Conflict Early Warning and Early Response

Published on 6 February 2015

This report is based on four and a half days of desk-based research and was prepared for the Australian Government. This rapid literature review identifies examples of conflict early warning and early response systems, with a focus where possible on cases in the Asia-Pacific.

Early warning consists of data collection, risk analysis, and providing information with recommendations to targeted stakeholders. Early response systems refer to timely and appropriate prevention interventions. Early warning and early response systems have been adopted by international organisations, bi-lateral agencies, research institutions and NGOs. Until recently many conflict early warning systems have largely been gender-blind and have rarely specifically targeted the involvement of women.

Much of the literature available on examples of conflict early warning and early response systems comes from grey literature published by the organisations involved. Academic literature tends to focus on overviews and theoretical approaches to conflict early warning and early response systems rather than specific examples. Less attention has been paid to the kinds of responses and interventions that have been/can be made; in what sectors have they been made effectively, and how; and this is an area that would benefit from further research (expert comment).

Examples of conflict early warning and response are drawn from Sri Lanka; Timor-Leste; Indonesia; Kenya; Uganda; Kyrgyzstan; Mindanao; Nigeria; Myanmar; and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Lessons emerging from the literature include:

  • Linking warning and response: The biggest challenge for conflict early warning systems is that they have not yet been effectively transformed into a preventive response. Specific response plans must be developed as part of the early warning system.
  • Preventative interventions to reduce the potential for violence should: i) address civil society; ii) address the quality of policy-making decisions; iii) reduce inequality between groups; iv) develop legal standards; v) develop regimes for controlling destructive weaponry; and vi) develop development strategies that reduce poverty.
  • Preventative interventions can be made in a variety of sectors including: the economy, governance, diplomacy, the military, human rights, agriculture, health, education and journalism.
  • Early warning and response interventions are less effective if they fail to address the underlying causes of conflict. Early warning and response should be part of a wider peace infrastructure. Longer-term peacebuilding efforts are important for sustaining the peace, not just managing to avert violence.
  • Using local knowledge is crucial for early warning and response to be successful at the community level.
  • New technology has the potential to allow affected populations to be actively involved in data gathering and conflict prevention, although there are concerns about the digital divide and potential bias.
  • Effective conflict early warning and early response programmes have had: i) accurate, consistent and timely information, from a wide range of sources; ii) the ability to effectively monitor the changing conflict dynamics on multiple different levels; iii) a good understanding of the local context and long-term trends; iv) participation and ownership by a range of actors across the country; v) involvement of local actors with good local knowledge leading to timely, sensitive and adequate responses to incidents, which built trust and confidence among actors involved at different levels; vi) social cohesion at the community level and a will for peace on the part of the people involved; vii) early warning linked to networks and mechanisms ready to design tailor-made response actions; and viii) flexible systems to fulfil ongoing activities and respond to emergency issues.


Brigitte Rohwerder

Research Officer

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published by
Rohwerder, B.
GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1195


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