International Day of Peace: the role of local-level peacebuilding to sustain peace in South Sudan

 

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Women representatives of United Church Women’s Association in Maar celebrate the success of their peacebuilding and agricultural training projects in 2017. Photo Credit:Tom Price/Tearfund

 

On International Day of Peace, Sini Maria Heikkila (Tearfund’s Humanitarian Policy Officer) discusses the role of local-level peacebuilding for delivering sustained peace in South Sudan.  

On Wednesday 12th September, parties to the conflict in South Sudan signed a peace agreement in Addis Ababa. The agreement provides a new opportunity to end an armed conflict which has devastated the lives of millions since its eruption in December 2013.

In addition to the implementation of the high-level peace agreement, grassroot peacebuilding remains critical; it can create political and social space within communities which helps to create fertile ground for lasting peace. Despite this, support for grassroots peacebuilding is often lacking and much of the funding allocated to support local level peacebuilding initiatives tends to be short-term.

[Read more…]

Comparative advantages of local, national and international actors in emergencies

When you’re facing a crisis who do you turn to? Or what happens when your usual support networks like family, friends and neighbours are not around? Most of us can only imagine what we would do if our crisis became a war in the country we live in.

But that’s the reality for people who have been affected by the conflict in South Sudan, which erupted in December 2013. It began in the capital, Juba and then spread rapidly across the country’s different states. Local survival mechanisms have been depleted since then and populations have few remaining resources. [Read more…]

Let’s remember Central African Republic this Christmas and beyond

Fighting, pain and bloodshed. These are definitely not gifts that anyone would want to receive. Sadly this is exactly what happened to 2.5 million people in the Central African Republic (CAR) last year in December. Far from a month of peace and goodwill, instead fighting broke out and the country descended into chaos.

Violence between Seleka and anti-Balaka groups  forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes, while thousands were either killed, abused or trapped in enclaves for their own safety. The crisis overwhelmed the capacity of CAR, a country that has been largely devoid of any state functions and neglected by the international community for decades.

Empty streets – Fear of attacks has driven many people from their homes in Bangui. Photo: Hannah Maule-ffinch

Twelve months on the conflict is ongoing and half the population needs emergency assistance. One in ten of CAR’s ‘pre-crisis’ population are now refugees in neighbouring countries. The situation remains precarious and deadly despite an international intervention to respond to humanitarian needs and protect civilians.

Without a serious commitment from the international community to provide the necessary human, financial and political resources to stabilise the country and prevent the continued suffering of civilians – CAR will remain exactly where it has been since independence – lost, in the heart of Africa.

The landlocked country in the heart of Africa is considered one of the poorest and least developed in the world, with the UNDP Human Development Index 2014 positioning it 185th out of 187 countries. Despite being resource rich, with vast amount of diamonds, CAR has struggled to break out of poverty due to conflict and the mismanagement of its resources by numerous leaders.

With such a bleak environment it is hard to see a way out. However even within such desperation and darkness there is hope and there are opportunities for breakthrough in the country.

Tearfund has been responding to the humanitarian crisis since the start of the year. To date we have been part of the humanitarian community’s efforts to transform lives as we have:

  • Provided food distributions to 3400 internally displaced people.
  • Distributed seeds and tools and provided agricultural training to 1000 households.
  • Trained 31 000 people on hygiene promotion to prevent the spread of water-borne diseases like diarrhoea.
  • Distributed 7 565 000 litres of potable water.
  • Built or rehabilitated 370 latrines and 168 showers and 162 hand washing facilities.
Delivery of jerry can full of clean water at an IDP camp

Delivery of jerry can full of clean water at an IDP camp.  

However we know that humanitarian response alone is not enough. What is required in the CAR is long term political stability, good governance, and peaceful cohesive communities of all faiths and none. This is where advocacy can play such a crucial role.

