In the light of a growing number of unstabilized regions of warfare or post-war conditions, this paper investigates how civilians survive in the context of a civil war. It analyzes livelihood strategies of farmers in the war-torn areas of Sri Lanka. The analytical framework is based on a revised form of DFID's sustainable rural livelihoods approach placing particular attention on the institutional reproduction of household capital assets in the war economy. The paper delineates a three pillar model of household livelihood strategies focusing on how households (i) cope with the increased level of risk and uncertainty, (ii) adjust their economic and social household assets for economic survival, and how they (iii) use their social and political assets as livelihood strategies. Empirically, the paper analyses four local case studies from the east of Sri Lanka. A key conclusion from the empirical studies was that even though the four case studies were located geographically very close, their livelihood outcomes differed considerably depending on the very specific local political geography. The role of social and political assets is thereby essential: While social assets (extended family networks) were important to absorb migrants, political assets (alliances with power holders) were instrumental in enabling individuals, households or economic actors to stabilize or even expand their livelihood options and opportunities. Hence, civilians are not all victims, some may also be culprits in the political economy of warfare. From a perspective of war-winners and losers, war can be both, a threat and an opportunity, often at the same time.


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