In their article “Aid for Peace,” Berman, Felter and Shapiro question some of the basic assumptions underpinning delivery of humanitarian development aid in zones of conflict and argue persuasively that small, targeted programs designed based on a deep contextual understanding of the drivers of a conflict produce better outcomes than programs aimed at spreading around as much cash as possible. As a development practitioner with experience in conflict-affected parts of Afghanistan, the Philippines, and Aceh, Indonesia, I ultimately agree with this conclusion and commend the authors’ innovative work through Empirical Studies of Conflict Project (ESOC). However, I would strongly caution against generalizing too broadly from the Philippines’ experience as to what constitutes “smart aid” in other conflict zones. It’s worth noting in particular that studies of community-driven development and conditional cash transfer programs implemented in other countries affect conflict outcomes in ways that are entirely at odds with the Philippines’ experience.
Indonesia offers several such examples. In the province of Aceh, where prior to the 2005 Helsinki Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) fought an armed insurgency against the Government of Indonesia (GOI), the community-driven Kecamatan Development Program (KDP) delivered small-scale infrastructure throughout the province without exacerbating violent conflict. This was due in large part to the efforts of local program facilitators and villagers to reach informal arrangements with GAM commanders that allowed program implementation to proceed unimpeded. While such arrangements may have diminished GOI’s role in the program in the eyes of Acehnese villagers, the flexibility and local discretion built in to the CDD program was successful in mitigating conflict. Later, in 2006 and 2007, the GOI implemented the Community-Based Reintegration Assistance for Conflict Victims Program (BRA-KDP) in Aceh through KDP’s network of facilitators and funds transfer mechanism. The scope and intensity of conflict in Aceh in the years leading up to the Helsinki MoU made it logistically impossible to objectively verify individual claims to victimhood using a centralized targeting mechanism. Instead, BRA-KDP facilitators worked with villagers to decide who was entitled to compensation using locally identified criteria. An impact evaluation of BRA-KDP found that conflict victims received greater amounts of cash or in-kind compensation through the program than non-victims without increasing levels of violent conflict.
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Photography of wells built in Aqee Boy and Ortabiz-e-Farghana vilages as part of the National Solidarity Program in Afghanistan by Imal Hashemi, via World Bank Photo Collection
Source: The World Bank "People, Spaces, and Deliberation" Blog