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Reconstructing infrastructure for resilient essential services during and following protracted conflict: A conceptual framework

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 June 2020


The rehabilitation of essential services infrastructure following hostilities, whether during a conflict or post-conflict, is a complex undertaking. This is made more complicated in protracted conflicts due to the continuing cycle of damage and expedient repair amid changing demands. The rehabilitation paradigm that was developed for the successful post-World War II rehabilitation of Germany and Japan has been less successful since. There are a myriad of conflicting interests that impede its application, yet the issue consistently comes down to a lack of systems-level understanding of the current situation on the ground and a lack of alignment between what is delivered and the actual local need. This article proposes a novel conceptual framework to address this, affording a greater “system of systems” understanding of the local essential services and how they can be restored to reflect the changed needs of the local population that has itself been changed by the conflict. The recommendations draw on heuristic practice and commercially available tools to provide a practicable approach to restoring infrastructure function in order to enable essential services that are resilient to temporary returns to violence and support the overall rehabilitation of the affected community.

Humanitarian Needs
Copyright © icrc 2020

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1 “Alignment. Donors base their overall support on partner countries’ development strategies, institutions and procedures.” Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the Accra Agenda for Action, Paris, 2008, pp. 3 ff, available at: (all internet references were accessed in May 2020).

2 C. Leigh Anderson, Evaluating Donor-Level Results Measurement Systems, EPAR Request No. 300, Evans School of Public Affairs, University of Washington, 21 August 2015;Homi Kharas, “Measuring Aid Effectiveness Effectively: A Quality of Official Development Assistance Index”, Brookings, 27 July 2011, available at:; Stephen Knack, Halsey F. Rogers and Nicholas Eubank, Aid Quality and Donor Rankings, Policy Research Working Paper 5290, World Bank, Washington, DC, 2010.

3 This approach often results in reconstruction of the infrastructure to its de jure laydown ante bellum rather than its de facto laydown and condition ante bellum, but it remains attractive due to its apparent simplicity. Best illustrated by the declaration following the Cairo Conference on Palestine: Reconstructing Gaza, 12 October 2014. The term “laydown” refers to the spatial arrangement of the infrastructure as it can be used, observed and measured.

4 There is a wealth of critical commentary on approaches to post-conflict rehabilitation, particularly in the Journal of Humanitarian Assistance (available at:, though the most notable approaches are those of the World Bank and UN Habitat, and regional and national views (typically those of the primary donor countries). The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe continues to develop its position, policy and approach (see:, while focus organizations have also contributed, such as ICARDA with agriculture advice (see:

5 The study into post-conflict infrastructure rehabilitation was the core of a doctoral research project by Alexander Hay, supervised by Bryan Karney. The aim of the research was to determine how infrastructure rehabilitation in conflict areas can deliver better outcomes for the local population. Drawing upon available literature and observations of conflicts across Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia since World War II, as well as field experience of reconstruction in conflict areas, an hypothesis was developed and tested in the Gaza Strip. Alexander H. Hay, “Post-Conflict Infrastructure Rehabilitation”, University of Toronto, ProQuest Publication No. 13882374, 2019.

6 See the section on “The Growing Role of Stand-Off Recognition”, below.

7 World Bank, Post-Conflict Reconstruction: The Role of the World Bank, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Washington, DC, 1998.

8 The Marshall Plan, named after then US Secretary of State George C. Marshall, was approved by Congress and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman in 1948 as the European Recovery Plan to aid the economic recovery of Western Europe. The United States had a similar [rehabilitation paradigm] aid program for Asia and Japan, though not part of the Marshall Plan.

9 World Bank, above note 7; Girod, Desha M., Explaining Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2015CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 D. M. Girod, above note 9. Extractive institutions benefit a small group of people at the expense of the many, whereas in inclusive institutions the many are included in governing for the benefit of all. See Acemoglu, Daron and Robinson, James A., Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty, Profile Books, London, 2012Google Scholar.

11 D. M. Girod, above note 9.

12 Ibid. In identifying the “Phoenix” countries, Girod did not identify any common characteristics (geographic, cultural, socio-economic or political) beyond that they did indeed recover to normalcy after the conflict.

13 World Bank, above note 7.

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20 World Bank, above note 7, pp. 40–43. A watching brief is an instruction to continuously monitor a location or situation for indicators of an impending change or instability.

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23 Level 5 commissioning is the testing associated with the highest level of confidence that the facility will perform as needed through an emergency. The facilities where this is necessary are termed “mission-critical” and can be as diverse as data centres, fire halls and hospitals. A “mission-critical” facility is any facility designated as such by the local authority that is capable of continued operations irrespective of which resources and dependencies are compromised. Level 5 commissioning is the testing of integrated systems. The levels are: 1, Factory Acceptance (basic factory quality control); 2, Component Start-Up (the installed equipment starts when activated); 3, Equipment Operation (the installed equipment functions the way it is supposed to); 4, System Operation (the system in which the equipment is installed functions as it should), and 5, System of Systems Operation (the operation of the whole facility continues irrespective of induced faults and failures in one or more component systems).

