime of collective punishment, directed at a captive population with nowhere to go. And with 300,000 Israeli reservists having been called up to serve in active military duty, fears are that the consequences for the people of Gaza could be far greater than they have ever been before.


A prelude to genocide?

Some years ago, Richard Falk, a Princeton University professor and former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, was said to have characterised the ongoing siege of Gaza as a “prelude to genocide”.[i] It is immensely worrying that more and more parties are starting to believe that Falk’s sober prediction might be coming true. Human rights NGOs have long referred to the oppression of the Palestinians and the control of Gaza as a crime against humanity.[ii] However, it is especially recent events and public proclamations of retaliation by Netanyahu as well as by military commanders referring to Gazans as ‘human animals’ and vowing to give them ‘hell’, that are making Falk’s claim seem more and more believable.

Taken together, the evidence suggests there are very well-founded fears that what we are now witnessing are very explicit intentions to accomplish the genocide of the Palestinian residents of Gaza. Rather than simply asking how this could happen and extending unconditional diplomatic support and military aid to Israel, observers of this carnage should also ask themselves how the carnage can be stopped. The answer is certainly not to commit further atrocities.

[i] These developments should also be seen in light of the ethnic cleansing of Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh in September 2023, in which Israel also played a central role in and for which there have been limited consequences for the government of Azerbaijan, could readily be seen as a prelude to genocide in and of itself.

[ii] While Gazans have long characterised that what they are experiencing as a ‘slow-motion genocide’ that has created an almost uninhabitable situation for many of its two million inhabitants, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’tselem and others have characterised as the oppression of Palestinians in Gaza as an apartheid regime, which like genocide is also a crime against humanity. Reinforcing these concerns, a group of eight renowned Palestinian research institutes and human rights organizations, including Al Haq, have further explained how Israel’s discriminatory and exclusionary polices are an explicit and expansive tool of settler-colonialism and ‘structural and institutionalised racism’.

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About the author:

Dr. Jeff Handmaker is Associate Professor of Legal Sociology at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam and has published widely on topics concerning Israel’s decades-long impasse with the Palestinians. He conducts research on legal mobilization.

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Could we have prevented the disaster in Libya?

New research published this month gives a better understanding of how and why countries affected by armed conflict are more vulnerable to disasters. In this post, two of the co-authors of this research argue that much of the loss caused by Hurricane Daniel could have been prevented in Libya.

Image by Hans from Pixabay

As Libya’s death toll rises over the thousands due to the massive floods triggered by Hurricane Daniel, it’s normal to wonder if such a catastrophe could have been prevented. Over 5,000 people lost their lives in Libya as torrential rain caused two dams to burst near the coastal city of Derna. Relentless rain devastated much of the city, washing entire neighbourhoods into the sea and claiming thousands of lives while leaving tens of thousands of people without shelter.

While authorities and the media have largely attributed the catastrophe to a disaster caused by climate change, evidence suggests that it could have been largely prevented or its impacts mitigated. New research we published this month gives a better understanding of how and why countries affected by armed conflict are more vulnerable to disasters. In this post, based on this study we show how conflict increases human vulnerability to natural hazards and how this could also be the case for Libya — a situation that could have been prevented.

A country ill prepared

Libya has been torn apart by years of conflict, rendering it ill prepared to face the devastation of Hurricane Daniel. The nation is now governed by two rival administrations — in other words two rival governments forming a transitional unity government with strong rivalry, which complicates and slows rescue and aid efforts. In addition, Libya’s infrastructure has suffered from neglect over more than a decade of political turmoil.

A study we just published along with Dorothea Hilhorst on how armed conflict contributes to disaster vulnerability shows that in countries experiencing armed conflict, disasters occur 5% more frequently and that the death rate due to disasters is an incredible 34% higher in such contexts. While most accounts of disaster occurrence focus on their associated death toll or people affected, their higher chance of occurrence should not be taken lightly, especially in places affected by conflict: while people might survive a disaster, the impact of these on their livelihoods can be significant, with their opportunities to recover also reduced.

We found multiple reasons why disasters occur more often, result in higher numbers of deaths, and can significantly impact people’s lives in places affected by conflict.


Poorly maintained and ageing infrastructure

First, conflict causes destruction and prevents the development and maintenance of infrastructure essential to prevent disasters, such as the dams that have been left in disrepair throughout Libya. As we now know, experts had already noted that the first of the two dams to fail, which was finished in 1977, had not undergone any maintenance over the last years.


A lack of financial protection from disasters’ effects

Protracted wars also damage a country’s economy, reducing opportunities to invest in building and maintaining low-risk livelihoods and increasing people’s vulnerability, making them more susceptible to be affected by natural hazards such as flooding and wildfires. For example, people are less likely to have savings or reserves in place when a disaster hits. Communities often do not have the resources to commit to longer-term planning to build more resilient livelihoods away from risk zones. Two large dams built in the narrow valley in Derna were highly vulnerable because the area was filled with poorly constructed high-rise buildings.


Already displaced and with nowhere to flee to

In addition, wars often force people to flee their homes, leaving them in displacement camps and sheltering with families or friends. This increases their vulnerability to disasters. For example, when flooding hit the world’s largest refugee site in Bangladesh, Rohingya families sheltering there had nowhere to flee to and were stuck living in flooded areas, which made them susceptible to illnesses and disease.

The above examples all show that it is not exposure to hazards driving their devastating effects; rather people’s socio-economic vulnerability and social and political decisions affecting built environments, financial security, and overall stability play an equally great role. Climate change can affect the frequency and intensity of these hazards, but if communities are well prepared for them, these events do not have to become disasters. In the case of Libya, while the civil war ended in 2020, the political situation in the country remains fragile. The UN-facilitated ceasefire in 2020 succeeded in ending militarized clashes between eastern and western armed groups, but much remains to be done to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate militants, stabilize the economy, and reduce the vulnerability of the population resulting from a lack of financial opportunities and weakened infrastructure.


Disasters are not natural

What we argue is that vulnerability created through conflict and fragility conditions play a bigger role in disasters’ occurrence than ‘exogenous’ natural events. As many scholars have already observed, disasters are socially constructed phenomena that can be prevented. And while climate change can increase the frequency and intensity of events like storms and heatwaves, proper preparation can prevent them from turning into disasters.


Barriers to preparedness

Unfortunately, conflict settings can create significant barriers to preparedness, leading to catastrophic outcomes, as seen in the recent events in Libya. Therefore, in addition to ending the violence, conflict-affected communities also need to be provided with a safe environment that enables them to prepare and which reduces the risk of being affected by disasters.