In October 2014 Tearfund hosted the parliamentary visit of Baroness Berridge and Lord McConnell to the CAR. It was a short but productive trip with a schedule that included visits to IDP camps and meetings with high political officials such as the interim President Catherine Samba Panza, Diane Corner deputy head of the UN peacekeeping force, and the interfaith delegation comprising of the Archbishop of Bangui, Chief Imam and the Head of the Evangelical Church. Lord McConnell’s blog was particularly popular in the Parliament blog-sphere and challenged the negative label that CAR has been given as a ‘pointless country’.

Baroness Berridge and Lord McConnell meeting with interim President of CAR, Catherine Samba-Panza

Baroness Berridge and Lord McConnell meeting with interim President of CAR, Catherine Samba-Panza

This visit was much more than just seeing people in poverty and meeting officials. Both Members of the House Lords, along with MPs in the House of Commons, have remained committed to the cause. Through their support and those of their colleagues in both the Houses, parliamentary scrutiny approved the extension of EUFOR – the EU peacekeeping force to support the UN as it was facing a shortfall in civilian protection troops.

There is still a long way to go. Advocacy is about the long game – building the steps for a better future. Within a complex political emergency like the CAR this is even more complicated. However Tearfund, like many other humanitarian organisations, is committed to seeing this nation reach its potential. In particular we are calling on the international community to;

  • Increase political engagement and support: Ensure the crisis remains on the regional and international political agenda by providing sustained support to an inclusive, comprehensive, and accountable peace process that links local-level with national-level dialogue and reconciliation and takes into account CAR’s refugees in neighbouring countries.
  • Increase funding: Announce new commitments to the humanitarian response, channelling resources to underfunded sectors including early recovery, protection, nutrition, education, and shelter/non-food items.
  • Invest in basic state services and development: Commit resources to reinforce and expand state services, and encourage and support the expansion of development activities.
  • Support the UN peacekeeping troops – MINUSCA: Identify troops and police contingents and mobilise necessary material resources, to ensure that MINUSCA reaches – and maintains – a fully operational capacity.

As we come up to one year on since the upsurge of violence many of the displaced people still live in constant  fear of reprisals. Security remains unpredictable as armed robberies continue on a daily basis in and around Bangui. Overall the nation is sitting on a time bomb and the constant threat of a further decline into violence and conflict lingers. Let us ensure that CAR does not slip into the neglected crises list.

 

Life for Syrian refugees outside of official camps – how local churches are making a difference

For the launch of Tearfund’s media report ‘Overcrowded and overlooked’ this is a guest blog post by Rupen Das. Rupen is the Director of one of Tearfund’s partnering organisations helping Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Rupen Das profile

As the crisis in Syria and its neighbouring countries enters its third year, it is heart breaking that the humanitarian situation is getting worse, and a peace deal through the diplomatic talks seems unreachable.

The conflict has been described as the worst humanitarian disaster since the end of the cold war. The scale of the response is hugely challenging as more than 2.2 million Syrians are hosted in the region placing unprecedented strain on communities, infrastructure and services in host countries of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

In Lebanon, where displaced Syrians now equal one-third of the population, there is huge strain on communities, infrastructure and services. Unlike Syria’s other neighbours there are currently no official camps in Lebanon for Syrians. While the UN has made great efforts to improve refugee registration, given the continued unprecedented increase of refugees, Lebanon and the other hosting countries still need practical and financial support. The burden on them is immense and unsustainable.

Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. Photo: Tearfund

Some Syrians who have fled are living with host communities such as friends and relatives. However, as space is finite within homes this can mean up to 30 people living in one bedroom apartments. Many others are renting accommodation in the highly inflationary private housing market, or being forced to find whatever shelter they can in empty and derelict buildings, or in informal tent  settlements. Some of the least fortunate can be seen sleeping rough under bridges, in parks and on the streets.

With an estimated 84 percent of refugees living outside camps, increased outreach capacity is needed to ensure all persons of concern have access to information and counselling regarding their status and available services. That’s why aid agencies like Tearfund are using local-based partner organisations and churches to support hundreds of vulnerable Syrians who are now living outside of formal camp settlements.

Caring for those who are not part of the mainstreams of society like refugees because of their brokenness and rejection is, amongst other things, a core part of how the church responds to those in need.

