THE BLOG
16/05/2014 05:22 BST | Updated 15/07/2014 06:59 BST

How Can Conflict Affected Communities Improve Their Own Futures?

The world is steadily becoming a less peaceful place, according to those who monitor levels of violence worldwide.

The Global Peace Index produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace shows things have worsened steadily since 2008, while risk analysis firm Maplecroft said last week that levels of violence have risen significantly in 48 countries over the past six months.

Given the correlation of violence and extreme poverty, development agencies such as Christian Aid routinely work in countries beset by violence, or violent conflict doing what they can for the worse affected, and helping communities rebuild and recover when the fighting stops.

At present, more than a dozen countries in which we have a presence through partners are embroiled in armed conflict, while most of the others where we work have to contend with social or structural violence, generally the result of repressive government, political upheaval or gang-related activities.

Looking at those countries where communities cope with violent conflict as part of their daily lives, we recently asked ourselves a challenging question. Is it possible that such communities can be encouraged to thrive without creating aid dependency, while looking towards a better and more peaceful future in the long term?

Now the emerging results of a three-year pilot project aimed at finding out the answers to these questions have been published in a new report 'Building resilience in a conflict setting', to mark this year's Christian Aid Week (11-17 May), which focuses on our work in areas of conflict.

The project, run by local partners and funded by the UK Government ), is working with communities in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) to help them address the risks they face, while encouraging them to realise they can have an impact on their own lives, despite the on-going conflict that surrounds and affects all aspects of daily life.

Our findings were that despite the challenges, with the right approach, some success and real change is possible.

One of the twelve communities which took part in the project was Beit Skariya, a rural agricultural village in the West Bank (part of the occupied Palestinian territory), surrounded by illegal Israeli settlements.

Some 600 residents live with the impact of conflict and violence every day. Israeli-imposed restrictions mean that people cannot get permits to build or repair houses and farm buildings in the village and if they go ahead without these they are subject to demolition.

Farmers are unable to access their land or local markets, while getting to hospitals or schools for the inhabitants entails the risk of violence from settlers or the Israeli army. The UN has warned that restrictions on movement and access to land have devastated the Palestinian agricultural sector, and a quarter of the population of the West Bank is now food insecure.

In conflict situations that are ongoing, communities often feel they face insurmountable problems and can only re-build their lives with the coming of peace. This project, however, aimed to work with the community to identify what they could do to make their situation better, rather than dwell on what was beyond their immediate reach.

With Christian Aid training, our local partners, YMCA, PARC and YWCA sought volunteers from villages to help find ways to address the risks they face, recognising their strengths and focusing on what was achievable.

Noura, a young mother from Beit Skariya was one such volunteer, helping set up a protection group in her community which coordinates with the Palestinian Civil Defence to provide emergency response to crises and report and document violence and human rights violations experienced by the villagers.

She is also a member of the newly formed women's association, which has successfully persuaded the Bethlehem Governorate to make space available for a local market, to avoid expensive and potentially dangerous travel to one much further away.

Based on the action plan she and other volunteers drew up, the village has also secured money for a land rehabilitation and protection project, and psycho-social support for women and children affected by the violence.

'Now we understand that every person and village has not only risks, but the capacity to do something as well. This year I have a vital role to play concerning empowering women and children. I have increased my confidence and ability to contact local authorities and develop plans,' said Noura.

'This project allows us to work together as one to find new solutions. We now have volunteers with skills, share ideas, and more experience about our hazards and how to solve them.'

To donate to Christian Aid week, give online at www.caweek.org call 08080 006 006, or text 'GIVE' to 70040 to give £5.