Finally, the disaster in Libya also highlights another aspect of the interaction between conflict and disaster. Not only should addressing disaster risks receive more immediate attention in the aftermath of war; conflict prevention, resolution, and peacebuilding should be priority approaches to disaster risk reduction anywhere in the world.

Further information

If you would like to know more about the research into how armed conflict contributes to disaster vulnerability, watch this short one-minute video.


This post was originally published in PRIO Blogs.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the authors:

Nicolás Caso is a Research Assistant at PRIO’s Migration Centre. His research covers diverse aspects of human development including migration, disaster, and conflict studies. At PRIO he currently works mainly conducting quantitative analyses for two high-profile large projects Aligning Migration Management and the Migration–Development Nexus (MIGNEX) and Future Migration as Present Fact (FUMI). Before joining PRIO he researched the interaction between conflict and disasters as part of the NWO funded project “When disasters meet conflict“.





Rodrigo Mena is Assistant Professor of Disasters and Humanitarian Studies at The International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Dr. Mena has studied and worked in humanitarian assistance/aid, disaster governance, and environmental sociology for almost twenty years, especially in conflict-affected and vulnerable settings. He lectures on humanitarian action, disaster risk reduction, methodology, and safety and security for in-situ/fieldwork research.


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How is the war on Ukraine affecting international development? A look at lesser-heard stories about winners, losers, and the unknowns

The impacts of the war in Ukraine — the largest conflict in Europe since the Second World War — are enormous. The war’s ripple effects are permeating international relations, international organizations, and trade. An important question is who is winning and losing, in which ways, and what we can do about it. During the fourth episode of Research InSightS LIVE held on 29 June, three ISS researchers discussed the compounding effects of the war on global development. In this blog, Adinda Ceelen and Isabella Brozinga Zandonadi summarize the key takeaways of the discussion.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash.

Losers of this war

Russia’s war on Ukraine has had devastating effects on more than 40 million Ukrainian people. This includes the displacement of millions of Ukrainians from their homes and from Ukraine itself. At present, there are more than 5 million internally displaced people (IDPs) in Ukraine, more than 8 million Ukrainian refugees across Europe, and approximately 17.6 million people in Ukraine in need of humanitarian assistance.

Beyond displacement, the war has had ripple effects that continue to be felt all over the world. In many ways this war is a game changer, not least due to its extensive global dimension, with many countries directly or indirectly involved, for instance by supplying weapons to Ukraine and implementing sanctions. Moreover, it has far-reaching consequences that are impacting the lives of millions of people far removed from the epicenter of the conflict.

In the fourth episode of , a series of engaged discussions with ISS researchers and societal partners on current topics, Dr Oane Visser, Associate Professor in Agrarian Studies at the ISS, painted a vivid picture of the compounding effect of this war on food security. Ukraine and Russia together account for more than 30% of the global wheat supply and are major suppliers to low- and middle-income countries. Disruptions in the supply chain have led to shortages and higher prices with great negative repercussions for countries like Egypt and Sudan that heavily rely on these imports. The weaker bargaining position of smaller low-income countries makes it more challenging for them to secure affordable deals, with devastating effects.


Speculators and profiteers are exploiting higher food and land prices

Media and policy discourses are quick to attribute skyrocketing food prices to the war in Ukraine, on top of the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and poor harvests due to climate change. But Visser revealed that there is more to this story: the role of speculation and hidden profiteering. According to a 2023 publication by Unearthed, a “group of ten leading ‘momentum-driven’ hedge funds made an estimated USD 1.9 billion trading on the food price spike at the start of the Ukraine war, that drove millions into hunger”. The lessons learned: while it’s important to look at who is suffering, it’s equally important to investigate who wins and who profit(eer)s.

Visser presented another lesser-heard story from Ukraine, where a recent change in law allowing the sale of farmland raises concerns about foreign investors and oligarchs taking over agricultural land and jeopardizing the livelihoods of local farmers. Ironically, while Ukrainians are fighting to defend their land in the face of foreign aggression, simultaneously there is a push to sell large amounts of this land to foreigners.

Both stories can be linked to Naomi Klein’s concept of disaster capitalism, where unpopular reforms are pushed through during times of crises, shock, and paralysis.


Small, vulnerable countries are profoundly affected by the war

Meanwhile, in the discourse around the Russian war on Ukraine, the perspective of smaller and more vulnerable countries like Sri Lanka are rarely heard. Dr Shyamika Jayasundara-Smits, Assistant Professor in Conflict and Peace Studies at the ISS, expressed concern about this and emphasized the importance of paying attention to narratives and power dynamics.

When it comes to the ripple effects of the war, Sri Lanka did not remain untouched, evidenced amongst others by soaring food and fuel prices. The country was already in a highly vulnerable state — a product of the 2019 Easter bombings, the COVID-19 pandemic and its residual effects, negative impacts of climate change on agriculture, and dire governmental mismanagement. The Ukraine war made the country even more vulnerable to the looming economic crisis — the worst since the country’s independence. It taught the country a critical lesson: vulnerability is not only due to external factors but can also be born out of poor domestic policy.

Sri Lanka’s historical non-aligned foreign policy history in which it benefited from relations with Russia, China and Western institutions means that it cannot afford to take a strong stance. It necessitates a certain level of pragmatism. When the sanctions put in place against Russia ironically led to avenues of working around them, for instance with Russia diverting its trade through Asia, the Sri Lankan government for instance bought Russian oil from India at a subsidized price to tackle its population’s need of the hour.


The war is an attack on the liberal international order

The Ukraine war is indeed not only a European war, but a war that concerns all people and governments. During the discussion, Wil Hout, Professor of Governance and International Political Economy, explained how this war is an attack by Putin on the liberal international order. This order, established after the Second World War, has been critiqued for its legitimacy. The rules are dominated by the West and biased towards the immediate WWII power situation.

While the majority of countries voted for the March 2022 and February 2023 UN General Assembly resolutions condemning the invasion and demanding Russia’s withdrawal, which can be interpreted as continuing support for the existing order, it’s noteworthy that in both cases economic heavyweights such as China, India, and South Africa abstained from voting. Meanwhile, there are many speculations of new alliances, but the reality is that we simply do not know where things are heading, nor how this war will end. One scenario is a Russian defeat, for instance in the form of Russia leaving the Donbas or Crimea. Another scenario is the continued occupation of part of Ukraine, which might result in a new cold war and bring back to life the “Disunited Nations” that we saw during the Cold War period.


Moving from analysis to action

“Peace is needed today more than ever. War and conflict are unleashing devastation, poverty and hunger, and driving tens of millions of people from their homes,” said UN Secretary General António Guterres. Indeed, at the end of the day, war only creates losers. Considering this observation, what are the next steps?