During challenging times churches can become places of compassion for anyone regardless of their faith or ethnic background. They are stepping out of their comfort zones and reaching out to those who do not belong to their group or community.  In Lebanon, many of the churches are demonstrating what forgiveness and reconciliation looks like through their acts of compassion as they forgive Syrians for their twenty year occupation of the country.

Three Syrian boys living in a make-shift informal camp in Lebanon. Photo: Eleanor Bentall/Tearfund

Three Syrian boys living in a make-shift informal camp in Lebanon. Photo: Eleanor Bentall/Tearfund

Local faith communities are often crucial operational partners assisting larger agencies. Practical examples of this include registering asylum seekers, community peace building, conflict mitigation, promoting sustainable livelihoods, and gender and child protection[1].  Partnerships formed by the faith-based agencies can have a significant advantage in this respect, being able to tap into pre-existing local networks to identify and respond to needs as they arise.

However we cannot do it alone, and we all need to work together – the UN, donors, large development agencies, different faith based organisations and local civil society. As the crisis continues, it is clear that while humanitarian assistance is vital, particularly for the refugees and host communities, a great hope of those who fled is to return to Syria.

Above all, they want the international community to invest in a peace plan for Syria to end the bloodshed and suffering.

Coverage of Tearfund’s partner work in Lebanon was broadcast on Channel 5 News which you can watch below

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BoszCfMeEQ


[1] Joint Learning Initiative (JLI) Local faith communities and resilience in humanitarian situations policy note http://www.jliflc.com/~/media/Files/Joint%20Learning/LHAG%20Resilience/JLIFLC%20Faith%20%20Resilience%20Hub%20Policy%20Note.pdf

Catching Fire: The odds are never in our favour

Roll up, roll up! For more bread and circuses. Everyone has been raving about The Hunger Games sequel Catching Fire, released today, ever since the original film came out last year. The latest film fuses the reality-type show of Big Brother, the horror of Lord of the Flies, the sinister surveillance of Orwell’s 1984, and the glamour of Strictly Come Dancing, all in one.

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The cruelty of fighting to the death continues with more games; the victors of the first games, Katniss and Peeta, are warned by their mentor Haymitch: ‘From now on, your job is to be a distraction so that people forget what the real problems are.’ The Games and its victors-cum-celebrities are used as ‘entertainment’ to distract from the real problems of impoverished and starving people in the Districts outside the Capitol of Panem. Just as Roman emperors placated the masses with ‘bread (panem) and circuses’ or gladiators.

We might kid ourselves that this is just a film, set in a horrific future world, that doesn’t reflect our lives today. But, at some point, I’m sure that we’ve all chosen to watch some light-hearted entertainment on TV like I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here where we’re encouraged to laugh at other people’s uncomfortable experiences.

I already see signs of us living in a world of inequality, not far off The Hunger Games trilogy, and the ways in which we distract ourselves from the real problems, like the citizens of the Capitol do. We go shopping for clothes or stuff that we don’t really need and ignore a homeless person on the street. We buy more food than we need and throw away £60 worth every month, whilst more and more people rely on food banks to feed their families each week.

Foodbanks shouldn’t have to exist, but they are a last resort. A man in West Sussex, who received a food parcel while he was on probation until his benefits were sorted, was so grateful his local Foodbank in Chichester existed: ‘I had a difficult decision to make, do I pay the deposit on a flat and starve or eat and remain homeless? The foodbank has allowed me to pay my deposit and not go hungry.’

This kind of disparity is highlighted in Catching Fire as we see a flash of graffiti: ‘The odds are never in our favour’ as Katniss and Peeta go on a victory tour through the Districts. The citizens of the Capitol gorge themselves and wear ridiculously extravagant costumes, pursuing their own happiness. While those in the Districts starve and are oppressed; any sign of protest or discontent is beaten out of them.

This makes me ask myself, do we ensure that the odds are never in the favour of others? Could we be perpetuating the terrible living conditions of others and increasing the gap between the haves and have-nots by the way that we live and distracting ourselves from what’s really going on?

