How to conduct field research in a conflict zone

Dr Hailay Gesesew and two men standing in front of Ethiopia landscape

Despite conflict causing 30 million deaths and over 11 wars in the last three decades, there has been a lack of research around the impact on targeted health facilities, healthcare workers and the massive displacement that affects communities.  

Torrens University researchers Professor Paul Ward and Dr Hailay Gesesew have been investigating the cost and impact of the weaponisation of access to healthcare and medicine and say that researchers in war zones face special challenges.

Have a resilient mindset, strong ethics, and a focus on logistics

Researchers who work in warzones or countries impacted by conflict often face logistical risks and ethical considerations that are quite different to other work and need to understand the local context,

Dr Hailay Gesesew says researchers use different methods during acute emergencies, protracted crises, and post-conflict situations.

“Researchers in these areas are often dealing with acute emergencies: they need to make rapid assessments and collect data and extract existing data are the common data. In protracted crises, survey/prevalence studies, qualitative interviews, and some impact evaluation activities may be conducted.

“Sudden conflict may happen, and researcher and research team may be attacked in war zone areas. Travelling after 6 pm in some war zone areas may have some safety issues. Roads in a war zone/post-conflict areas may be bumpy and have a risk to the health of a researcher, affecting the data collection timeline.”

Logistical challenges

There are obvious logistical difficulties involved in sending researchers into warzones, but in some cases, it is possible to succeed despite them. These challenges may include, but are not limited to:

  • The daily/monthly fee rate for data collectors, fieldwork supervisors, and other staff is higher than at a normal circumstances
  • The researcher needs to hire public office (or UN-designated) vehicles for fieldwork for the entire research team where there is security liability
  • A special local guide (local militia who are highly regarded in the village and trained in security) is needed if data collection is conducted in rural areas
  • Accommodation costs are usually high and access to internet, electricity, and water may be limited

Ethical considerations

There is often an absence of clear guidelines of ethical considerations in conflict situations in many institutions and an absence of local or contextual understanding as well as complex insurance issues.

“Researchers may have to work in settings with better security and stability which can lead to an ethic bias in terms of who participates in their studies”, says Dr Gesesew.

About Dr Hailay Gesesew

Dr Hailay Gesesew's research path started when civil conflict erupted in Tigray, Northern Ethiopia between the Tigray government and the federal government of Ethiopia and its allies at the end of 2020. Since then, he has published several peer-reviewed articles, conducted several media communications, and presented at several invited and non-invited conferences/workshops.

The research will contribute to the study of perilous medicine. Some of the issues that are important in this area are how attacks on health facilities impact community access to medicine services and affect supply-chain issues.

Dr. Gesesew is available to discuss this topic in more detail. If you would like to arrange an interview or comment, please email

Find out more about Research
Cookies help us improve your website experience.
By using our website, you agree to our use of cookies.