Setting up early warning and response systems to prevent violent conflicts and save lives


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Daily life in Conakry, Guinea. Photo © Dominic Chavez/World Bank

As highlighted in the UN-World Bank report Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict, the number of violent conflicts has increased since 2010, thus raising the question of how violence and its escalation can be prevented. Conflict prevention mechanisms exist. Let’s take a look at Early Warning and Response Systems (EWRS), but first, what is early warning and early response?

Early warning is defined as “a process that: (a) alerts decision makers to the potential outbreak, escalation and resurgence of violent conflict; and (b) promotes an understanding among decision makers of the nature and impacts of violent conflict.” It involves the regular collection and analysis of data on conflicts, by systematically monitoring and reporting conflict indicators. Early warning systems generate a set of products, based on quantitative and qualitative analytical methods. This helps formulate scenarios and response options that are communicated to decision-makers. Early warning systems are linked to response instruments.
Early response refers to “any initiative that occurs as soon as the threat of potential violent conflict is identified and that aims to manage, resolve, or prevent that violent conflict,” by using preventive instruments and mechanisms. Different types of response exist, ranging from fact-finding, mediation, peace-making dialogue, negotiations, preventive diplomacy or more robust mechanisms such as sanctions.
Early warning can be an effective tool if strongly linked to responders. However, the link between early warning and early response has not always been effective. Strengthening this link to provide better responses to violent conflicts requires:

  • Promoting stronger interactions between warners and responders, and exchanges to discuss strategies for response
  • Timely and quick responses to warning
  • Monitoring the impact of responses to conflicts to inform decision-making and strategies
  • A better understanding of the value-added of EWS among institutions, the proximity and quality of the interface between early warning and response mechanisms
  • Designing evidence-based response instruments to adequately respond to warning
  • The design of nuanced response actions to take into account changes in the conduct of warfare.

Early Warning and Response: Different Types of Systems

EWRS are designed at different institutional levels. At the governmental level, EWRS were designed in France (Système d’Alerte Précoce, located at the General Secretariat for National Defense) and in Germany (BMZ Crisis Early Warning System).
At the intergovernmental level, the African Union has developed a Continental Early Warning System (CEWS) to advise the Peace and Security Council on “potential conflict and threats to peace and security” and “recommend best courses of action”. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has designed the Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism (CEWARN), as an institutional foundation for addressing conflicts in the region.  These systems are top-down, state-owned, and not embedded into local dynamics.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has also developed the Early Warning and Response Network (ECOWARN) to engage in data collection and analysis, and the drafting of up-to-date reports on possible emerging crises, ongoing crises and post-crisis transitions. ECOWAS early warning systems have been tested full scale in Ghana and Liberia. Non-governmental organizations have also set up their own early warning systems, such as FEWER-Africa that focused on the Ituri region in the Democratic Republic of Congo or the Early Warning and Early Response Project (EWER) for Timor-Leste. The scope of these bottom-up systems tends to be limited to the local level, with little traction or link to the central level.

A World Bank Initiative: A EWRS Pilot in Guinea

The World Bank, with the Social Development Global Practice, is currently setting up a pilot community-based EWRS in seven communes of the Boke region in Guinea, under the Third Village Community Support Project (PACV3). The pilot is aligned with IDA18 Risk Mitigation Regime (RMR) that provides enhanced support to four countries, including Guinea, to mitigate increasing risks of Fragility, Conflict and Violence (FCV). The EWRS pilot in Guinea will focus on prevention and local conflict resolution, by supporting locally-owned solutions to conflicts. It will target recurrent conflicts that affect these communes, such as land, mining, pastoral, community, incivility / delinquency, and grievances around access to basic social services. The pilot is strongly embedded in existing eco-systems at the local level to guarantee ownership from the communities.
The early warning component that includes data collection and analysis will draw on information from existing and relevant grievance and redress systems set up by PACV3, and data collected by trained monitors. The early response component, or preventive action, will be rooted at the village-level and will follow accepted good practice of applying the subsidiarity principle, therefore seeking to prevent and manage conflicts at the lowest possible level before they escalate. The system will also foster communities’ resilience, by supporting social cohesion activities and exchange activities between communes to create a link of interdependence.
The pilot will run for one year and will closely be monitored to draw lessons learned and allow for timely knowledge exchange.

Moving Forward: New threats and warfare calling for a different approach

As the nature of warfare is changing, with new security threats and the use of increasingly sophisticate technologies, EWRS will need to adapt to stay relevant and address current security challenges.


Catherine Defontaine

Senior Operations Officer - Fragility, Conflict, and Violence Group

Edidiong Lawrence
January 30, 2020

The key challenges of implementing early warning as a conflict prevention mechanism has perenially remained the gap between the early warning expert and the policy makers/implementors.
I am precisely interested in ECOWARN. According to Catherine, the system has been tested in full in Ghana and Liberia. I would like to know more about that. I am currently researching on EWRS in ECOWAS.
Thank you.

Michael Mallo
January 30, 2020

Hello Catherine,
This is a great piece and well presented especially for those of us in North Central Nigeria looking forward to develop an EWRS to address the new trends of conflicts that has shown no sign of slowing down. One such trend is a kind of Community organized kidnapping of unsuspecting commuters, high profile citizens or harmless children of different background from the perpetrators to demand ransom with aim to fund procurement of sophisticated weapon of mass destruction and counter surveillance communication system, etc. to be deployed for a more deadly conflict attacks.

