This is a short summary of the book’s introduction and as such not a critique.
Rupesinghe asks: “Why is early warning still ineffective in spite of the fact that there are a number of sophisticated early warning systems all over the world?” He points to several reasons cited in the literature ranging from unreliability of prediction and the time lag between prediction and response.
In his opinion, these problems are specific to particular approaches to conflict early warning; namely those taken by first- and second-generation conflict early warning systems. Rupesinghe defines the difference between these systems as follows:
First Generation Systems: These employ “quantitative approaches to data collection and analysis and risk assessments.” In addition, “their monitoring and analysis of a conflict is done outside the conflict regions—in the West. However, it was perceived that this type of early warning system […] was not strong enough to convince end users to take actions.” And while there have been notable improvements in conflict forecasting, “they are not perfect [and] it is almost impossible to exactly predict human behavior.”
Second Generation Systems: These evolved as a result of the important constraints inherent to first generation systems. In other words, learning and adaptation led to alternative approaches. Second generation systems employ a qualitative approach and in-country monitoring. Rupesinghe cites FAST and ICG as two examples of second-generation systems. Each system “employed both quantitative and qualitative approaches in their risk assessment.” But as the author points out, “their analyses are still based in Western countries.”
The relative failings of first- and second-generation systems (sometimes referred to macro-early warning systems) are twofold. “Firstly, they are too far removed from the conflict context to enable effective early response. Secondly, they do not include micro level conflict scenarios and other contributing factors, such as local perceptions.” Rupesinghe thus calls for a new type of early warning and response system “whose monitoring and analysis is both conducted within a conflict region.” He calls these systems “third-generation” early warning systems, or micro-level early warning systems.
The author observes that, “stopping violence has not been the purview of civil society,” but that “it is important to point out that civil society with the tools and methodologies available today is now able to mediate, resolve and transform conflicts which do not have to use coercive power […] but has overcome this weakness through multi-stakeholder interventions by the use of mobilizing dense local networks.”
That said Rupesinghe recognizes that third-generation systems like the one developed by the Foundation for Co-Existence (FCE) is “not the panacea for all kinds of violence” but rather for “inter-communal conflict,” which he defines as a non-military confrontation between different ethnic communities “where people in the communities play a main role.”
The FCE has thus established various Co-Existence Committees (CECs) consisting of groups of “women, fishermen, famers, youth, religious leaders, media and IDPs.” These committees “work as the first point of contact who inform of violent incidents through their regular [interaction with] the FCE staff members,” and serve as “the first intervener to mitigate tension and violence […].”
In conclusion, the author writes that the FCE’s third-generation early warning system has “potential to be developed further by utilizing the concept of the fourth generation system which has been vigorously discussed by some scholars like Patrick Meier, especially in his blog on conflict early warning and response*.” Like third-generation initiatives, fourth generation systems are located in conflict regions but a more “people-centered and bottom-up (he likes to use ‘bottom-bottom’) approaches.”
As Rupesinghe rightly notes, I define the purpose of people-centered early warning as follows: to empower local communities to get out of harm’s way. To this end, fourth-generation early warning “draws on crowdsourcing both early warning and early” using open source and freely available software like Ushahidi. In terms of early response, fourth-generation systems take a “third side* approach to early response which […] focuses explicitly on conflict preparedness and contingency planning.”
The author recognizes that third-generation systems may be limited if FCE staff members “cannot take rapid actions to ongoing violence due to their own security issues, blockage of roads and the restriction of entry.” This means that, “those who are caught in violence themselves must take appropriate actions in order to save their own lives and properties.” The purpose of fourth-generation systems is to facilitate this process.