If the heroine in Catching Fire is Katniss, who becomes a beacon of hope and justice, inspiring rebellious uprisings in the Districts, then my hero in the real world of inequality is Claudio Oliver, an inspiring urban farmer, married to Katia, in Brazil, where the divide between the rich and poor is rising.

Claudio shared his vision with me: ‘I want to stop people from thinking of consumerism and poverty just in material terms and to start to understand a person living in poverty as someone who doesn’t have a friend, as someone who is lonely.’

‘And the best way to make friends is to start doing something communal.  A great way to start is in our own homes, our gardens, by starting to work the soil and sharing its fruits with our neighbours we can rebuild communities.

‘The practice of living in community with one another and being in touch with creation is being lost, as many people become increasingly busy, pressurised and isolated. People need meals, families, communities and laughing.  There is nothing like meals being at the centre of our life. Not a career. But the centre of the household.’

Claudio promotes community living, values relationships and an alternative way of life based on responsible consumption and recycling waste in Brazil.

I’m inspired by his approach to tackle the real problems of inequality head on so that we can prevent the extreme situation of ‘the odds are never in our favour’ in the film Catching Fire.

Why not respond to this article by doing this Rhythms’ action of connection?
Time for a sandwich: spend some time talking with a homeless person and while you’re at it, offer to buy them a sandwich. For more action ideas sign up to Rhythms today.

Relief to recovery – how can the international community get better at it?

This is a joint blog post by Sarah Pickwick, Tearfund’s Sudan and South Sudan Policy Officer and Caroline Maxwell.

We know that disasters and crises are becoming more frequent and prolonged. From the deep rooted conflicts in the DRC to crises currently in the news like Syria – many communities struggle to cope. The challenge is to meet both the immediate emergency needs but also develop longer term strategies so that those affected by the crisis can rebuild their lives.

When an agency like Tearfund responds to a disaster situation and then remains there for a long period, say over 10 years, the question inevitably gets asked; ‘how are you transitioning, from a relief context to recovery?’.  Surely just providing basic items such as food and shelter over a long period creates a culture of dependency. So how then do we resolve this challenge when we respond in a protracted and complex humanitarian situation, such as Darfur in Sudan?  These are key questions for NGOs like Tearfund as well as governments and donors that support agencies delivering aid.

A recent Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) report commended Tearfund’s DFID funded water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) work in Darfur, for a number of the aspects and in particular how Tearfund’s approach is community-led and focussing on addressing longer term needs.

Our WASH projects both in Darfur, and in many other  prolonged crises where we are responding, can range from installing hand-dug wells, pumped water systems, constructing latrines and doing solid waste management to hygiene promotion activities through women and children’s groups and household visits. Not only do these projects play a part in meeting people’s immediate needs they also lead to more sustained ways of providing WASH services.

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Source: Paul Brigham, Tearfund

One way we’ve been adopting a sustainable community-led approach is by working with locals such as Ahmed Hashim Mustafa, a resident of Al Khanama village, who received awareness training about the importance of hygiene. Before the training Ahmed recalls that previously he did not know the importance of having a latrine and that every day he used to use the valley near his home as an open toilet. But after his village participated in a community-led sanitation campaign, he understood how dangerous this was, potentially causing several life-threatening diseases. As a result he dug his own latrine, and now says he will never go to the toilet in the open again. ‘I will also encourage others to dig their latrines to make their village an open defecation free zone’ he said.

Whilst we seek to respond with the most appropriate support according to the situations we are faced with, the key thread that runs through all our work is an emphasis on sustainability and engaging with the communities that we work in, so that they are empowered to analyse and respond to their WASH needs. It’s why years ago we started to move away from relief approaches to focus on early recovery for affected communities. We place a lot of emphasis on including the communities in our work, putting them in the driving seat and building on what they can do themselves by strengthening their knowledge. We strongly believe that this is what donors need to focus on supporting.