For one, the EU has for a very long time pretended that it’s not a global power. It’s inevitable for the EU to stop pretending and to start adopting a political identity, thought Hout. Meanwhile, the world’s gaze is still too often on the here and now. Visser noted that we need to learn to think and plan ahead: How are we going to rebuild Ukraine after the war and ensure democratic control over recovery efforts? And lastly, our current order was established at a time when our situation was dramatically different. Jayasundara-Smits believes that contemporary interdependent relations of countries need to be taken much more seriously now and in the future, in times of both war and peace.

About Research InSightS LIVE

Research InSightS LIVE is ISS’ showcase event series to jointly share, reflect on and discuss insights and stories from ISS’ cutting-edge research in the field of global development and social justice. True to the DNA of ISS, these critical conversations are based on real-world insights and draw from a kaleidoscope of perspectives.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the authors:


Adinda Ceelen is Knowledge Broker & Research Communications Advisor at ISS. Her background is in public international law, development studies and international relations. She holds an Advanced Master in International Development (AMID) diploma from Radboud University, an LL.M degree from Utrecht University and a BA degree from University College Utrecht.




Isabella Brozinga Zandonadi is the AMID Trainee and works as a Junior Research Project and Communication Officer at ISS. Her background is in legal studies, international and European Law, human rights law and international development studies. She is currently enrolled in the Advanced master’s in international development (AMID) programme from Radboud University, and she holds an LL.M degree from Maastricht University and a Law degree from Faculdade de Direito de Vitoria.

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How disasters can increase armed conflict risks, but also facilitate diplomacy

Disasters often have severe impacts on human security. But how do disasters impact armed conflict dynamics? When striking armed conflict zones, disasters indeed frequently trigger higher fighting intensity, confirming concerns about a climate-conflict nexus. However, this effect only occurs in a minority of cases, specifically in locations with a high disaster vulnerability. More importantly, disasters can also reduce civil war intensity, for instance by posing logistical challenges to armed groups. While such effects are often short term, they provide important windows of opportunity for relief provision and diplomacy, writes Tobias Ide.

Photo Credit: DFID (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

When disasters like droughts, earthquakes, floods, and storms strike vulnerable areas, the consequences can be devastating. This is particularly the case in places with active armed conflicts, as demonstrated by the recent floods in Pakistan and Nigeria, droughts in the Horn of Africa, and the massive earthquake in Syria (and Turkey). In armed conflict zones, several factors increase vulnerability to and complicate recovery from disasters. These include insufficient early warning systems, the battle-related destruction of important infrastructure (e.g., hospitals, power plants), a state incapable of or unwilling to implement prevention measures (e.g., building codes), and unsafe conditions for relief workers. According to some studies, disaster-related deaths are 40% higher in areas with a history of armed conflict.

While discussions such as the above have focused on the effect of armed conflicts on disaster recovery efforts, fewer have sought to ask how disasters impact conflict dynamics. What happens if disasters strike civil war-ridden areas? Does fighting become more intensive? Will the government or rebel forces back down to allow aid delivery? And what does this mean for aid workers and diplomats?

My recently published book titled Catastrophes, Confrontations, and Constraints: How Disasters Shape the Dynamics of Armed Conflicts seeks to address these questions. The book analyses 36 cases of disaster-conflict intersections from 21 countries based on desk-based case studies, expert interviews, and quantitative data. I focussed on countries and areas with an active civil war that were struck by a large-scale disaster to understand how disasters affect conflict risks. Choosing a medium number of cases provided me with the opportunity to combine in-depth qualitative insights with systematic statistical procedures — two approaches that are often kept separate in climate security and disaster conflict research. Below, I briefly detail two main lessons from the book: that the vulnerability of certain contexts to disasters can affect their vulnerability to conflict intensification, and that disasters don’t affect armed conflict dynamics in a unidirectional way, nor in the same ways in different countries.


Vulnerability matters for how armed conflict parties respond to disasters.

One of the key findings of the book is that vulnerability matters. This might not come as a big surprise because the cases analysed in the book all experienced major disasters, most of which caused more than 1,000 deaths. By definition, places suffering such disasters are quite vulnerable to the effects of extreme natural events.

However, vulnerability also matters for the behaviour of the armed conflict parties. Only in countries whose economies are highly dependent on agriculture and where poverty rates are very high, and where disaster impacts are hence often very severe, we can detect a disaster-related change in conflict intensity. The 2010 floods in Pakistan, for instance, affected almost 20% of the country’s territory, displaced around 20 million people, and caused a direct economic damage of USD 9.7 billion. The disaster impacts were so severe due to political instability and socio-economic underdevelopment, and posed enormous logistical challenges to both the state military and the insurgent forces. Put differently: Only if such vulnerability factors are present, the societal impacts of disasters are far-reaching enough to affect decision making by government militaries or rebel groups.


The impact of disasters on armed conflict dynamics is multifaceted.

Furthermore, the impact of disasters on armed conflict dynamics is multifaceted rather than unidirectional. For example, in around half of the countries I studied, disasters had no relevant impact on the armed conflict at all. For about one-quarter of the countries, fighting activities intensified after the disasters took place. This usually happens when the government troops are adversely affected by the disaster while the rebels remain largely unaffected or can even capitalise on the disaster. After the 1999 earthquake in Colombia, for instance, the government deployed 6,000 state security forces to the affected areas and cut down on social programs to win hearts and minds in contested regions – a situation the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were happy to exploit. I observed similar dynamics after the 1998 floods in Assam (India), the 1999–2001 drought in Uganda, the 1990 Luzon earthquake in the Philippines, and the 1994 floods in Egypt, among others.

Yet, in another one-quarter of the cases I studied, disasters facilitated a de-escalation of the armed conflict. After the 1997 floods in Somalia, for instance, both competing United Somali Congress (USC) fractions faced problems paying and feeding (and moving around) their troops due to an agricultural collapse in the southern “breadbasket” regions. Rebel groups faced similar problems during COVID-19 lockdowns, for instance in Iraq or Thailand (the book has a separate chapter on the effect of COVID-19 on armed conflicts). Civil wars also de-escalated significantly after other disasters I studied, such as cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh (2007) or the 2005-2006 drought in Burundi.

These results are partially in line with claims that climate change and environmental stress increase armed conflict risks, for instance when disasters trigger more intense fighting during civil wars. However, this impact is not deterministic, but only happens in certain contexts: Most disasters had no impacts on armed conflict intensity. Neither is the disaster-conflict nexus unidirectional: In one out of four cases, the disaster facilitated a de-escalation of fighting. While this effect was often temporal and rarely lasted more than twelve months, it might open up important windows of opportunity to deliver aid and promote diplomacy.


