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Report Finds Changes Needed in Foreign Aid to Help End Longest-Running, Deadliest Conflicts in Asia

Subnational conflict now the most deadly, widespread, enduring form of violent conflict in Asia

Findings challenge aid community to re-think assumptions on how aid contributes to peace

Bangkok, June 2, 2013 — A new study by The Asia Foundation has found that subnational conflict, or armed conflict over control of a territory in a sovereign state, is now the most deadly, widespread, and enduring form of violent conflict in Asia. The report states that more people have died in subnational conflicts than all other forms of armed conflict during the past decade in Asia, including conflicts in fragile states. Since 1992, the region has had 26 major subnational conflicts, affecting an estimated 1.76 million square kilometers of South and Southeast Asia, roughly the size of Indonesia, and more than 131 million people. The findings also state that these types of conflicts are among the world’s longest running armed struggles, lasting more than 45 years on average.

“The international development field is undergoing a shift in thinking on how aid can help end violent conflict, and this study provides solid evidence and practical recommendations on how aid organizations should work differently in a conflict zones,” said Thomas Parks, a report author and The Asia Foundation’s regional director for conflict and governance, based in Thailand. “While aid organizations have become more savvy on the problems of fragile and conflict-affected states, some of the commonly held assumptions about how aid contributes to peace does not reflect reality in subnational areas.” Parks added: “Increasing economic growth, strengthening government capacity, improving service delivery, and encouraging democratization does not necessarily help to reduce or end subnational conflicts. If aid agencies don’t understand the local context, aid projects promoting these ideals can exacerbate the drivers of conflict.”

The study includes a framework for distinguishing between the strategies needed to end subnational conflicts and traditional approaches used by international development agencies. Findings are based on extensive perception surveys, and first-hand village-level ethnographic fieldwork, including interviews with insurgents, in areas often inaccessible to traditional aid practitioners. Key factors necessary for aid to be successful in subnational conflict areas and promising approaches to date are highlighted.

Parks continued: “There are opportunities for aid organizations to have a positive impact if they can support a locally-owned political transition. The international community is beginning to develop new ways of working in these regions that respond to local conflicts and political dynamics more effectively, and this report highlights the successes and failures of aid to these extremely challenging environments.”

Among the additional findings:

  • More than 131 million people in Asia are living in these areas of protracted conflict.
  • Subnational conflict areas are different from fragile states and present the international community with a distinct set of challenges.
  • Mainstream development assistance models, including those designed for fragile states, are not well suited for subnational conflict areas.
  • Aid to subnational conflict areas has the greatest impact when it supports a political transition from conflict to durable peace.

The Asia Foundation has a long history of programs in conflict-affected and fragile regions of Asia, including in Afghanistan, Mindanao (Philippines), Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Aceh (Indonesia), Southern Thailand, and Timor-Leste. The Foundation’s long-term presence and extensive networks with local leaders, government, and organizations allows our staff to interact with key actors and support programs in highly challenging and sensitive environments.

The report is supported by funding from the State and Peacebuilding Fund, administered by the World Bank, and the UK Aid from the UK Government.

Read the report and other information here. Interact with us on Facebook or follow @Asia_Foundation on Twitter. For media inquiries, please visit the Press Room.

Related locations: Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand
Related programs: Conflict and Fragile Conditions
Related topics: Subnational Conflict

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