When disaster meets conflict

  • How do state, non-state and humanitarian actors respond to disasters in conflict-affected situations?
  • How do the different types of conflict - high-intensity conflict, low-intensity conflict and post-conflict - impact communities and the aid that the affected people are offered?

These are just a couple of the questions that this five-year research project is considering.

    Children in tent in refugee camp in Burundi

    About the research

    Among the 400 disasters that are triggered each year by natural hazards (such as earthquakes, landslides, floods and droughts), more than 30% strike countries affected by conflict.

    When Disaster Meets Conflict (Discord) studies the nexus between humanitarian aid and disaster governance. It analyses how state, non-state and humanitarian actors respond to disasters in three conflict settings: low-medium, high, and post-conflict.

    The project aims to learn about the challenges, experiences, best practices and success factors for aid in each of the three settings. It also seeks to understand how the politicization of disaster response affects the legitimacy, power and relations between governance actors. The research project comprises 9 country case studies as well as an expert panel with 30 experts (half from the Global South).

    The 9 country case studies

    • High-conflict (South Sudan, Afghanistan and Yemen)
    • Low-medium conflict (Ethiopia, Myanmar and Zimbabwe)
    • Post-conflict (Sierra Leone, Nepal and Haiti)

    Additional smaller case studies

    These were conducted in Colombia, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, Calais (France), Greece, Lebanon, Turkey, Curacao and Venezuela.

    Other areas of interest

    In the course of the research, our interest has expanded to other areas where humanitarian response intersects with other domains of intervention, including:

    • gender and security
    • community resilience
    • development
    • peace-building
    • areas where disaster response meets refugee care
    More about our research

    Societal relevance

    Responses to disasters triggered by natural hazards have changed considerably in recent decades. It has moved away from reactive responses to disasters and towards more proactive attention to risk reduction. It is also transitioning from state-centred top-down approaches towards more deliberately involving non-state actors and communities in the formal governance of disaster response.

    Research that is scientifically robust and socially relevant

    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 researchers strive to ensure that the research they conduct is not only scientifically robust but that it is also socially relevant and engaged. The team participates in many international consultancies and collaborations, events and conferences, regularly write opinion and blog pieces for a wider public (see below under outputs).

    Disaster meets conflict research team 2019


    The project team is led by Thea Hilhorst, professor of Humanitarian Aid and Reconstruction.

    Team members


    Trailer - When disaster meets conflict MOOC

    Photos taken in the course of our research


    • NWO logo 2020

      When Disaster Meets Conflict is funded as part of the Innovational Research Incentives Scheme (Vici) scheme (project no. 453/14/013), financed by the NWO, the Dutch Research Council. NWO facilitates excellent, curiosity-driven disciplinary, interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research.

      Talent Programme Vici

      Talent Programme Vici is one of the largest grants for individuals in the Netherlands and targets outstanding senior/advanced researchers. The funding enables the talented scientists to set up their own innovative line of research and put together their own research group. 

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    Contact the research team

    For more information, please contact Dorothea Hilhorst or Roanne van Voorst