Addressing the root causes of vulnerability first and foremost

Based on these insights, what can be done about disasters striking conflict zones? To start with, some of the factors that increase disaster vulnerability are the same that make armed conflict onset and disaster-related conflict intensification more likely: widespread poverty, persistent inequality, or dysfunctional state institutions. Addressing these factors can hence provide benefits on multiple fronts, including for disaster risk reduction, economic development, and security policies.


Protecting disaster relief workers

On a more pragmatic level (and in shorter time horizon), the safety of both national and international disaster relief providers is an important concern. In the past ten years, more than 1,200 aid workers have been killed and many more attacked in conflict areas, with a clear upward trend. If disasters weaken one conflict party and the other side cannot exploit it (because it is too weak, suffers from the disaster as well, or needs to restrain to avoid public backlash), conflict intensity is likely to decline. This provides a window of opportunity to negotiate the safe delivery of humanitarian aid and to upscale diplomatic efforts.

By contrast, if the rebels benefit relative to the government, the conflict is likely to escalate after the disaster. In such a situation, anyone involved in the delivery of relief or reconstruction in the respective area needs to be alerted. Negotiated agreements with the rebels and pro-government forces or increased public pressure on conflict parties to allow safe aid delivery are possible courses of action in such a situation.


Starting discussions on disaster-conflict intersections

Lastly, an informed discussion about disaster-conflict intersections is of utmost importance, particularly among growing concerns about climate security. Areas affected by both phenomena are most likely to need additional support (by local, national, and international actors), yet are also hardest to navigate for those seeking to provide this support.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:


Tobias Ide is Senior Lecturer at Murdoch University Perth and Specially Appointed Professor for Peace and Sustainability at Hiroshima University. He has published widely on the impacts of environmental change and security and consulted NATO, the World Bank, and the United Nations, among others.

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Humanitarian Observatories Series | Why it’s crucial for internally displaced persons to participate in the peace process following Ethiopia’s Oromia Conflict

Like the conflict in Tigray, one of the gravest consequences of the conflict in Ethiopia’s Oromia region has been the disastrous level of internal displacement it has given rise to. In this blog, Alemayehu B. Hordofa provides an overview of the situation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Oromia and shows why ensuring their rights should be at the heart of the peace process in the region. He contends that the peace process in Oromia should give adequate space to the viewpoints of at-risk populations, including IDPs, and that including their concerns in a peace agreement is critical for safeguarding sustainable peace and preventing future conflict-induced displacements.

Photo Source: Personal Collections

The political transition that occurred in Ethiopia in 2018 was hoped to bring peace to this deeply divided country; however, guns failed to be silenced, and Ethiopia continues to be ravaged by several conflicts that have uprooted millions of civilians from their homes. One such conflict is the one being waged in Oromia, the largest of the country’s eleven regions stretching across central, western, and southern Ethiopia.

The conflict has its roots in decades-old clashes between the Ethiopian government and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), a nationalist political party established in 1973 to struggle for the right to self-determination of the Oromo people. The party was proclaimed a terrorist organization under the country’s former draconian Anti-terrorism Proclamation, and its leaders lived in exile in Eritrea until their return following the political transition in 2018. After the transition, the Ethiopian parliament lifted the OLF’s terrorist label and subsequently made significant amendments to the previous repressive anti-terrorism law. The new administration also signed the Asmara Agreement with the OLF and released political prisoners.

All these actions seemed to mark the start of a period of peace and stability for people whose livelihoods had been disrupted because of the decades-long conflict. But despite efforts to peacefully end the conflict, it flared up again shortly after the OLF leadership’s return to Ethiopia. This happened as the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), the military wing of the OLF, accused the Ethiopian government of failing to address major political demands made by the Oromo people. It subsequently refused to lay down arms, severed its relationship with the OLF, and continued its insurgencies, first in western and southern Oromia and then also in its central and northern parts following the military void created by the Tigray conflict.

This led to the short lifespan of the Asmara Agreement, as the government soon reverted to verbal clashes with the OLF and open military confrontation with the OLA. Below, I argue that durable peace can be ensured only by heeding the demands of the millions of IDPs that have not been met by the warring parties in their previous agreement, which has failed to truly resolve anything, and which does not seem to be at the center of the two parties’ ongoing negotiation.


How peace was sought—and why it proved ineffective

According to the 2023 Global Report on Internal Displacement, Ethiopia is the country in Africa with the second-highest number of IDPs after the DRC, with some 3.8 million people displaced. Conflict is the main driver of displacement, both at the national level and in the Oromia region. The latest data from OCHA show that over 800,000 people have been displaced in Western Oromia alone due to conflict. The number of people displaced because of conflict in the whole of Oromia is much larger, but displacement data is difficult to access.

The devastating impact of the ongoing conflict in Oromia compelled personalities, both inside and outside the government, to advocate for a peaceful solution of the Oromia conflict in a bid to stop displacement. In December last year, MPs from Oromia called on the Ethiopian Prime Minister to reach a peaceful settlement with the rebels, and opposition parties and independent civil society organizations made the same demands. The conflict in Oromia became such an important human rights and security issue that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed the need to end the “ongoing instability in the Oromia region” in his talks with the Ethiopian prime minister earlier this year.

Despite these internal and external pressures, the need to repair the crippled economy, and the increasing intensity threshold of the conflict, efforts to enter into a peace agreement remain futile. The first round of negotiations, mediated by Kenya and Norway, took place between April 24 and May 2 this year in Zanzibar and ended with no agreement having been reached to cease the hostilities. The two parties subsequently released similar statements describing the ‘unfortunate’ situation, claiming that “it was not possible to reach an agreement on some issues” during the first round of negotiations, and vowing to continue the negotiations to resolve the conflict “permanently and peacefully.”


No peace is possible without heeding the demands of IDPs

One of the main reasons for the failure of the Asmara agreement is its top-down orientation and failure to adequately engage the vast number of people who became victims of the impacts of the conflict, including the IDPs.[1] The agreement brought the political leaders of the two warring parties to the negotiation table without heeding the victims’ demands. The current peace process should learn from the failure of its predecessor and take practical measures to address the rights of IDPs, including the right to obtain sustainable solutions in the form of return, resettlement, or local integration; restoration of their damaged properties and livelihoods; and reinstatement of the provisions of social services in displacement or resettlement areas. These measures would break the conflict cycle, realize inclusiveness, ensure local ownership, and address vulnerability that could otherwise led to long-lasting instability and undermine the success of the process.

