Addressing Armed Violence in Development Programming

John Siebert

John Siebert

The Ploughshares Monitor Spring 2008 Volume 29 Issue 1

“The likelihood of armed conflict affecting states increases as their human development ranking declines.… [F]igures show that 1.6 per cent of the countries ranked as High Development states by the UN Human Development Index (HDI) 2006 experienced one or more armed conflicts during the ten-year period 1997–2006. This figure rises to 30.1 per cent of those ranked as Medium Human Development states. For Low Human Development states, there is again a rise to 38.7 per cent” (Project Ploughshares 2007).

Armed violence and poverty are not inextricably linked, but there is a correlation between the two that challenges official donor agencies like the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to take account of conflict when supporting poverty alleviation strategies. Canada’s recent focus on aid-receiving countries such as Afghanistan, Haiti, and Sudan makes this doubly important.

The relationship between violence and poverty is widely acknowledged at CIDA, if currently inadequately integrated into its programming. In the top-to-bottom CIDA reorganization now taking place, there is a danger that research and financial support for armed violence reduction and development processes will be lost in the drive to “focus.”

The timing of the CIDA reorganization isn’t random. The agency has recently been harshly criticized for not focusing its resources in the right places, or for scattering resources in too many. Its ability to be timely and useful has come under fire in the whole-of-government or joined-up interdepartmental action underway in Afghanistan.

It is understandable that CIDA managers are tempted to simplify how and where they spend Canadian aid dollars. Health, agriculture, education, small business assistance, and clean water are only some of the important potential priorities. Done properly over the required period of time, investments in any of these sectors can make a huge contribution to people’s and then countries’ self-sufficiency.

Addressing armed violence in development processes must find its rightful place in CIDA’s technical and professional tool kit because such violence can quickly devastate the best laid development plans in any sector and in any country. Like the environment and gender, armed violence cuts across priorities.

Armed violence in its many forms exacts real financial costs when it disrupts markets, displaces populations, destroys roads and bridges and schools and marketplaces, drains scant medical resources in treating the wounded, and forces people from rural settings to urban slums in the quest for safety. There are also other, incalculable costs such as the price paid by women and children who often bear the brunt of violence, are subjected at gunpoint to sexual assault, and are left to care for families unseasonably robbed of husbands, fathers, and sons.

Development practitioners within and outside of governments and in official multilateral agencies know that they are facing increasingly hostile and violent environments. Many of the settings in which they work, although not technically the sites of war, suffer from seemingly intractable armed conflict. Criminal armed violence alone results in at least 300,000 fatal injuries every year worldwide, with the poor suffering disproportionately. Rapid global urbanization creates an expanding need for development work in urban settings where young males, the most likely perpetrators of armed violence, congregate. Economic development and reconstruction can be set back for generations if armed violence continues.

Canada has already acknowledged this reality formally by signing The Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development (2006). Currently endorsed by 42 countries and counting, the Geneva Declaration states:

Living free from the threat of armed violence is a basic human need. It is a precondition for human development, dignity and well-being. Providing for the human security of their citizens is a core responsibility of governments.

It further commits countries to make good on the following promise:

We will strengthen our efforts to integrate armed violence reduction and conflict prevention programs into national, regional and multilateral development frameworks, institutions and strategies, as well as into humanitarian assistance, emergency, and crisis management initiatives.

The Geneva Declaration is admittedly a commitment to aspirations rather than a club for members that have achieved a certain performance level in addressing armed violence in development programming. While armed violence is acknowledged in the declaration as a major constraint in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, the language, tools, and experience are still lacking to deal with the different forms in which armed violence is found in war and postwar environments, urban settings of guns and gangs, pastoralist conflicts, insurgencies, and other situations.

Significant efforts have been put in motion to, at a minimum, better understand and practice “do no harm” analysis. When development assistance is poorly planned or directed to the wrong people, it can induce and prolong armed violence.

Current research also suggests that post-conflict activities must be grounded in an analysis of the particular history and circumstances that led to violence, that local communities and national institutions must take part in designing solutions, and that the skills of the local people must be expanded and used. There are some important examples of programs that have made a dramatic difference through reducing or controlling arms. For example, Canada has championed, and the rest of the world has joined us in demonstrating, the positive impact of removing landmines.

It is pertinent to consider how the knowledge gained in an area such as banning and removing landmines can inform other programs that promote peace and security in a situation where there is an abundance of AK47s or handguns. It is also necessary to ensure that programming is grounded in evidence gathered in the field and not the best hopes and dreams of those sitting in Geneva, Waterloo, or Gatineau. As well, the proper roles of CIDA and the Department of Foreign Affairs in dealing with this concern must be ascertained.

At the urging of their partners in the field, some Canadian NGOs are already integrating armed violence reduction into their development programs. How do we as NGOs work with our CIDA counterparts to see that violence reduction strategies are appropriately applied to core development programs and objectives, and not seen as alien to poverty reduction?

We are only beginning to define and describe how a sophisticated donor country such as Canada can factor armed violence reduction into development programming. Increasingly donor countries are working together to coordinate longer-term development plans with recipient countries that cut down on duplication and waste and increase resources for targeted initiatives. If these integrated development plans recognize and incorporate armed violence reduction targets into programming, CIDA must have the policy and tools to not only participate in, but help shape these plans.

CIDA needs an up-to-date internal policy and an assigned point of responsibility within its newly reorganized shape to ensure that Canada is not only a player, but a leader in this international discussion.


For more on this topic, see Epps, Ken. 2007. Towards safe and sustainable communities: Addressing armed violence as a development priority. Project Ploughshares Working Paper 7-2.


Project Ploughshares. 2007. Human development and armed conflicts 1997–2006.

Spread the Word