Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management

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Volume 1 Issue 4 (December 1993), Pages 183-245

Simulation of the Effectiveness of Protection and Assistance for Victims of Armed Conflict (Sepavac): An Example from Mali, West Africa (pages 215-228)

Taking as a point of departure the philosopher Karl Popper's (1974) well‐known dictum that it was better to let scientific hypotheses die rather than human beings, this paper investigates a case of humanitarian action by means of computer simulation. It looks at a segment of the programme that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been carrying out, since 1991, for the benefit of victims of low‐intensity warfare in Mali, West Africa. Scenarios with different arrangements between protection and assistance activities are examined in a formal model using a discrete‐event generator simulating the occurrence of violent abuses against the civilian population. The various mixes of protection and assistance are compared for their relative effectiveness in helping reduce the violence. Protection and assistance achieve that by dampening violence‐ and famine‐related tensions. The link between humanitarian activity and conflict behaviour is made through the different social clockworks that regulate retaliation against the opposing ethnic group as well as famine pressures.

Tentative results of a small number of simulation runs point to surprising aspects of humanitarian effectiveness in the Malian setting. For example, delays in fielding the relief are shown to have less disastrous effects than one would fear by un‐aided reasoning. However, short‐time food assistance (to reverse a famine build‐up) may be less effective than traditionally believed even if after the end of distribution the delegates enhance their protection activities.

Computer simulation is new for most humanitarian agencies. At this stage of early introduction, the emphasis should be less on programming sophistication than on changing the organizational culture for greater use of scenarios with explicit assumptions about the world in which humanitarian strategies are to work. Computer simulation may be welcomed as a means of scientifically improving methods to help save more victims of war.

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