Today is the day the UN marks annually as the International Day of Peace – but does the world get more peaceful with each passing year?
Turn on your TV and the images of refugees flooding across Europe are a warning that the human cost and chaos of war have not ceased – and are closer than we like to think. Syria’s civil war is almost on Europe’s doorstep, as are the wars in Libya and Iraq. Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco have all suffered massacres by extremists that have killed Western tourists too. Looking further afield, the map shows plenty of other flashpoints, from Colombia to Somalia to the Philippines.
For a charity like Peace Direct, it’s a daunting prospect. But we have grounds for hope. Because in almost every conflict – even in the deserts of Syria – there are local organisations and people building peace. They’re the forgotten players in many conflicts, and they receive barely enough funding to cover their costs. But in our experience they can make a difference at the grassroots, where conflicts so often begin.
Today’s wars are mostly internal, within states, and they reflect local tensions and disputes. Local peacebuilders are the obvious key to unlocking those tensions, with their ability to see conflicts coming and deal with them before they escalate.
That’s why we fund projects that prevent terrorism in Pakistan, or reconcile hostile communities in Sri Lanka, or disarm and resettle guerilla fighters in Congo. Teaching young people in Israel and Palestine to respect one another, or getting rival tribes in Sudan to build marketplaces together, is all part of a spectrum of peacebuilding activities that can heal ancient hatreds and stop them from recurring.
But as we celebrate some gains this Peace Day, we also feel frustration that this kind of work is not better know or better funded. It doesn’t hit the headlines like the bad news does. It doesn’t attract massive grants and international support. And yet it works, it’s low cost, and it’s ‘owned’ by those who are affected. What better recipe for sustainable success could there be? So if the international community wants to celebrate Peace Day every year with more and more successes, perhaps it should look more to the local to help deliver lasting peace.