Conflict Sensitivity & Public Health Emergencies: Practical Programming Adaptation During COVID-19 and Beyond

Robillard, S. , Owusu-Mante, S. , Northfield, B. & Rhoads Allen, R.
Publication language
Date published
15 Oct 2020
Tools, guidelines and methodologies
Remote Programming and Management, Working in conflict setting, Disaster preparedness, resilience and risk reduction, COVID-19, Epidemics & pandemics, Health, Humanitarian Access, humanitarian action, Humanitarian-development-peace nexus

The guiding questions for Conflict Sensitivity & Public Health Emergencies are:

1. How can we better practice our commitments to conflict sensitivity in the context of public health emergencies?

2. How can we use a better understanding of local power dynamics to increase the effectiveness of our public health interventions while minimizing negative effects on existing conflicts?

3. What are the practical considerations and approaches for using the Do No Harm Framework in places experiencing disruptions from public health emergencies (such as COVID-19)?

4. Which broader principles of conflict-sensitive programming can be applied in the context of other disruptive forces and systems, such as climate change or regional/global economic crises?

It has long been recognized that there is a significant overlap between public health, humanitarian, and peacebuilding concerns. Conflict is a significant factor in many determinants of public health and humanitarian outcomes, such as access to healthcare and food. In addition, public health emergencies significantly affect underlying conflict dynamics and the ability of practitioners to carry out programming in crisis zones, such as the effects of movement restrictions. However, far too often, efforts to address these concerns take place in siloes; it is far too rare to find strong and strategic integration between public health, humanitarian, and peacebuilding programming or training.

Conflict, in its active or latent forms, is everywhere. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that public health emergencies can strike any country at any time. Given the universality of and interconnections between conflict, humanitarian crises, and public health emergencies, practitioners trained in one sector or the other are being called upon to understand how to navigate all of these emergencies at once.

Practitioners who helped inform this document looked beyond the specific relationship between COVID-19 and conflict to the broader context and systems in which these dynamics exist. Conflict Sensitivity & Public Health Emergencies is inspired by the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic presents, but it is also designed to be used in any public health emergency context and systems-informed application.


Robillard, S. , Owusu-Mante, S. , Northfield, B. & Rhoads Allen, R.