Ahmed’s story is just one example of  the approach we take – and we will continue to review and learn how we operate. The ICAI report had useful recommendations for donors as they consider delivery of water and sanitation in protracted crisis, including:

  • Flexibility in delivery: Donor’s initial response should be on emergency WASH service provision, but as the crisis develops and the needs and perceptions of the affected community changes, donors must adapt by changing how they work with partners and deliver aid that promotes longer term solutions.
  • Funding: Donors should have a balanced mix of funding mechanisms in order to spread the risk of working in crisis and for keeping track of how money is used at all stages of a response from strategic planning, allocating resources and monitoring impact. Multi-annual grants should be favoured to ensure a long lasting response.
  • Maximising impact and ensuring effectiveness: Donors should seek to support projects that are sustainable, directly engage communities throughout to ensure ownership (ultimately building their own capacity to deliver), promote learning and also take into account good environmental practices (such as solar powered water pumps etc). Only when these things are taken on board will people in these situations experience real change.

To contribute further to this debate Tearfund will shortly publish two pieces of broader research, one funded by the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), looking at the best approaches to deliver WASH within complex emergencies, and the other funded by DFID, exploring whether delivery of WASH can contribute towards peace- and state-building.

We’ll be blogging more about this soon, with links to our reports so watch this space!

Monrovia’s Golden Moment

This is a guest blog by Rev Isaac Wheigar.  Isaac is the General Secretary of the Association of Evangelicals of Liberia (AEL), which aims to promote peace through the local church and advocate for the poor and marginalised.

Rev Isaac Wheigar, General Secretary of AEL

Rev Isaac Wheigar, General Secretary of AEL. Source AEL

This week Monrovia, the capital of my country Liberia, is hosting the next stage of global talks on what happens after the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in 2015 .

The UN High Level Panel meeting will look at the national building blocks for sustained prosperity and, as we are in the business of rebuilding our lives and our nation after civil war, Liberians have much to contribute to this meeting.

The current MDGs have done a good job of focusing attention on some important areas that need to be tackled – like health, education and access to water and sanitation. But while there has been some progress in some areas, it has been patchy and the figures demonstrate the high levels of inequality that still face us across the globe. The political barriers to decreasing this inequality and to ensuring our planet’s resources are protected and shared more fairly just haven’t been addressed.

That’s the message we want the UN panel to hear and implement – we need a new model of growth which has the building blocks of peace, equality, transparent governance and environmental sustainability.

Liberia’s challenge

As one the largest Christian networks in Liberia, AEL works with those who have suffered from the damaging consequences of civil war. We resettle displaced families from refugee camps to their local villages. This can be a very traumatic process so in addition to providing emotional care we are also involved in physical development by distributing food packages and rebuilding homes.

But we continue to see the growing inequalities within communities, particularly for displaced people who lack the security, education, health, income, and employment opportunities to lift themselves out of the poverty trap.

A root cause of this is the global obsession with economic growth at any cost – exploiting the environment, widening the gap between the wealthy and poor, fueling corruption and conflict over land and resources – has not resulted in fair, prosperous and flourishing nations.

For instance our water and sanitation services deteriorated as a result of the civil war. Many people had no choice but to drink from local creeks, which also serve as their latrine, leading to diarrhea .  This is why we advocate for a Water Supply and Sanitation Commission to improve delivery especially in hard to reach communities.

Clean water collected in Liberia. Source Tearfund.

Clean water collected in Liberia. Source Tearfund.

While most of the world is on track to meet the drinking water MDG target – to halve the proportion of people without safe water and basic sanitation – Liberia is not. Neither is any other country affected by conflict. Approximately 1.2 million Liberians – that’s 32 per cent of the population – lack access to safe drinking water and 83 per cent do not have access to sanitation. Girls suffer most as they bear the burden of collecting water and suffer from lack of privacy in open defecation which makes them vulnerable to rape and other forms of violence.

This kind of inequality can’t continue. While the world has set overall goals to halve poverty, if the poorest are left behind then we are all poorer for it. We need to set goals which don’t just measure overall progress but which seek to improve the lives of the poorest and most marginalised – like girls collecting water in Liberia.

Liberian girls collecting clean water from a village pump. Source Tearfund.

