Engineering peace

Infrastructure is a growth sector and emerging markets present massive opportunities for investment. Yet any investment carries with it certain risks, especially in countries affected by conflict. Our project, ‘Engineering peace’, aims to reduce the impact that engineering companies have on communities and their ability to adapt to climate change.

By adopting a ‘conflict-sensitive approach’, engineering companies can ensure that their projects don’t fuel existing tensions and instead promote equity, community voice and participation. They can also avoid reputational fall-out and higher expenditure on public relations, and ensure that their senior management are not distracted from their core mission or projects.

Over the last year, International Alert has been working with development organisation Engineers Without Borders UK (EWB-UK) to provide conflict-sensitivity training to early career engineers. This has included EWB-UK’s overseas placement volunteers, engineering and business students at Edinburgh University and attendees at EWB-UK’s professional networking conference, ‘Massive Small Change’.

We have also been looking at practical examples of engineering schemes that avoid exacerbating tensions within local communities by adopting more conflict-sensitive approaches.

In Nairobi, for instance, Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI), an architecture and urban planning organisation, has been involved in creating productive public spaces in unused environmentally degraded and unsafe parts of the Kibera slum. To manage the challenges posed by conflicting interest groups, KDI worked closely with the local communities. By engaging them in project site maintenance, KDI helped to increase the awareness and buy-in of the local community. (Read more about this project here.)

In Bangladesh, the biggest challenge for the NGO Simple Action For the Environment (SAFE) was managing community expectations. Working with UK architect Jo Ashbridge, the goal of the project was to use innovative building techniques to construct a prototype house which would be more resistant to natural hazards as well as low-cost. Close cooperation and constant communication with the local community were key to this project’s success, ensuring community approval and ongoing support. (Read more about this project here.)

We spoke with Robert Hodgson, a civil and geotechnical engineer and Chair of RedR International, to find out about his experiences of working in conflict-affected countries. Listen to the podcast here.

Find out more about our ‘Engineering peace’ project here.