Conflict Resolution: Unmet human needs

Posted: January 29, 2011 in Conflict Resolution
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Article & source


  • Unlike Maslow’s hierarchal positioning of needs, Burton perceives human needs in a different way — as an emergent collection of human development essentials.[2] Furthermore, they contend needs do not have a hierarchical order. Rather, needs are sought simultaneously in an intense and relentless manner.[3] Needs theorists’ list of human essentials include:
  • Human needs theorists argue that one of the primary causes of protracted or intractable conflict is people’s unyielding drive to meet their unmet needs on the individual, group, and societal level.[4] For example, the Palestinian conflict involves the unmet needs of identity and security. Countless Palestinians feel that their legitimate identity is being denied them, both personally and nationally. Numerous Israelis feel they have no security individually because of suicide bombings, nationally because their state is not recognized by many of their close neighbors, and culturally because anti-Semitism is growing worldwide. Israeli and Palestinian unmet needs directly and deeply affect all the other issues associated with this conflict. Consequently, if a resolution is to be found, the needs of Palestinian identity and Israeli security must be addressed and satisfied on all levels.
  • The human needs approach, on the other hand, supports collaborative and multifaceted problem-solving models and related techniques, such as problem-solving workshops or an analytical problem-solving process. These models take into account the complexity of human life and the insistent nature of human needs.[8] Problem-solving approaches also analyze the fundamental sources of conflict, while maintaining a focus on fulfilling peoples’ unmet needs. In addition, they involve the interested parties in finding and developing acceptable ways to meet the needs of all concerned.
  • REMAINING QUESTIONS: how can one define human needs? How can one know what needs are involved in conflict situations? How can one know what human needs are being met and unmet? Are human needs cultural or universal in nature? If they are cultural, is the analysis of human needs beneficial beyond a specific conflict? Are some needs inherently more important than others? If some needs are more important, should these be pursued first?


I totally identify with Burton’s view of perceiving needs as an emergent collection of human development essentials and contending that needs do not have a hierarchical order rather, are sought simultaneously in an intense and relentless but I felt the premise of the article was based more on simplistic pillars than deep-rooted behavioural basis. Human needs are extremely subjective, vary tremendously between individuals even of the same social group and change with time, emotions and surrounding space/environment. Also, supported by the sceptics that contend needs are not easily defined  and quantified, one would wonder how Burton et al’s theory plays out in a conflict.

Joe Zaarour, P2PU


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