Monthly Archives: October 2015

Urban services during protracted armed conflict

2 years ago, I was fortunate enough to be hired as a research assistant by the UEA Water Security Research Centre, where I conducted a literature and legal review of international humanitarian law and its role in the protection of essential services in armed conflict. 

Along with four other research assistants, this contributed to a wider literature review on urban services during protracted armed conflict. This work formed the basis of a report for the ICRC, which has now just been released and can be downloaded here

The report, written by Jean Philippe Dross, Michael Talhami, Javier Cordoba and Mark Zeitoun, proposes a ground breaking paradigm shift for the way in which humanitarian operations in urban areas are conducted, whilst providing a detailed picture of what such a shift would look like. 

A summary of the report can be found here, but a recap of the key findings are… 

  • Urban services are complex and interdependent, with with knock-on effects that go far beyond the visible signs of destruction
  • Services can comprise of different interdependent components including people (such as maintenance staff), hardware (such as infrastructure and equipment), or consumables (such as fuel, chlorine, or medicine)
  • There is a dependance on infrastructure outside of urban municipal areas showing the urban context goes beyond urban space
  • Cumulative impacts create ‘vicious cycles’, creating further indirect impacts
  • There is shrinking humanitarian space and a lack of safe access to areas in the conflict zone requiring humanitarian relief
  • International humanitarian law (IHL) provides protection for civilian objects, but there is a significant lack of respect for compliance with IHL by States, particularly with the weaponry used in urban areas

Specifically, they call for a better approach to assisting affected people which involves, among other things, replacing the relief-rehabilitation-development paradigm, changing current humanitarian operations including relationships with local actors and the local population, as well as the flexibility and duration of funding schemes and structures, and of course, strengthening compliance with international humanitarian law. 

The report was launched at an event by the Overseas Development Institute, which can be viewed here. I recommend watching if only for the fantastic video infographic at 23:00, which really sums up the impacts on essential services and civilians in armed conflict in contemporary urban settings, and thus challenges to humanitarian relief and the weaknesses of current operational framework.