For example, the conflict between the government forces and OLA in the Horo Guduru Wollega Zone of the Oromia region was intersected with cross-border attacks against civilians by militias and armed vigilante groups from the neighbouring Amhara region, causing the large-scale displacement of civilians and the destruction of civilian properties. Likewise, many IDPs from western Oromia have crossed regional administrative borders to seek protection and assistance in other regions out of the fear of being targeted along ethnic lines. Other IDPs were forced to flee their homes out of fear of human rights violations by the government’s security forces.

The peace process should address the root causes that triggered these cross-border attacks on civilians, ethnic targeting, and human rights violations. It should comprehensively respond to these issues; not integrating the interests and rights of these IDPs in the peace process would detrimentally affect its success and durability.

Indeed, conversations I had with IDPs confirmed the importance of the peace process for the millions of Ethiopians living in or displaced from conflict areas in Oromia. For example, Muluneh (name changed)[2], who used to lead an independent life as a local businessperson and has now become an IDP because of the conflict in Oromia, explained:

“If the peace process is to become a reality, it must provide for some tangible mechanisms to address our [IDPs’] needs and interests. We [IDPs] endure the brunt of conflict in the region, having lost all our belongings and fled to save our lives. Any viable peace process in the region should address the root causes of the problems that made us vulnerable in the first place. We need compensation for our property looted, burned, and destroyed.”

Similar demands were made by other IDPs and human rights organizations to prevent arbitrary displacement, provide protection for IDPs and peacefully end the conflict in Oromia. The Ethiopian Humanitarian Observatory organized its second workshop on the topic of ‘Effective Governance Architecture for Managing Responses to Internal Displacement: The Role of Displacement Affected Communities and Humanitarian Organizations’ in March this year, during which workshop participants confirmed the low level of IDPs’ participation in humanitarian, development, and peace processes and underscored the positive correlation between IDPs’ participation, the effectiveness of humanitarian aid, and the sustainability of peace. Yet, these victims have not been consulted at any stage of the peace process in Oromia, their right to a remedy for their destroyed livelihoods has not been acknowledged, and the restoration of their property rights has not been prioritized.

Thus, it becomes clear that the participation of IDPs in the peace process is a cornerstone in ensuring its sustainability, warranting local ownership, and improving the implementation of its terms. The peace process must involve IDPs at all stages, and any potential peace agreement must include measures to ensure the specific human rights of IDPs and must reflect their interests. It must give a mandate for CSOs’ following up and monitoring of its enforcement.

Lastly, accountability is another cornerstone for lasting peace in the region. Peace becomes durable when it is combined with accountability and reparations. Accountability for causing, contributing to, or failing to address internal displacement should be an integral part of the peace process in Oromia.

[1] The other reasons include a lack of transparency in the negotiation process, as the terms of the agreement remain opaque until today and due to the absence of spaces for CSOs’ engagement in its implementation and monitoring.

[2] I spoke to Muluneh (name changed) in the town of Burayu in the last week of February as part of my efforts to define the focus of the Ethiopian Humanitarian Observatory that forms part of the ISS-hosted ‘Humanitarian Governance: Accountability, Advocacy, Alternatives’ project. Just a few days prior, the president of Oromia at a regional council meeting revealed, for the first time, the government’s intention to make peace with the OLA.

The post is part of the humanitarian observatories series that received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme [Advance grant number 884139].”

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:


Alemayehu B. Hordofa is a Ph.D. researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR). He obtained his LLM in International Human Rights Law from the Irish Center for Human Rights (ICHR), University of Galway, Ireland. He is currently working on the role of Civil Society Organizations and Crisis-affected People to shape humanitarian governance ‘from below’ in the context of the humanitarian response to IDPs in Ethiopia. His research interests lie in forced displacement, localization of humanitarian aid, transitional justice, and the development of CSOs in Ethiopia.



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Women’s Week 2023 | From young girls to “bush wives”: Armed conflicts are traumatising girl soldiers in Africa, and post-conflict peacebuilding and rehabilitation efforts could be making it worse

As armed conflicts persist across the world, children are repeatedly recruited into armed groups as soldiers, robbing them of their childhood. While some estimates reveal that girls comprise almost half of all child soldiers, they feature less prominently in post-conflict peacebuilding and rehabilitation efforts. Esther Beckley in her research explores the disproportionate impacts of war on girl soldiers, exposes the gender blindness of post-conflict peacebuilding efforts, and calls into question the legitimacy of peacebuilding programmes.

“I joined the army by force in 2004. I was still a minor and married. I was harassed by the chief and it traumatised me a lot. I have a 7-year-old daughter who was born from this harassment.”

These are the words of Charlene Kahrikalembu, a young woman from Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who shared her experience with my co-researcher and I[1] about how she was forcefully recruited into the Patriotes Résistants Congolais (PARECO) armed group as a child soldier. Charlene’s narrative echoes that of the thousands of girls who are recruited across the world as fighters, chefs, sex slaves, brides, messengers, spies, and for other reasons in armed conflicts, yet remain unaccounted for during the post-conflict peacebuilding period.

Armed conflicts, wherever they occur, severely affect both people and material resources. Regrettably, the conscription of children, some as young as seven years old, into warring factions is a recurring tendency in armed conflicts, which affects their physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, and material well-being. In most situations, children are recruited to replace adults because they are vulnerable, subservient, and easily controlled.

Nonetheless, when the problem of child soldiers is examined, it is often depicted as a masculine phenomenon, i.e. the enlistment of boys. In researching this topic, I have found that this action is mostly influenced by mainstream perceptions of armed conflict as a phenomenon occurring between males who are ‘naturally’ strong and warrior-like. As Tickner (1992:2) puts it, “International Relations is a man’s world where war and power politics are special positions reserved for men”. This perception is further reinforced in the media with popular images of boys holding rifles, whereas girls are frequently deemed insignificant and rendered invisible within fighting forces. However, studies have shown that in contemporary wars, girls comprise 40% of children associated with fighting factions (Haer 2017).

More so, compared to girls not associated with fighting factions, girl soldiers are disproportionately affected by war. This is due to the lengthy period girl soldiers spend in the captivity of their respective armed groups, making them susceptible to persistent sexual violence, torture, drug use and abuse, and illness (Beckley 2021). For example, in Sierra Leone, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) led by notorious rebel leader Foday Sankoh used the taboo on women’s nakedness as a weapon of war. This was done by parading naked girls on the frontlines in an attempt to nullify the traditional ‘juju’ (voodoo) used by the Civil Defence Forces (CDF), also known as ‘Kamajors’, who should not see naked women on the frontlines (Oluwaniyi 2019).

From my conversations with female ex-combatants in Goma, eastern DRC, I learnt that girl soldiers were distributed amongst commanders of armed groups to serve as wives, which entailed constant sexual violence and forced pregnancies. This was also the case for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by rebel leader Joseph Kony in northern Uganda, which I studied as part of my Master’s research. In the north-eastern part of Nigeria, girls constitute most of the suicide bombers, performing a strategic role for Boko Haram terrorists (Oluwaniyi 2019).

