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International alert series: The BIG Issues

Keeping the peace: avoiding the cost of conflict in humanitarian aid

Tuesday 3 October 2006

5.15pm for 5.30pm start: Adelaide Town Hall

Presented by World Vision Australia and AusAID and supported by The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, UniSA

A series of bi-monthly forums, for dialogue, discussion and questions, on key international development issues involving and affecting the Australian community: July 2005 - October 2006

Charles TappMr Charles Tapp, Senior Advisor, AusAID

Thanks to the Chair, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen.

Feel I am in a slightly invidious position: not sure whether I am the warm-up act for the stars of this evening or whether I am simply perceived as the man from the government and therefore here to help you.

An honour to talk at this session and feel it is particularly timely that there is a serious focus on peace, conflict and development. I have a profound personal interest in these issues having lived and worked in many conflicts over the past 20 years, including Sudan, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Zaire (now DRC), Somalia, Mozambique, the Balkans, Bougainville and Solomon Islands.

Unfortunately I have spent far more of my career dealing with the impact of violent conflict (and occasionally being shot at) than I would ever have liked, be it in the NGO sector, working with the UN, World Bank or more recently my time with the Australian Government.

I will attempt to outline a few thoughts gleaned from my personal experience and also touch on the work currently being undertaken by the Australian Government, principally through AusAID. I will be providing some examples from the Solomon Islands in particular since it is both topical and relevant.


It is a well-worn line but remains valid and should therefore be re-stated here, “prevention is less costly and better than the cure”. We know that every $1 invested in prevention saves the international community $4 spent on dealing with the results of conflict (in the last 5 years, $18 billion has been spent on UN peacekeeping missions – mostly necessary because of inadequate preventive measures)

So, what has this to do with the Australian Aid Program?

The objective of Australia’s aid program is to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development in line with Australia’s national interest.

But even this is not enough. The aim of AusAID’s Peace, Conflict and Development Policy is to ensure that our programming decisions are appropriately sensitised to peace and conflict dynamics and are supportive of peace processes and other social transformations – based around the concept of peace-building.

Peace-building is all activities aimed at preventing and managing armed conflict and sustaining peace after large-scale violence has ended. There is no time frame and it is not a linear process. There are three phases of peace-building: firstly prevention prior to the outbreak of violence, secondly conflict management during armed conflict, and thirdly post-conflict reconstruction after the end of armed conflict.

Conflict prevention is a constant theme in all three phases which I will look at in turn.

How can the aid program help prevent conflict?

Bill Easterley has commented that in no business more than aid is so much expected with so little money. Expectations of aid are much too high, whether defined in terms of the MDGs or even in terms of preventing conflict. However there are a few things that we can try and do in the way we deliver our assistance to try and help prevent conflict:

I have said previously that conflict prevention is not a linear process and runs through all phases of peace-building. This is clear in countries where we have had a close involvement such as East Timor and Solomon Islands. In Solomon Islands the Community Sector Program has implemented over 800 community based projects throughout every province, including 200 schools, over 75 clinics and health centres and over 125 water supply systems. It has contributed to the overall process of restoration of peace and development in Solomon Islands through assisting communities to pursue peaceful resolutions to disputes and to address priority community needs. The program has contributed to countering the years of government neglect by implementing projects on a wide geographical basis and in doing so has helped to address one of the main causes and consequences of the tensions: the unequal and inadequate distribution of resources and delivery of services.

How do we manage conflict and sensibly support peace constituencies?

Clearly, managing conflict includes many of the activities I have lived and worked on over the years, namely humanitarian relief operations, support to refugees and internally displaced persons and peace dividends. But I don’t want to focus on these today. Of interest is how to work with the participants in conflict in order to try and create peace.

Finally, how do we support post-conflict recovery?

Let me touch on the Solomon Islands once more by way of example:

Civil Society

As I mentioned previously, one of the developments in the changing approaches to peacebuilding is the increased space for civil society participation. We have recognised this and our support is widening to include not just support for state institution building but for the essential role that civil society can play in peace-building.


Finally, both Solomon Islands and East Timor have had recent high profile relapses into violence in spite of substantial programs of assistance. This is not to say our programs have failed, just that preventing violent conflict is an extremely complex task and that aid is not the panacea for violent conflict. It is part of – not the whole – solution.

In East Timor and the Solomon Islands aid has helped in the rescue: it hasn’t guaranteed the people of those countries a future and never can. But it has given them a chance of having one.

In the end, it is for those in conflict to determine whether this support yields a more peaceful society in the future or whether they embark on another cycle of violence. What we, as outsiders, can aim to do is provide safe, effective and peace-promoting development assistance in the context of violent conflict.

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While the views presented by speakers within the Hawke Centre public program are their own and are not necessarily those of either the University of South Australia or The Hawke Centre, they are presented in the interest of open debate and discussion in the community and reflect our themes of: strengthening our democracy – valuing our cultural diversity – and building our future.

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