Liberian girls collecting clean water from a village pump. Source Tearfund.

That’s why we can’t rely on aspirational global goals, but we also need national level targets which set out the ambition to reduce inequality in access, to make sure that the poorest men, women, girls and boys see a tangible difference in their lives too.

The church around the world also has an important role to play in reminding our leaders what the point of the new framework for development should be and what values should drive it.

The widow who lost her spouse in conflict, the unemployed farmer who lost his livelihood due to climate change, the child suffering from diarrhoea who cannot access safe drinking water – we owe it to them to address not just their symptoms but the root causes of their distress.

I pray that the meeting in Monrovia doesn’t just focus on technical solutions to specific problems, but helps to build consensus around a new vision for development which is fairer and puts our planet on a sustainable footing.

How to follow our blog

Happy New Year!  Enough time off – now back to work.  To mark the start of 2013 we’ve made some changes to Just Policy, so that it’s easier for you to follow the items you’re interested in.

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For the most part, our regular authors are also on twitter.  If you’re interested in following us, our twitter handles are as follows:

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Prospects for peace and prosperity in the world’s newest country

Blog by Sarah Pickwick – Policy Officer for  South Sudan

Today the International Development Select Committee published a report on South Sudan, looking at its prospects for peace and development. Tearfund was able to input through both oral and written evidence, to share reflections and recommendations from our programmes and partners.

As I watched our Director being quizzed by the committee I pondered on three questions

a)      Would the things we were calling for be noted?

b)      If so, would it change how DFID operate in-country?

c)      If  DFID did change, would that significantly alter things in South Sudan?

So with that in mind, firstly, what things did Tearfund call for and what has the committee said?

1)     DFID should fund humanitarian needs in South Sudan, alongside development.

In some parts of South Sudan there are ongoing humanitarian needs due to poor harvests, rising food prices, internal insecurity, displacement and so on. Humanitarian needs look set to continue for many years, and so although there is rightly a desire to move towards development, humanitarian efforts should not slow down as a result. There needs to be a mix of approaches, tailored to specific areas/needs, and not a case of either/or.

Infrastructure - like this community-built bridge - will be vital for South Sudan to develop

The committee has taken note of this, in sounding the alarm about the mounting humanitarian crisis  and recommending that DFID may need to ‘focus to a greater extend on humanitarian assistance’. However, at the same time they comment that ‘if the country is to develop, it will need to invest in health, education and infrastructure’, the very things we note in our evidence as key to spurring widespread economic development.

2)     DFID should build the capacity of government structures at all levels.  

A lot of international attention had been on building the capacity of the South Sudanese Government at central level. Although undoubtedly important, this had sometimes been at the expense of capacity building at state, county and district level, where most responsibility for provision of basic services is held.

It is therefore encouraging to see a call for DFID to make sure they have a correct balance, but also for them to ‘use its leverage and influence to persuade other key donors to integrate capacity building support within their own development projects’. The report also acknowledges the church as a service provider, linking to a point we made which is that the church can play a very valuable interim role here, whilst the government’s capacity is built.

3)     DFID should encourage the Government to adequately support returnees and their host communities.

Since October 2010 over 372,000 people have returned to South Sudanbut this puts an additional strain on scarce resources. As well as making practical suggestions we noted that DFID should maintain a state of readiness/flexibility to support emergency WASH and health interventions for returnees should the need arise. Although the report does not go into specifics we were pleased to see the committee encouraging DFID to ‘divert additional resources to assist them [returnees] if required’.

Its encouraging that the Committee has taken note of so many NGO asks. We now wait to see how DFID will respond and whether it will affect the ongoing revision of their South Sudan strategy.

So, what kind of impact might this have on communities in South Sudan?  DFID is but one of many donors in South Sudan and there are multiple and complex issues to deal with. However, DFID expects to spend around £360 million there, between 2011-15, which makes South Sudan one of the largest recipients of UK bilateral aid.  So this report has the potential to indirectly impact millions of lives. And, given the scale of need and levels of poverty in the world’s newest country, it is important that it is used as effectively as possible.