Despite these prominent roles played by girl soldiers in various armed conflicts, they remain marginalised in peacebuilding efforts. Peacebuilding typically comes as a disappointment to most girl soldiers, since they are faced with an identity crisis of whether they should be considered soldiers or mere sex slaves and wives of commanders. This bolsters their exclusion from peace processes like the United Nations’ Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) programmes. DDR is the very first stage of the peacebuilding process, aimed at dissolving warring factions, retrieving weapons from ex-combatants, and providing trauma healing and socio-economic opportunities to ex-soldiers to facilitate their reintegration into civilian life.

Rhetorically, gender issues are pertinent to these tasks, but in reality, this is not always the case. First, the design of DDR programmes in most countries requires ex-soldiers to present a weapon to prove their participation in the conflict before they are eligible for DDR benefits. Now,

how does a girl soldier whose body was used as a weapon of war ‘prove’ that she was a soldier?

In Liberia, for instance, commanders had to testify to a girl soldier’s participation in their armed group before she could benefit from the DDR programme.

Consequently, most girl soldiers do not benefit from the DDR procedure due to its masculinist design. They are forced to self-reintegrate into their communities with no physical, mental, social, or economic support. They return to communities where they previously killed their neighbours and relatives with no form of community reintegration, which is included in the DDR package. Hence, they are stigmatised and labelled as ‘damaged goods’, ‘bush wives’, ‘unmarriageable’, etc. It is much worse for girl mothers who return with children labelled ‘bush babies’ and are rejected by their community members.

All in all, peacebuilding efforts remain gender-blind, and one must consider whether the end goal of so-called peacebuilding ventures like the DDR is long-term peace. This raises critical unanswered questions, such as: What are the underlying knowledge and principles used to address gender issues in peacebuilding? How are the categories of difference constructed? By whom and for what purpose? What are the implications of these on girl soldiers and sustainable peace in general? Such questions need to be urgently addressed in studies aimed at investigating gender imbalances in post-conflict peacebuilding.



Beckley, E.M and Oluwaniyi O.O (Forthcoming). ‘The Rhetorics of Education for Girl Ex-Combatants in Sierra Leone’s DDR Programme’. Africa Spectrum: SAGE.

Beckley, E.M. 2021, “DDR and the Education of Ex-Combatant Girls in Africa” in The Palgrave Handbook of African Women’s Studies, eds. O. Yacob-Haliso & T. Falola, 1st edn, Springer Nature, Switzerland, pp. 178.

Haer, R. 2017, “The study of child soldiering: issues and consequences for DDR implementation”, Third World Quarterly, vol. 38, no. 2, pp. 450-466.

Oluwaniyi, O. 2019, “Women’s Roles and Positions in African Wars” in The Palgrave Handbook of African Women’s Studies, eds. O. Yacob-Haliso & T. Falola, First edn, Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, Switzerland, pp. 85-105.

Tickner, J.A. 1992, Gender in International Relations: Feminist Perspectives on Achieving Global Security, Columbia University Press, United States of America.

[1] This blog article is based on research I conducted for my Master’s degree five years ago, on further research I am conducting in pursuit of a PhD on gender, conflict, and peacebuilding, as well as that of other researchers in this field.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

Esther M. Beckley is a final-year PhD researcher at the University of Malta. She is also a visiting Research Fellow at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS). Her areas of expertise include gender, conflict, child soldiers, postconflict peacebuilding and development, international interventions in conflict contexts, etc., with a regional focus on sub-Saharan Africa.

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Limits to learning: when climate action contributes to social conflict

REDD+, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, has been one of the holy grails of international efforts to combat climate change for the past 10 years: over 10 billion dollars have been pledged to this cause by donor countries. Although REDD+ aims to reduce deforestation rates while increasing the welfare of landowners, research has shown that it also negatively impacts indigenous communities and has contributed to conflict. While hard work has been done to improve REDD+ programs, there are serious unintended effects of this much needed climate change action program. We wondered if organizations will do something about these unintended effects and would like to stimulate debate on that. We found that there are limits to what they learn: some unintended effects are likely to persist.

The REDD+ programmes, developed by the United Nations, use a payment for environmental services (PES) approach to support developing countries in creating more sustainable land use models. The idea behind this is that landowners move away from traditional land use methods that deplete forests and hence exhaust their capacity to absorb CO2. In turn, they receive monetary and other incentives that make up for loss of income and enable them to work towards more sustainable land use.

However, a disturbing number of “unintended consequences” results from these programmes. Such consequences do not necessarily relate to the initial goals of the programme: it can for example achieve great results in forest preservation and poverty alleviation; yet be only accessible to those who officially own the land. Thereby it excludes the poor residents for whom the programme was initially intended. Importantly, because these effects fall outside the scope of the programmes, they are not always taken into consideration when it comes to measuring impact.

In the past years, researchers found such effects on both the forest preservation and social impact fronts. Now, determining that some bear the brunt of well-intended efforts to tackle climate change is one thing. The next question, however, is crucial: will implementers be able to learn from their mistakes? Are the unintended consequences that have been seen in the past years avoidable, and does REDD+ hence have the potential to be for instance truly inclusive and conflict-sensitive?

Will programme implementers learn from their mistakes?

The answer is, as always: it depends. Reasons for not learning from unintended effects are partly technical: for example, the difficulty to measure the actual deforestation rates or the forests that are “saved” as a direct result from the project (the so-called displacement effect). With better measurement techniques, experts expect that these issues can be overcome in the near future.

However, the unintended consequences of REDD+ that are social in nature are a completely different ball game. These include for example the discrimination of indigenous peoples and their ancestral ways of living and working the land; the exclusion of many rural poor because they do not have official land titles; the exclusion of women for the same reason; or the rising of social tensions in communities, or between communities and authorities.

Organizations which implement REDD+, such as the World Bank and the Green Climate Fund, are aware of these unintended consequences and have put measures in place to anticipate and regulate them. These “social and environmental safeguards” should prevent discrimination as a result from the programmes. Moreover, grievance redress and dispute settlement mechanisms are in place to serve justice to those who have been harmed or disadvantaged regardless.

Despite these systems and regulations, World Bank and GCF employees explain that they are struggling with managing these unintended consequences, and that it is difficult to satisfy everyone’s needs while still achieving results on the deforestation front. The dilemma they face is clear: the more time, effort and money is spent to anticipate all possible unintended consequences, the less money and time is left to use for the implement the climate change programming, and time is ticking.

