These are just a couple of the questions that this five-year research project is considering.
The core of the research consists of case studies in conflict countries where disasters occur. We also seek to understand how the politicization of disaster response affects the legitimacy, power and relations between governance actors.
Led by Professor Dorothea Hilhorst, Professor of Humanitarian Aid and Reconstruction, the research team is composed of Isabelle Desportes, Rod Mena Fluhmann and Samanth Melis (PhD researchers), and Roanne van Voorst (Post-doc) conducting research on the impact of disaster on conflict. The research is funded by the Innovational Research Incentives Scheme financed by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research.
Responses to disasters triggered by natural hazards have changed considerably in recent decades: away from reactive responses to disasters and towards more proactive attention to risk reduction, as well as away from state-centred top-down approaches towards more deliberately involving non-state actors and communities in the formal governance of disaster response.
However, in research and policy, little attention has been paid to scenarios where disasters happen in conflict situations, even though a significant proportion of disasters occur in such contexts. There is evidence that conflict aggravates disaster and that disaster can intensify conflict – but not much is known about the precise relationship and how it may impact upon aid responses.
Our research is divided into two broad strands: the core research with an expert panel and case-studies in countries where disaster meets conflict, and intersectional research on areas where humanitarian governance overlaps with other domains, such as peace-keeping.
In the course of our research, our interests have expanded to other areas where humanitarian response intersects with other domains of intervention, including:
The case studies are divided into areas of high-intensity conflict (Afghanistan and South Sudan), low-intensity conflict (Ethiopia and Myanmar), and post-conflict situations (Sierra Leone, Nepal and Colombia). Below are just three examples of our studies and the types of issues we investigate.
Drought response in South Sudan, 2016 - South Sudan is the youngest country in the world. The 2011 referendum resulted in the country’s independence and self-governance; however, conflict between factions of the government and an acute economic crisis led, in 2013, to an internal crisis and civil war. In 2016 South Sudan was affected by an especially intensive drought and recurring floods.
The main challenges that disaster responders faced were physical access, funding and insecurity. Given these constraints, a main concern was how to prioritize between drought-impacted areas and people. This case study thus zoomed in on the issue of ‘triage’, finding that the factors of feasibility, funding and needs very much come into play.
South Sudanese refugee camp in Uganda. Credit: Rod Mena Fluhmann
Cyclone Komen response in Myanmar, 2015 – Cyclone Komen made landfall at a time of heightened Myanmar identity politics—a few months after four discriminatory ‘Race and Religion’ laws were passed and a few months before the tense November 2015 elections.
The research explores how civil society organizations, international non-governmental organizations, international organizations, and donor agencies tried to provide relief to marginalized minorities in the ethnic States of Chin and Rakhine. The findings detail how, particularly in the context of rising identity politics, humanitarian governance more than ever encompasses the governance of perceptions.
Aftermath of Cyclone Komen, Myanmar. Credit: Alamy
Mudslide in Sierra Leone, 2017 - In 2017, a mountain in the heart of Sierra Leone’s capital city broke, causing an avalanche, mudslide and flash flood, leaving over 1,000 dead and thousands homeless in its wake. Our research here investigates how disaster response evolved in this country struggling to develop under post-colonial, post-conflict, and post-ebola conditions.
The research focuses on two levels of governance: the national level, where the disaster formed another moment to renegotiate intra-governmental powers; and the local level where the disaster fed ongoing tensions between local state chiefs and national state institutions.
Aftermath of the mudslide in Sierra Leone. Credit: Samantha Melis
In our research on intersectionalities in the governance of aid, we cover topics such as:
Refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Rod Mena Fluhmann
We always aim to carry out research that is not only scientifically robust, but that is also socially relevant and engaged: research that really makes a difference. We participate in international consultancies and collaborations, events and conferences, regularly write opinion and blog posts for a wider public, and have produced research briefs for all of our case studies.
We recently also updated our website – www.iss.nl/whendisastermeetsconflict where all our publications and other outputs are freely available for download.