Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Rethinking Support for Communities' Self-Protection Strategies: A Case Study from Uganda

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Rethinking Support for Communities' Self-Protection Strategies: A Case Study from Uganda

Article excerpt

In every crisis people find creative ways to protect themselves. Examples include digging trenches in market places in Sudan for protection from aerial bombings; establishing underground schools and medical clinics in Afghanistan and Syria to continue lifesaving services; using radio in the Central African Republic to convey critical messages for those at risk; and negotiating directly with armed groups in Colombia to prevent the use of children in armed conflict. While humanitarian actors recognise the importance of community-based protection or selfprotection, they struggle to tap into these solutions. Too often, their programmes neglect to identify and build on existing protective strategies, and may consequently undermine what is keeping people alive and safe.

The component parts of addressing risk include reducing the threat, reducing vulnerability and increasing capacity. Too often, humanitarian action tends to emphasise addressing vulnerability and building capacity while neglecting to address the threat component of risk.

In Colombia, for example, while humanitarians invest in education programmes to reduce the vulnerability of children who might turn to armed groups, members of the community establish networks or engage in dialogue with armed groups to reduce the threat. While both efforts are necessary, the balance of effort is often skewed, with communities taking on a significant role in finding solutions to some of the most severe and pervasive risks. While humanitarian programmes do provide life-saving support and services like shelter, food and medical treatment, programming is not often focused on preventing or reducing exposure to the most severe risks people experience in a crisis, like abduction, sexual violence and indiscriminate attacks.

For several years, a number of NGOs have sought to strengthen humanitarian action to reduce the risk that people experience in a crisis. One initiative, the InterAction-led Results-Based Protection Program, seeks to promote a fundamental shift in how humanitarian interventions to enhance protection are assessed and designed and how theories of change are developed, implemented and monitored. The aim is to change how humanitarian action prevents and responds to violence, coercion and deliberate deprivation that people experience in crises. Current practice can often be rigid and too generalised, and can prioritise checklists over problem-solving techniques to understand and respond to protection problems. The Results-Based Protection Program emphasises problem-solving methods that are participatory, analytical, reflective, adaptive and iterative. Central to this approach is the need to identify what people are already doing for themselves and to establish a conversation that can illuminate what is needed to support these solutions.

Solutions that work are often organically driven and grow from those closest to the problem. Problem-solving by humanitarian actors therefore needs to shift the starting point of action back to the people themselves. External actors need to establish relevant methods for communicating with affected people; this includes understanding who the 'gatekeepers' of information are and how they may support or become barriers to the reduction of risk. They also need to ensure the meaningful participation of affected populations at the earliest stages of a response, as well as throughout the response. This helps humanitarian actors ensure that communities' information needs are met, thereby enhancing their capacity to act and to reduce their exposure to risks. Information needs to be relevant, accurate, from a trusted source, and accessible to different groups within the affected population. Information can promote confidence by enabling populations to assess their own threat environments and it can empower populations to design communityled solutions through collaboration, negotiation and practical solutions.

If humanitarian actors start with the experience of the affected population to identify specific threats, who is vulnerable to these threats, and why, it is then possible to disaggregate risk patterns beyond sex and age to include gender, ethnicity, time, location, political affiliation, religion, disability, economic status and other factors which have implications for exposure to threats. …

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