Ideological limits to learning

Donors who fund the programmes appear sometimes more concerned by just increasing disbursement rates, to show they are active in the fight against climate change, than fully taking note and acting on the collateral social damage. With more pressure from civil society, donors and organizations are likely to also take more of the social factors on board, for example through the safeguard system. However, there appears to be one major blind spot, on which little learning is taking place.

To our surprise, the most encountered unintended effects are the so-called motivational crowding out effects. Time and again, it was found that, while people were initially quite concerned about the forest and finding ways to preserve it, their intrinsic motivation to do so declined when monetary rewards were offered. The neo-liberal model of putting a price on everything might work on the short run, but appears to contribute to an erosion of conservation values in the long run. So, taking stock of collateral damage, this might be one of the most unexpected ones we encountered. And unfortunately, it goes against the very ideological basis of the PES approach. Currently, we also found little action by organizations and donors to deal with this unintended effect. An ideological limit to learning appears to be in place here.

Yet, we are still hoping that climate justice can be achieved. That green objectives can be combined with social justice objectives. We invite you to share your abstracts with us for the panel we are organizing at the EADI conference in 2020. The deadline is on December 15. If you would like to read more background information on this topic, you are welcome to consult our working paper.

About the authors:

pasfoto DJ Koch

Dirk-Jan Koch is Professor (special appointment) in International Trade and Development Cooperation at the Radboud University in Nijmegen, and Chief Science Officer of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His latest publications include Is it time to ‘decolonise’ the fungibility debate? (2019, Third World Quarterly, with Zunera Rana) and Exaggerating unintended effects? Competing narratives on the impact of conflict minerals regulation (2018, Resources Policy, with Sara Kinsbergen).Pasfoto.jpg


Marloes Verholt is researcher at the Radboud University Nijmegen. She researches the unintended effects of international climate policy. With a background in conflict analysis and human rights work, she views the climate change debate through these lenses.

Addressing threats to scholars on the ground demands proactive measures from Academic institutions: Notes from fieldwork in Kashmir

Fieldwork is the most critical, and perhaps, the most demanding component of research, especially in difficult and hazardous contexts such as active conflict zones or nations with authoritarian regimes.

I started my fieldwork in June 2021, at a time when India was slowly recovering from a severe second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic that had also affected the disputed region of Kashmir, where I was undertaking my research on the rise of anti-state socio-political movement in relation to the restructuring of land relations in this restive Himalayan valley. Although the entire region had been put under a strict lockdown – restricting public mobility and access to government offices – I steadily began my fieldwork.

​I had been cautious in interacting with people and gathering data because of the sensitive nature of my research and the region’s extensive hyper surveillance. Despite being a native of the place, I found it difficult to have people talk to me on record or being interviewed. At the time, there was a massive clampdown on political activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and lawyers who were critical of the state.

​Despite my cautious approach, I soon found myself under investigation by state police, who started querying for information about me from my family, friends, and acquaintances. They even visited my home to take my picture and additional information. It was suggested that I put my research on hold and resume it after the situation had calmed down. While the situation was still unravelling, I remained unaware of the extensiveness of the problem of state surveillance and continued traveling to different parts of the valley.

However, it became clear in the first week of September that I was not only facing the possibility of being detained by the state, but that the sensitive data that I had collected was also at risk of being accessed by state agencies, which would not only have violent consequences for me, but would also jeopardize the safety of my interviewees. The situation had escalated after the residences of four of my fellow journalists were raided by the police, and their documents, books, and phones were confiscated. As the state police was widening its crackdown, I was informally being informed from different sources that I was also at risk of police search and questioning.


Current pre-fieldwork protocols inadequate to ensure researchers’ safety on the ground

​Given that state authorities often confiscate all electronic devices, including phones, computers, and hard drives, and force you to give up all passwords as part of the interrogation process, I discovered few resources for protecting and securing research data in such scenarios. As a researcher, I knew I had very little legal options and protections.

I was also informed that my name had appeared on the list of three dozen researchers, scholars, journalists, and activists that had been put on the ‘no-fly’ list and faced the risk of passport cancellation. As a researcher, I had followed all the required procedures to ensure that the research I was undertaking was done in an ethical, responsible, and safe manner. However, when I became aware of the state machinery creeping in on me, all the existing guidelines and protocols appeared inadequate.

The data and privacy management plans the institutions expect researchers to follow fail to include the possibilities of scholars facing detention or confiscation of their research material, especially when researchers can be detained without trials even on the flimsiest pretext of holding contact details of an interviewee or a document deemed ‘anti-state.’

​It appears that the pre-fieldwork safety evaluation does not reflect the possibility of incarceration, material seizure, or travel prohibitions. These assessments, it appears, only look at the level of threat, nature of possible hazards, and ethical issues. There is no training to prepare or inform scholars what to expect from the institutions in situations where they are detained or restricted from traveling..


Prioritising researchers’ safety is possible with bold and proactive measures by academic institutions

Conducting research has become increasingly difficult for many scholars in growingly illiberal and authoritarian countries like India, where scholars are actively targeted.  Recently, an anthropologist at University of Sussex, Filippo Osella, was denied entry and deported from the country. Many others have been jailed and remain incarcerated for years. Many scholars, especially from Kashmir, who study in universities across the globe have faced intimidations and raids from state agencies, with many unable to return to even visit families, let alone conduct any research. The government is actively censoring all forms of research to erase the facts, and their documentation, on the ground.

As scholars, these are critical challenges to address, given that governments are increasingly targeting researchers, thereby making it harder to undertake any kind of study, especially those deemed critical of the state.

One conceivable agreement that universities and critical research institutes like the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) can establish is to set up mechanisms with governments, through their embassies or other state organisations, that make them the guarantor of academicians’ and researchers’ safety, especially for those undertaking research in places like Kashmir. Universities must make governments pledge their support for establishing such mechanisms through legally binding bonds or MOUs.

If such requests to ensure safety of scholars are not met, institutes must discontinue undertaking any research in countries that refuse to ensure the safety of scholars and academics. This will guarantee that the government doesn’t only say it’ll provide a safe atmosphere for researchers to undertake research, but also holds them accountable if something goes wrong. This idea will be key for securing protection of scholars and academics, who otherwise lack any immunity from the state onslaught.

COVID-19 and Conflict | Between myth and mistrust: the role of interlocutors in managing COVID-19 in Haiti

Mistrust in state-provided information about COVID-19 has characterized citizen responses to the pandemic in Haiti, preventing the effective management of the virus. This article shows that this mistrust is rooted in a number of historical, political, and social factors, including the perceived mismanagement of past crises. In the wake of resistance to pandemic measures and failure to adhere to regulations, local organizations can play an important role in contexts with low institutional trustworthiness.