24 The World Health Organization (WHO) defines of “health” as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. WHO, “Frequently Asked Questions”, available at:

25 Abraham Maslow identified five distinct levels of basic human need that dictate behaviour. They follow a strict sequence, and each must be satisfied before behaviour will change. Human beings will prioritize their physiological/survival needs before they are concerned about their safety, which will take priority over their need to belong and find a partner, which will in turn take priority over their self-esteem, and finally their self-actualization. Maslow's hierarchy of needs provides a useful structure against which to measure the transition from self-interest to communal interest. Maslow, Abraham, “A Theory of Human Motivation”, Psychological Review, Vol. 50, No. 4, 1943CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

26 There are many variations on the basic definition of critical infrastructure as the systems that enable essential functions/operations; this definition is more typically used at the national level. Public Safety Canada defines critical infrastructure as “processes, systems, facilities, technologies, networks, assets and services essential to the health, safety, security or economic well-being of Canadians and the effective functioning of government” (Public Safety Canada, “Critical Infrastructure”, available at:, while according to the US Department of Homeland Security, “[c]ritical infrastructure describes the physical and cyber systems and assets that are so vital to the United States that their incapacity or destruction would have a debilitating impact on our physical or economic security or public health or safety. The nation's critical infrastructure provides the essential services that underpin American society.” Department of Homeland Security, “Critical Infrastructure Security”, available at:

27 Aicher, Joseph, Designing Healthy Cities: Prescriptions, Principles and Practice, Krieger, Malabar, FL, 1998Google Scholar; Jacobs, Jane, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, New Edition, Random House, Toronto, 1997Google Scholar.

28 International Committee of the Red Cross, Urban Services during Protracted Armed Conflict: A Call for a Better Approach to Assisting Affected People, Geneva, 2015Google Scholar.

29 A system or operations may be described as being resilient – that is, having the ability to adapt to, absorb, respond to and self-recover from changes to its environment. Resilience is a property of the system. The term can be applied to individuals, communities and organizations.

30 Holling, C. S., “Resilience and Stability of Ecological Systems”, Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, Vol. 4, 1973CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

31 Xenophon, Cyropaedia (trans. Walter Miller), Vol. 2, Books 5–8, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1914.

32 Centre for Resilience of Critical Infrastructure, “Frequently Asked Questions”, para. 2, available at:

33 The question of whose definition of “financial normalcy” should be used is not explored in this article.

34 Adaptive capacity is “[t]he ability of systems, institutions, humans, and other organisms to adjust to potential damage, to take advantage of opportunities, or to respond to consequences”. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Glossary”, in Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2014, p. 1251, available at: In post-conflict areas, the term is generally used to describe the capacity of a local population to adjust its routine to change, whether arising from conflict damage or reconstruction.

35 Absorptive capacity is the capacity of an organization to “identify, assimilate, transform, and use external knowledge, research and practice”. “Absorptive Capacity: Definition and Explanation”, Oxford Review, available at: In post-conflict reconstruction, the term refers to the ability of the local population to accept, adopt and use tools and reconstruction to their own benefit.

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37 World Bank, above note 7.

38 A single point of failure is an asset or function that is critical to the conduct of a system's operation and the loss of which would cause total system failure.

39 Mark Ward, “Quick Impact Projects Slow Progress in Afghanistan”, Boston Globe, 15 October 2009, available at:

40 For a definition of the term “laydown”, see above note 3.

41 The three “d”s of critical infrastructure protection are deception, duplication and dispersion of function. Deception is where the function of an asset is disguised, often by making all buildings identical so that one cannot distinguish between pump house, office, storage and dosing plant in a water distribution network. Duplication refers to installing multiple assets for the same critical function so that operations are unaffected by the loss of any single asset. Dispersion is the physical separation of assets in a system so that damage to one asset does not cause collateral damage to another. It is an effective way of limiting the harm of an attack and making the response more manageable.

42 The three principles of protection are do no harm, no protection is absolute, and everything will change. Hay, Alexander H., After the Flood, Friesen Press, Vancouver, 2016Google Scholar.

