This story is part of Cooperation Canada’s Triple Nexus Spotlight Series. It was initially posted on October 30, 2014 (https://mccintersections.wordpress.com/2014/10/30/humanitarian-assistance-and-social-cohesion-in-syria/)
In any situation of crisis or conflict, the provision of humanitarian assistance aims to address basic needs related to the subsistence of those most deeply impacted. Responding to needs related to food security, water, sanitation, hygiene, and shelter involves technical considerations requiring immediate attention. However, the provision of humanitarian assistance also provides an opportunity to engage affected communities in less obvious, but equally critical, strategic work aimed at the preservation and building of social cohesion. These represent strategic situations wherein the triple nexus approach can be implemented, bringing together humanitarian, development, and peace programming.
Through grassroots initiatives that foster positive relationships within communities threatened by the divisive factors of sectarianism, solidarity and trust can be achieved and sustained in the midst of open conflict. This conviction lies at the center of the philosophy of Mennonite Central Committee partner, the Forum for Development, Culture and Dialogue (FDCD) as it approaches its work in providing humanitarian assistance with a peace lens to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Syria.
Although the Syrian crisis has spared few as it has moved from village to village, certain areas have remained relative safe havens for those forced to flee their homes as the result of intense and often indiscriminate violence. The Qalamoun region, straddling the highway from Damascus to Homs in central Syria, is one such area. The diverse composition of the region provides a distinctive context to observe the tactical practice of distributing humanitarian assistance in a multi-faith environment where villages are often segregated by faith groups.
While Syrian communities are long known for their hospitality, host community tensions exist in Qalamoun, as they do across Syria, especially when resources are scarce. Despite these challenges, the people of Qalamoun were able to respond to those seeking refuge from the intense violence in Aleppo, Homs and Damascus. In addition to welcoming displaced families into their shops, homes, and schools, the people of Qalamoun immediately began organizing efforts to provide food and hygiene items to their new guests. As more IDPs arrived, the need for greater humanitarian support became evident. FDCD, working closely with its contacts in the Qalamoun region, formed a local interfaith network of distributors and coordinators to respond to the crisis.
The purposeful inclusion of both Christian and Muslim partners in this process proved to advance the peace dimension of the Nexus approach employed by FDCD. Beyond the successful distribution of in-kind assistance to displaced families, this network produced new forms of trust and cooperation between faith groups.
This was further evident in the community’s response to the Syrian opposition’s attempt at controlling the region, including the town of Sadad, seizing vehicles and limiting local residents’ ability to evacuate the area. Responding to this, FDCD’s interfaith network quickly coordinated an effort to provide transportation. When the presence of anti-government forces in the area caused the movement of non-Muslims to be risky and greatly hindered, the Muslim communities of Qalamoun utilized their own vehicles to facilitate the safe evacuation of members of the Christian community to other villages in the area. In this regard, the deep partnership facilitated through the organization and distribution of humanitarian assistance in Qalamoun proved to be invaluable in the protection of the Christian community during this period of persecution and crisis.
While the Battle of Qalamoun was undoubtedly destructive, the experience of FDCD shows how an interfaith network made important contributions in mitigating the impacts of armed conflict. As shown above, the strategic benefits of its deliberate approach to humanitarian distribution are clear, supported by an added peace lens centered on interfaith social cohesion.
A historically diverse community in Qalamoun continues, to this day, to provide an example for how Muslims and Christians can work to navigate the ongoing tensions between host and displaced communities within the context of the ongoing Syrian conflict. As many communities in Syria fall prey to the vicious cycles of hate, exclusion, and persecution, the experience of FDCD attests to the value of localized interfaith approaches to peace and humanitarianism. Although we cannot predict when the Syrian crisis will end, the preservation of new forms of social cohesion resulting from this interfaith network will be crucial in the country’s early recovery and post-conflict development. These continued relationships will become central in preventing the spread of hate and sectarianism, working together to achieve mutual understanding, respect, coexistence and dialogue.
Lessons learned, from MCC:
- With increased attention to a Triple Nexus approach, strategic planning for this is needed in the program design phase.
- It is an oversimplification to assume that, for example, a few peacebuilding workshops will achieve this goal. There is a need to think through how to contribute to social cohesion and early recovery/development over the long term and how to incorporate that into planning.
- Resources are needed before project implementation to conduct proper conflict analysis/mapping.
- There is always a danger of humanitarian aid being used/diverted to align with local/regional political goals
- NGOs must be aware of these dynamics as they implement large humanitarian projects.
- There is a need for flexible funding by donors.
- While institutional donors are encouraging a Triple Nexus approach, most funding is still restricted to certain activities (i.e., food security). With limited or restricted resources, NGOs can have a hard time knowing how to incorporate social cohesion and development programing, especially where there are limited resources for other areas that donors want to prioritize – gender, protection, capacity building, etc.
- There is a need for donors to think long term.
- Most institutional funding is short term, but it is unrealistic to adopt a Triple Nexus approach with short term funding. Changes in social cohesion or shifts from humanitarian aid to early recovery/development involve long term thinking.
Lessons learned, from FDCD:
- For sustainable peace to be maintained resources should be shared without discrimination and considerations for the host community’s needs should also be prioritized. This case shows that when treated equally, Christians and Muslims recognize each other’s dignity
- When local and international organizations come together, such as MCC and FDCD, to implement Triple Nexus within communities facing conflict in Syria, this can support the enabling of harmony, trust building, and reconciliation to its people after years of war and conflict.
This piece was first published in 2014 in MCC’s quarterly publication, Intersections, and authored by Riad Jarjour, the General Secretary of the Arab Group for Muslim-Christian Dialogue and president of the Forum for Development, Culture and Dialogue (FDCD), based in Lebanon and Andrew Long-Higgins, a former Intern at FDCD. This piece was updated for Cooperation Canada in 2023 by Garry Mayhew.