To date, Haiti has managed to register a relatively low number of COVID-19 infections and related deaths. Initial concerns regarding the potential devastation COVID-19 could cause in Haiti were related to insufficient sanitary standards and medical facilities necessary to prevent the spread of the virus and ensure the proper treatment of infected patients. However, it turned out that the misunderstanding of COVID-19-related information was another major challenge that prevented people from taking preventative measures and going to hospital when infected.

Some studies conducted during the cholera outbreak in 2010 have pointed out that extreme poverty and low levels of education can cause mistrust in information on health instructions (Cénat, 2020). Nevertheless, these narrow explanations disregard the historical and socio-political background that has nurtured the mistrust of the population in public institutions that is also visible in responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Local organizations have played a central role in addressing the Haitian community’s disbeliefs around COVID-19, stepping in as interlocutors in the fight against the spread of the virus.

Over the past few years, discontent with the performance of the state has led to extensive protests. On many occasions, people have called for the resignation of the president and the dissolution of the government, denouncing its inability to manage past crises, claiming a lack of accountability, and citing worsening inequality. Furthermore, the community’s anger has been extended to international institutions, particularly the Core Group[i], the Organization of American States (OAS), and the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH). They are blamed for intervening in Haiti’s internal politics and supporting the current regime, thus keeping the president from resigning (AFP, 2019).

Such anger at, and mistrust in, people in power has been constructed historically. The importation of cholera to Haiti by a UN agent in 2010 as well as successive governments’ mismanagement of the consequent outbreak, the lack of accountability for and the dissatisfaction with the 2010 earthquake responses, the exposure of PetroCaribe fund-related corruption, and the widely reported sexual abuse scandal are just some of the cases that have led to widespread mistrust of those in power.

Damage already done?

When the first COVID-19 infection was confirmed, the government immediately declared a health emergency, imposing restrictive measures and undertaking information campaigns to raise awareness of the pandemic and the necessary sanitary measures to be taken through broadcasts on television, radio, and social media, or by means of vehicles circulating in suburbs with speakers mounted on their roofs[ii]. Despite these efforts, due to the general mistrust and lack of legitimacy of the current government, not only protests against ‘lockdown’ measures and the refusal to adhere to them, but also disbelief surrounding the disease led to the spread of rumours and misinformation (See also Dorcela and St. Jean, 2020). “People think of COVID-19 as a political matter”, said a head of a local youth group.

Hearsay varied from the government having invented the virus to receive money from international aid agencies or diverting attention from the internal political issues[iii] to the hospitals testing a new vaccine on the Haitian population. The disbeliefs were such that people ended up claiming that those showing the same symptoms of COVID-19 were not infected by the virus, but with a different disease that they called ‘Ti lafyèv’ (‘small fever’)[iv], which was assumed to be easily treatable with ‘te anmè’ (bitter tea), therefore ensuring that hospital visits (and testing) were ‘not necessary’.

Given the misinformation, on the one hand people have not taken the virus seriously and therefore failed to follow preventative measures, while on the other hand panic was created and people stigmatized, which prevented them from going to the doctor and accelerated the spread of the virus. Additionally, some acts of sabotage of medical services were reported.

Countering disbelief, panic, and stigma, some local leaders and organizations took important initiatives to disseminate correct information and to help the communities cope with the government measures. For example, Doctors Without Borders and Gheskio, a leading Haitian healthcare institution, trained volunteers as field officers to spread information about the virus by visiting people (what it is, how to protect oneself, which hospitals to go to, etc.). In this regard, Dr. Pape, a founder of Gheskio, argued that “poor people are not stupid. [They] want to make sure that what you’re telling them is real.”[v]

Other civil society organizations (CSOs) also took various initiatives to communicate with people. While some initiatives used campaign music or held quiz contests with questions about COVID-19, allowing participants to learn about the virus while having fun, others visited street vendors and residents, going door to door with information leaflets to clear up the misunderstanding, to remind people that the virus is still present, and to ask them to wear face masks and wash their hands even if others do not follow the measures. Also, the CSO Ekoloji pou Ayiti established hand-washing stations in Furcy and its members stood at the stations to explain to the users which precautions and preventative measures to take, as well as how to make homemade sanitizer.

Thus, in places where the legitimacy and credibility of the government is disputed, such as Haiti, interlocutors such as CSOs and other local organizations can significantly contribute to effective crisis management. The above examples once again highlight the vital role of local actors in articulating and ‘narrowing down’ key messages and practices among the population that are central in managing the spread and effects of the virus.


AFP (2019) “Haïti: l’opposition manifeste contre « l’ingérence internationale » (Haiti: the opposition manifestes against the « international interference »”. Available at: https://5minutes.rtl.lu/actu/monde/a/1413480.html (Accessed: 14 December 2020).

Cénat, J. M. (2020) “The Vulnerability of Low-and Middle-Income Countries Facing the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Case of Haiti”, in Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease 37 (101684). Doi: 10.1016/j.tmaid.2020.101684

Dorcela, S. and St. Jean, M. (2020) “Covid-19: Haiti is Vulnerable, but the International Community Can Help”. Available at: https://www.the-hospitalist.org/hospitalist/article/224836/coronavirus-updates/covid-19-haiti-vulnerable-international-community-can (Accessed: 19 July 2020).


[i] Refers to a diplomatic group composed of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative, the ambassadors of Brazil, Canada, the EU, France, Germany, Spain, the US, and the OAS.

[ii] Telephonic conversation with a physician in Port-au-Prince on 4 July 2020 and with a health professional in Les Cayes on 20 July 2020.

[iii] Telephonic conversation with a physician in Port-au-Prince on 4 July 2020.

[iv] Telephonic conversation with a health professional in Les Cayes on 20 July 2020.

[v] See Feliciano, I. and Kargbo, C. (2020) “As COVID cases surge, Haiti’s Dr. Pape is on the frontline again”.

This article is an outcome of research conducted by the authors between June and August 2020 as part of the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam’s ‘When Disaster Meets Conflict’ project. The research aimed to analyze the tensions between top-down measures implemented to face the COVID-19 emergency and the bottom-up responses and mechanisms seen among local leaders and institutions in Haiti. Methodologically, it was conducted by doing a secondary sources review and remote interviews with a number of Haitian health professionals.

About the authors:

Angela Sabogal is a sociologist who graduated from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Colombia. She is currently finishing an MA degree in Development Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies ISS of Erasmus University Rotterdam. She has six years of working experience in social project management in Colombia and Haiti.

Yuki Fujita is MA degree student in Development Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Her major at the ISS is the Social Policy for Development. Before coming to the ISS, she worked in the diplomatic corps in Haiti for two years from 2017 to 2019.

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