43 Vitruvius, Ten Books of Architecture (trans. Morris Hicky Morgan), e-Kitap Projesi, Istanbul, 2014.

44 The Great Man-Made River (see: in Libya is such an example. While locally conceived and delivered, it depends entirely upon specialized foreign materiel and skills to operate and maintain; its operation and maintenance cannot be sustained locally. Nasar, Mohamed Nasar, “Survey of Sustainable Development to Make Great Man-Made River Producing Energy and Food”, Current World Environment, Vol. 10, No. 3, 2015CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

45 See above note 25.

46 Ushahidi, meaning “testimony” in Swahili, is a not-for-profit company that was established to map the violence following the 2007 Kenya elections using real-time crowd-sourced data. It has since provided real-time crowd-sourced reporting in many humanitarian missions, in election monitoring, and during natural crises. See the Ushahidi website, available at: Ushahidi was also used by Al Jazeera to collect eyewitness reports during the 2008–09 conflict in the Gaza Strip. See Usahidi, “Usahidi – 1 Year Later”, available at:

47 Through the advent of artificial intelligence and the accuracies that are now being achieved through remote sensing, it is increasingly possible to provide reliable estimates of damage arising from lateral forces, such as seismic, blast and flooding, that have caused some deformation or translation of the structure, although such measurements do depend on there being a reliable baseline model against which to assess change.

48 A. H. Hay, above note 5.

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50 Chromatography is a process whereby a substance is burned and light is passed through the vapour and then a prism to project a unique spectral signature for each substance, The chemical compounds in different plants have unique spectral signatures, which vary in both intensity and signature as crop health changes. Different crops reflect unique light signatures that identify the crop type, crop health, potential yield, pesticide residue and moisture content.

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55 Tomás, Roberto, García-Barba, Javier, Cano, Miguel, Sanabria, Margarita P, Ivorra, Salvador, Duro, Javier and Herrera, Gerardo, “Subsidence Damage Assessment of a Gothic Church Using Differential Interferometry and Field Data”, Structural Health Monitoring, Vol. 11, No. 6, 2012CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

56 A. H. Hay, above note 5.

57 Ibid., p. 114.

58 Bristow, David N., “Asset System of Systems Resilience Planning: The Toronto Case”, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers – Infrastructure Asset Management, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2015Google Scholar.

59 Scott E. Page, Uncertainty, Difficulty, and Complexity, SFI Working Paper 1998-08-076, Santa Fe Institute, 1998.

60 UNHCR, Handbook for Emergencies, 3rd ed., Geneva, 2007, p. 64, Table 1Google Scholar.

61 See above note 24.

62 Hipel, Keith W., Kilgour, D. Marc and Fang, Liping, “Systems Methodologies in Vitae Systems of Systems”, Journal of Natural Disaster Science, Vol. 32, No. 2, 2011CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Okada, Norio, “City and Region Viewed as Vitae System for Integrated Disaster Risk Management”, Annals of the Disaster Prevention Research Institute, Vol. 49(B), 2006Google Scholar.

63 An operation is enabled by its personnel, organization and infrastructure. Each of these components is connected to and an extension of the risk context, which comprises the operating environment and context and all hazards.

64 S. E. Page, above note 59; Warden, John A. III, “The Enemy as a System”, Airpower Journal, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1995Google Scholar.

65 K. W. Hipel, D. M. Kilgour and L. Fang, above note 62.

66 Judgement is a deliberate consideration of the available evidence and is distinct from opinion, which is not. For a detailed explanation, see Fischhoff, Baruch, “Risk Perception and Communication Unplugged: Twenty Years of Process”, Risk Analysis, Vol. 15, No. 2, 1995CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed.

67 There are four domains that support a vitae system of systems: they are the natural, built, virtual and human. The natural domain is what exists naturally but which we use for a societal purpose, such as drawing water from a lake or using a river as a navigation. The built domain is everything that we have physically created, from roads and bridges to the Internet. The virtual domain is what we have imagined and commonly agree to, such as laws, organizational structures and money. The human domain is how we live and use the world in which we exist. When the domains are in synergy with each other, each can compensate for a failure in another, for a period of time. After time a new balance is achieved between the domains, but as it is less than the optimized synergy that enables a vibrant, vital and survivable community which is developing sustainably, it is a lesser stability.

68 This refers to the RiskOutLook application, which uses graph theory to represent the functions, assets and relationships of the operation in question. When used in conjunction with GeoLogik, it provides a way of applying any natural or human threat to the system, applied at a point or across an area, in order to assess the direct and indirect impact to the operation and the community.

69 Perry, Bruce D., “Incubated in Terror: Neurodevelopmental Factors in the ‘Cycle of Violence’”, in Osofsky, Joy D. (ed.), Children, Youth and Violence: Searching for Solutions, Guilford Press, New York, 1995Google Scholar.

70 Phillips, Jennie and Hay, Alexander H., “Building Resilience in Virtual and Physical Networked Operations”, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers – Infrastructure Asset Management, Vol. 4, No. 2, 2017Google Scholar.

71 “Sustainability” here encompasses what is socially, economically, environmentally and operationally sustainable, as may be relevant and practicable for the situation.

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