22 August 2014

Can Natural Disasters Precipitate Peace?

In Research Brief Number 22, CCAPS researchers Aleksandra Egorova and Cullen Hendrix discuss the possibility of natural disasters providing an opportunity to build peace via negotiated settlements. Specifically, the authors suggest that immediately post-disaster there is a repositioning of political figures which can allow for leadership to emerge with more of a pro-peace attitude. Although conflict may intensify after the emergency phase, the period of time immediately following the disaster holds great potential to be a time of peacebuilding.

The case studies of Indonesia and Sri Lanka tsunamis are used as examples of how different countries respond in a post-disaster situation. While physical impacts were virtually the same, the outcome and response of the political leadership varied greatly. The separation of post-disaster reconstruction, and relief aid was a major factor in Indonesia’s peaceful rebuild. Sri Lanka’s government attempted many failed humanitarian aid programs, which resulted in increased post-disaster conflict and social unrest. African disasters, such as drought, are less likely to disrupt politics due to their slow-onset. However, many African conflicts involve several armed opposition groups, all with their own agenda. This issue presents major challenges, particularly in a post-disaster scenario. By utilizing the lessons learned from both the Sri Lanka and Indonesia case studies, it is suggested that natural disasters can provide a window for forging peace.


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