What happens to local communities and neighbourhoods when a large group of international aid workers, peacekeepers or humanitarian staff lives amongst them? While some argue for a general boost of national economies as a result of international interventions, a more nuanced analysis shows that there are also socio-economic implications, in particular at the micro- and meso level. Take Amman: Given Jordan’s location amidst conflict settings such as Israel-Palestine, Iraq, and Syria, and its high refugee population, many international and national NGOs have offices there and employ a large amount of international staff. They don’t live in compounds but amongst local communities. We researched the effects of their presence in Jabal al-Weibdeh, a popular quarter amongst aid workers but also international students and business people. The area is known for its cultural richness, architectural heritage, vibrant arts scene and more relaxed social norms.
Conceptually, we can sketch out at least four major impacts and changes related to the international presence: i) architecture and landscape, ii) economy and employment possibilities, iii) infrastructure, and iv) social norms. We call this process intervention gentrification. The results of intervention gentrification include the opening or closing of shops, construction of additional housing, the inflation in property prices, and local business adapting their stocks to the demands of the intervention society. But this is not where the process ends. It transcends the material, changing norms and social boundaries, and as such intervention gentrification is also cultural and social.
There are opportunities… for some
Empirically, Weibdeh’s intervention economy shows how the spatial, material and social are interlinked, and how these interactions create new economies. Despite the general hope that interventions bring prosperity to conflict-affected countries, our study drew out some of the unintended consequences that replicate well-known patterns of capitalism. The majority of local-international interactions seem to benefit the wealthy, such as (often international) landlords and business people. Thus, the hierarchies of inclusion and exclusion are in danger of reinforcing some of the root causes of conflict, and increase the likelihood of future instability in host societies. However, there are also opportunities, especially for young people: the presence of the international community offers opportunities for language learning, jobs and challenging orthodox social norms.
And what happens after interventions?
Importantly, the economic and social risks of intervention societies are unequally distributed and the situation is complicated by the temporality of the international presence. Given the potential negative effects, aid organisations would be well-advised to avoid exacerbating impacts of socio-economic divisions when, for example, deciding on price caps for rent and providing better orientation to international employees. This ties in with debates about inflated salaries in the sector: it is often more attractive for highly educated local employees to work as drivers for NGOs rather in schools, hospitals or the public administration – leaving local economies short of skilled workers, and highly paid internationals push out local residents. Currently, there are few policies to mitigate these effects during and after intervention – possibly creating social conflict or at least economic precarity. Researchers thus need to study the economic effects of intervention society and intervention gentrification further to understand if and how they shape violence, insecurity and inequality within urban areas and connecting regions.
If you want to know more about intervention gentrification have a look at our latest article: Thomas, J. and Vogel. B. 2018 Intervention gentrification and everyday socio-economic transactions in intervention societies, Civil Wars.
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