We will like to follow up on the lessons to be learned from this great initiative and also share with you our approach to addressing this new kind of security threats.

Ruvwang Danjuma Doy
January 30, 2020

Joined the conversation to get materials on early warning and response and their signs, systems and their importance to conflict management

Ruvwang Danjuma Doy
September 10, 2021

Joined the conversation to get materials on early warning and response and their signs, systems and their importance to conflict management

Suleiman abdullahi
January 30, 2020

We would like to know more about (ECOWARN) when it cames to somalia is more needed

Joseph Muhumuza
January 30, 2020

Hi Catheline,

Iam glad to read your views on the importance of early warning as a method of conflict prevention.
I would like to know ho do you bridge the gap between early warning and early response?

Kind regards.

February 10, 2020

Dear Catherine

Could you kindly share the sample and some information on the proposed EWRS? I would be happy to discuss with you further on this initiative.


Binyamin Ahmad
February 10, 2020

Can you help me about Early warning and evacuation system tool kit. What should be the tools and tackles to actually needed for quick response and data collection etc.? Is there already any existing standard tool kit containing all necessary equipments available?
I will appreciate if you help me out in this.


John Nestor Tamba
May 04, 2020

To prevent the conflict within ECOWAS in particular and African continent in general, it's important to stop the change of constitution. Because the main causes of conflict in Africa, are: political, Social, Economic, and Institutional and Cultural. All the Presidents should respect their constitution, organize free and fear, and credible elections and handover the power to the elected president. They must accept the transition like Ghana which is an example in West Africa region in term of democracy and good gevernance.

David Udofia
May 04, 2020

EWER is real time based conflict management mechanism designed to meet peculiar need. Effectiveness lies in local ownership and integration of the processes of EW and ER. Thus, the need for strong linkage between "warners" and "responders". in most cases, EWER failed due to the large scope designed to cover with insufficient resources especially, human, for strong linkage between EW and ER. To get the best of EWER, the key is start with a pilot scheme. Thereafter, escalate and manage.

Lubang Vincent
May 04, 2020

Good day Catherine, thank you for your presentation on EWRS. I would like to set up one to combat conflict escalation among cattle keepers. Would you mind to share with me a standard tool kit, if any, in this regard?

I will be grateful if this can be secured to ease a follow up.

Kind regards,

Casey Barrs
May 04, 2020

Catherine, thank you for your 15 February article.
I too am interested in conflict early warning and response, particularly for the worst scenarios when efforts to manage, resolve, or prevent violence fail. By this I mean there will be no effective influence over violent actors and no intervention to stop them -- local populations will need to survive alone for some time. As you well know, CEWER systems often fail to result in effective response from policymakers, duty bearers, and stakeholders. I think for such cases conflict early warning and response “will need to adapt to stay relevant.” Perhaps people who in are harm’s way and with little hope of resolution or rescue would consider “bottom-bottom” CEWER systems most relevant to their imminent survival needs. Catherine, do you know anyone who is (or is interested in) working on systems that support local efforts to prepare for a failure to prevent conflict?

Peter Effiom
May 28, 2021

Inclusion of Artificial intelligence as innovative tool to dynamic violent conflicts in Africa's
early warning and early response.

Sheyin Monday
May 28, 2021

Hello Catherine, looking at the Nigeria situation (north east and north central) haven monitor and identified all conflict indicators, with lacked of political will or lacked of responders, what should be the next line of action to avert possible escalation to violence? Thank you.

Aggrey G Mutasa
May 28, 2021

The article is very educative on conflict prevention structures. This is what is lacking in most areas ridden with violent conflicts. Structures may exist on the upper end of society but where it matters most, on the ground, there are no meaningful structures if any. with such early warning structures the probability of conflicts degenerating into violence is minimized. we will be interrogating this concept further. Thany you.

Aden hasaan
May 28, 2021

Eductaing the community about the effect of conflict
Encouraging living with peace
Training the leaders about peace
Peace musters should be on board

Becky Kajo
May 28, 2021

I wish to know the role of Road Safety Officers in either EW or ER. As a Road Safety Special Marshall, I was invited to a training on EWER in North Central Nigeria and I was asking myself, what exactly will be my role in the system?

September 10, 2021

To build the capacity of communities to contribute to early warning and early response pathway for suitable peace and cohesion

Fikre Negussie
May 28, 2021

I would like to use this document as a reference for research

Joseph sahr Ansumanan
September 10, 2021

I am interested in this research to develop and training manual and train Community Security actors .

Olinga John
November 19, 2021

I wonder whether you also know more about Drought early warning system and response and how its link to violent conflicts

Dikshik Sarah
November 19, 2021

Hello Catherine, I'll like to know more on the implementaion of EWRS between the Warner's and the Responders, especially in the case where warnees (mostly government) in the case of the North central region of Nigeria, also play a role of negligence thereby leading to leading to lack of confidence in the warner by the responders, with the escalation of conflict to every part of the zones. Thank you

Alhaji Mohammed
November 19, 2021

Hello Catherine,
Can you help me on Early warning response system in countering violent extremism and type of early warning response system can be used in countering violent extremism.And also, what are the global strategies were employed in prevention of radicalization of violent extremist groups.
I will appreciate if you help me out in this.