From Conflict to Coping: Promoting Drought Resilience through Peacebuilding

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Greg Scarborough is Mercy Corps’ senior advisor for nutrition and food security.

Jon Kurtz is Mercy Corps’ director for research and learning.

The concept of resilience has gained renewed attention since the 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa. Humanitarian and development actors are keen to avoid the need for massive relief assistance in the future, yet peacebuilding and conflict programming have not been considered integral to achieving food security or reducing the risk of disaster, which are closely associated with resilience. Under Mercy Corps’ Strengthening Institutions for Peace and Development (SIPED) program in Ethiopia, the authors undertook research to shed light on the links between conflict programming and drought resilience. The overall goal of this program, which was initiated in 2009 and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), was to reduce tensions and create an environment for sustainable peace. To achieve this, SIPED built the conflict management capacities of government and customary leaders, strengthened the relationships among conflicting groups through intercommunity dialogues, and supported the development and implementation of connected joint natural-resource use plans. In several instances, these activities led to the development of formal peace agreements that helped establish greater security over disputed lands and resources.

In mid-2011, Mercy Corps received anecdotal evidence from local officials that drought-affected communities that had benefitted from Mercy Corps-supported peace processes were better able to cope in the face of the harsh conditions than other pastoralist group in the Somali-Oromiya areas of Ethiopia. In response, Mercy Corps undertook this study to explore this unintended, yet potentially important effect. Specifically, the research examined whether and how peacebuilding programs like SIPED can create conditions that enable pastoralists—that is, people whose primary livelihood is raising livestock—to better cope with and adapt to severe drought. The study used representative household surveys and participatory impact assessment techniques among focus groups of men, women, and youth from both intervention and comparison populations.

The efforts of the SIPED program to improve peace and security appear to have contributed to creating conditions that enabled greater freedom of movement and access to important resources that pastoralist groups depend on to cope with and adapt to severe drought. The research found that drought-affected communities where peacebuilding interventions had been successful were better able to deal with the harsh conditions and resorted less frequently to distressful coping mechanisms such as productive asset stripping. People’s freedom of movement increased by 15 percent and conflict-related obstacles to pasture and water decreased by half during the program. This was primarily a result of the negotiated agreements supported by the program between conflicting communities, leading to improved comanagement of natural resources. These changes allowed households to employ adaptive coping strategies, such as traditional migration, and better preserve their herds and other assets. Loss of access to water, grazing, or farmland by families due to conflict, on the other hand, was found to be strongly associated with reduced household food consumption and depleted livestock. Pastoralists who were not able to freely access pastures or water for their animals due to insecurity were nearly four times more likely to have killed their calves during the 2011 drought than those who did not experience such conflict-related barriers.

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