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Lessons on climate resilience and peacebuilding from Ethiopia and the Dry Corridor

Greenhouse and drip irrigation system installed with support from WFP (Marcala municipality, La Paz Department). Photo: Valencia
Greenhouse and drip irrigation system installed with support from WFP (Marcala municipality, La Paz Department). Photo: Valencia

Humanitarian and development interventions often aim to make households and communities more resilient in the face of shocks, including climate change. But they can end up creating new vulnerabilities, or missing chances to build and sustain peace, if they do not consider local conflict sensitivities.

Ethiopia, Guatemala and Honduras are facing different challenges linked to the impacts of climate variability and change. To address these challenges, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been implementing resilience programmes in each of those countries. SIPRI recently studied several of these interventions to see what lessons could be drawn on how to increase their success in boosting climate resilience while also reducing conflict risk and building peace.

Natural resource management agreements and joint governance

Rural communities in the Central American Dry Corridor and Ethiopia are heavily dependent on the climate and landscape, as most engage in rain-fed agriculture or pastoralism (in the case of Ethiopia). As a result, their livelihoods are vulnerable to the effects of climate change; if the rains fail then crops fail, herds go hungry and people’s food insecurity increases.

In the Somali Region of Ethiopia, where herders have been struggling to raise their livestock because of more frequent droughts, WFP resilience programming has included rehabilitating rangelands and digging ponds. This aims to increase the availability of viable pasture and water where their scarcity contributes to tensions and even conflict linked to resource competition, both within and between communities.

In the Dry Corridor regions of Guatemala and Honduras, where the rainy season has been starting later and becoming more irregular, farmers have suffered significant crop losses and food shortages. Insecure land tenure and scarce water resources are also sparking tensions within and between communities. To address these problems, the WFP has included natural resource management components in its resilience programming. These components include watershed restoration and protection projects, support in designing watershed management plans, help with brokering watershed utilization agreements, and soil conservation projects.

Communities are already seeing benefits. Watershed management plans and utilization agreements, for example, have played an important role in resolving community-level conflicts over water resources in the Dry Corridor.

In Ethiopia, however, despite a clear demand for natural resource management from communities, it has not been fully implemented in the WFP’s resilience programming. This reduces the potential contribution of the programme since competition over scarce resources is a source of conflict.

Conflict sensitivity assessments

Climate change adaptation programming in resource-scarce areas often has the potential to inadvertently exacerbate tensions and generate conflict risk unless care is taken to avoid it.

In Ethiopia, for example, increasing water supplies for livestock in one area could aggravate conflict risk by attracting herders from other communities experiencing water shortages that are not part of the intervention. The greater availability of both viable pasture and water resources could also encourage community members to increase their herd sizes beyond sustainable levels, further depleting resources and creating new competition that could turn violent.

Limited access to water has in the past contributed to tensions and conflict within and between communities in the Guatemalan and Honduran Dry Corridor. In the past there have been disagreements over land tenure and land use, particularly near springs, and over the distribution and use of shared water resources. For example, one community has blocked another’s water intake or has diverted water flows or denied passage through the community to get to pasture or water resources.

To avoid this happening, those planning projects and programmes should carry out conflict sensitivity assessments and build the results into the subsequent interventions to avoid generating tension or conflicts.

Putting the ‘P’ in HDP

With the international community increasingly focused on operationalizing the humanitarian–development–peace (HDP) nexus, peacebuilding looks set to become a more prominent part of humanitarian work. None of the resilience projects SIPRI analysed in Ethiopia, Guatemala and Honduras was specifically designed to reduce conflict or build peace, and neither aim is formally part of the WFP’s mandate. However, conflicts and tensions are present in many of the places where the WFP is trying to boost resilience. Designing programmes and projects in such a way that they can contribute to conflict reduction, social cohesion and peacebuilding—when appropriate—could increase the long-term sustainability of WFP interventions and avoid inadvertently adding to tensions and conflict risks.

While the social, cultural and geographic contexts of the Central American Dry Corridor and Ethiopia are quite different, SIPRI’s research suggests two recommendations for the WFP’s resilience programming that apply to both areas. The first is that natural resource management and governance should be integrated into resilience programming in resource-scarce areas. The second is that resilience programming should always be sensitive to the risk of conflict within and between communities over access to natural resources such as land and water.

At the core of the humanitarian–development–peace nexus concept is the idea that these three elements are inextricably linked and mutually supporting. In light of this, it makes sense for organizations like the WFP to make peacebuilding and reducing conflict risk central considerations in their resilience programming. Resilience programming thus becomes about much more than climate change or food security but also helps to reduce conflict and to build and sustain peace.


This blog is based on the following research reports: Hegazi, F., Murugani, V., Pacillo, G., Läderach, P. ‘The World Food Programme’s Contribution to Improving the Prospects for Peace in Ethiopia’ and Valencia, S. C., ‘WFP’s Contributions to Improving the Prospects for Peace in the Central American Dry Corridor: Spotlight On Climate Change’. The reports were published in 2022 and are part of a knowledge partnership established in 2018 between the World Food Programme (WFP) and SIPRI aimed at strengthening the WFP’s contribution to the prospects for peace in the countries where it works.


Dr Farah Hegazi is a Researcher in the SIPRI Climate Change and Risk Programme.
Sandra C. Valencia is a research consultant. Her main research focus and expertise is on climate change policy and practice in the Global South with particular focus on Latin America and the Caribbean.