Where Disaster Meets Conflict: Governance, Power and Legitimation (Academic Panel)

Every year, there are some 400 disasters triggered by natural hazards, mostly in developing countries. An estimated one third of these strike in countries affected by conflict, as in the example above. There is evidence that conflict aggravates disaster and that, vice versa, disaster may intensify conflict.

The panel addresses the question:
‘How do state and non-state actors and humanitarian agencies respond to disasters in different conflict-affected situations, and how does this affect the institutional power, legitimacy and relations of these actors?’

This issue is pertinent to concerns of globalisation and inequality. Violent conflict is a primary issue in matters of global security, and areas affected by violent conflict often score extremely low on a range of human development indices. Increased poverty and institutional weakness exacerbates the vulnerability for disasters. Nonetheless, the co-incidence of disaster and conflict receives little scholarly and policy attention. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, for example, does not speak about conflict contexts and assumes there is a working government at the heart of the disaster response. It is important to address this issue, because of the existing evidence that conflict aggravates disaster and that, vice versa, disaster may intensify conflict.

The issue of disaster governance in areas of conflict is also an entry-point to learn more about how different actors relate to each other. Disaster studies pays increasing attention to the politics of disaster. This literature points to the socially constructed nature of disaster response, for instance through processes where stakeholders ‘frame’ the causes and consequences of disaster and present it from their perspectives. The field of conflict studies has begun to theorise the prevalence of multiple institutional orders in conflict areas, where state and non-state actors may all seek to become legitimate authorities. This Panel seeks to draw on both these fields by asking how the interaction of state/non-state actors and aid agencies shapes disaster response and potentially alters the power and legitimacy of these actors.

The panel invites papers exploring disaster governance in conflict areas. We are especially interested in papers addressing the effects of disaster on the politics of conflict and vice versa, how conflict affects the vulnerabilities and responses to disaster. We also invite papers that provide evidence around the likelihood of success of disaster diplomacy that views disasters as a window of opportunity to enhance peace in the wake of disaster.


Prof Dorothea Hilhorst, ISS