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Rethinking infrastructure rehabilitation: Conflict resilience of urban water and energy supply in the Middle East and South Sudan

Protracted armed conflicts in the Middle East and Africa are heavily impacting the infrastructure of basic services such as water, energy, healthcare, and education. People adapt to these persistent conditions through self-organization, private sector-driven services and the reliance on international aid. In rehabilitating infrastructure damaged by conflicts, there is a rift between the perspectives of emergency aid and development cooperation. In fragile states, aid often fails to capture the temporal aspects of infrastructure in terms of its vulnerability to recurrent breakouts of conflicts and infrastructure’s long-term resilience. Besides, the issue of conflict resilience of basic infrastructure is lacking academic attention in terms of determining factors and best practices. In this paper, three examples of promising adaptation efforts are analyzed: the construction of water kiosks in South Sudan, self-organized markets for solar energy applications in Yemen, and the integration of schools with basic services in Syria. Using a comprehensive assessment framework of micro-level vulnerability (a system-unit risk perspective) and macro-level resilience (a whole-system strategy perspective), this paper highlights critical areas for enhancing conflict resilience in the case studies. It shows the importance of rethinking aspects of infrastructure development such as interconnectivity, mobility, centralization, or missing baselines. Infrastructure reconstruction efforts need to find a balance between highly integrated infrastructure systems and community-level production and delivery options. Further, for improving long-term infrastructure performance in conflict-ridden areas, softer issues need to be addressed, e.g., local capacities, institutional development, community trust, and the mobilization of reuse options or locally available resources.


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Mohammad Al-Saidi

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