Research - When Disaster Meets Conflict

Juba camp, Sierra Leone

Our research is divided in 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

Photo credit: Internally Displaced Person in Juba camp, Sierra Leone. Source: Samantha Melis

Our research incorporates an expert panel and case studies conducted in countries where disaster meets conflict.

Research brief

Download our research brief on Disaster risk governance in different conflict scenarios

  • Humanitarian action in disaster and conflict settings

    30 key humanitarian actors with great experience in the field participated in an expert panel. We used a so-called Delphi method which has a cyclical research design with several rounds of questioning.

    The goal of the expert panel was to establish an informed, evidence-based study about some of the most pressing challenges that are currently hampering the effectiveness of aid, as well as to collect observations of highly experienced practitioners on trends and recent experiences in the field.

    In particular, emphasis was placed on ‘best practices’ and success factors for aid projects in different conflict settings, new actors and coalitions in the aid industry, and insights on the usefulness of new technologies and other promising dynamics. 

    In 2019 we will conduct a final round of this survey and publish the results on this website.

  • We conducted two case studies of high-intensity conflicts in South Sudan and Afghanistan

    • Research conducted by Rodrigo Mena.

      IDP camp South Sudan - reed huts - When disaster meets conflict

      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.

      While drought is common in the arid country, it was affected by an especially intensive drought in 2016, and, in other seasons in the same year, by 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 again very much come into play.

      Research brief - Drought response in South Sudan
    • Research conducted by Rodrigo Mena.

      Afghanistan_drought_village against hillside - When disaster meets conflict


      In Afghanistan, unlike what happens in South Sudan and most other countries affected by high-intensity levels of conflict, Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) programmes are mushrooming, chiefly in areas under Afghan government control.

      The reasons are multiple:

      • the international recognition of Afghanistan as one of the most vulnerable countries to natural disasters in the world and subsequent calls for action;
      • the government commitment to tackle this vulnerability;
      • a decade long presence of international NGOs in sectors of the territory.

      This case study investigates why and how these projects are developed, how they connect with the governance and coordination of disaster management, response at the national level, and what technologies are used in this process. In addition, this case seeks to understand how DRR projects and the multiple conflicts in the country interact and affect each other.

      A topic of inquiry in Afghanistan, jointly with the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), was the use of technology for humanitarian purposes in high-intensity conflict topics.

  • We conducted two case studies of low-intensity conflicts in Ethiopia and Myanmar

    • Research conducted by Isabelle Desportes

      Ethiopia drought - aerial view - When disaster meets conflict

      2016 was a year of both hydro-meteorological and socio-political stress for Ethiopia. A 50-year drought event triggered by the El Nino climatic phenomenon left 10.2 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

      Coincidentally, the largest protests under the present political regime unfolded, followed by the declaration of a State of Emergency in October 2016. Hundreds of protesters were killed, thousands jailed extra-judicially. 

      How did the relations between aid, state and societal actors affect the response to the 2016 drought in Ethiopia and which strategies did actors develop to support disaster victims, given the context of protests and the declaration of a State of Emergency?

      The case study concludes that role playing and discursive games played an important role in opening up, and closing, the humanitarian space within which disaster response took place in Ethiopia.

    • Research conducted by Isabelle Desportes

      Based on 4 months of qualitative fieldwork in Myanmar in 2017–2018, this 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 following Cyclone Komen in 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 findings detail how, particularly in the context of rising identity politics, humanitarian governance more than ever encompasses the governance of perceptions.

  • We conducted three post-conflict studies in Sierra Leone, Nepal and Colombia.

    • Research conducted by Samantha Melis.

      Ceremonial chief in one of the flood-affected communities, 2017, Sierra Leone

      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. How did disaster response evolve in this country that is struggling to develop under post-colonial, post-conflict, and post-ebola conditions?

      The research focuses on two levels of governance.

      • At the national level where the disaster formed yet another moment to renegotiate intra-government powers
      • At the local level where the disaster fed ongoing tensions between local state chiefs and national state institutions

      Photo: A ceremonial chief in one of the flood-affected communities, 2017, Sierra Leone. Source: Samantha Melis

      Blog post inspired by research conducted in Sierra Leone
    • Research conducted by Samantha Melis.

      Woman sitting in front of a building under reconstruction in Bhaktapur, 2017, Nepal

      When the 2015 earthquakes struck Nepal, the country was still undergoing a contested constitutional process that was instigated after the Maoist insurgency ended in a Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2006. The constitution was fast-tracked after the disaster and sparked protests and a border blockade in the Southern Terai region, as marginalized groups demanded a more inclusive process.

      The post-conflict context of Nepal has been characterized by a volatile political environment, extending  to the District, VDC and Ward levels. The earthquake response attracted a large influx of aid, which both supported and overwhelmed a divided state. Tensions arose between state-building and disaster response agenda’s when state and non-state actors differed in their approaches.

      • How did the post-conflict context affect the earthquake response?
      • How were non-state actors able to balance a weaker state capacity, the political volatility and diverging goals?

      While the state attempted to increase control through a one-door policy, multiple windows were opened by non-state actors to either creatively comply or by-pass the state’s response.

      Photo: Woman sitting in front of a building under reconstruction in Bhaktapur, 2017, Nepal. Source: Samantha Melis

      Research brief - Earthquake response in Nepal
    • Research conducted by Erin Kuipers

      Rescuers searching for survivors after mudslide in Mocoa, Colombia 2017

      In the early morning of 1 April 2017, the city of Mocoa suffered a massive mudslide when torrential rains led three smaller rivers to burst their banks, releasing a giant flow of water, mud and rocks onto the city.

      Soon after, Mocoa was ‘flooded’ again, but this time by the large diversity of local, national and international humanitarian entities that came to provide disaster relief. In one of the departments most heavily marked by the Colombian civil conflict, the Mocoa mudslide also concurred with a time of transition, a few months after Colombia’s historic peace agreement.

      How did this assemblage of humanitarian agencies respond to the disaster in conflict-affected Mocoa?

      This case study focuses on the entanglement of humanitarian aid with intentions of development and peace-building, and concludes how the locally-led response should be differently understood if it wishes to serve the broader humanitarian scope.

      Photo: Rescuers searching for survivors, 1 April 2017. Source: Fernando Vergara

      Research brief - Mocoa mudslide response in Colombia


The governance of aid

Find out more about intersectionalities