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Why we can’t ignore conflict when it comes to Disaster Risk Reduction

Today marks International Day for Disaster Reduction and this year’s focus is on reducing the number of people affected by disasters by 2030. But one of the key issues relating to disaster risk in different parts of the world often goes unexamined.

Farmer field school group planting maize and groundnut crops on their communal farm after receiving training as part of the Building Resilient Communities in Somalia programme (BRICS) Photo: Dustin Caniglia/ Somalia /2015

The problem is clear: most deaths from disasters occur in fragile and conflict-affected countries. Between 2004 and 2014, 58% occurred in countries that are among the 30 most fragile states.

Yet, for a variety of reasons, many international donors and agencies working on disaster risk reduction (DRR) – activities which aim to reduce the threat and impact of disasters -   are not concentrating their efforts in these places.  The result is that many of those most at risk are not getting the support they need.

The report

A report released today by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Concern analyses why this reluctance exists to tackle disaster risk in insecure environments, and makes the case that DRR should be concentrated on the places where it is needed the most.The report  includes experiences from Concern programmes in Chad,  Somalia (both pictured here) and Haiti (all three are countries listed in the Fragile States Index 2017) to provide insight into what is possible in fragile states and some of the challenges we encountered.

Men and women make up the Tcharow Comite Communautaire d’Action (Community Action Committee) in Tcharow, Goz Beida, Sila Region, Chad. Photo: Dom Hunt / Chad / 2014

Tackling conflict, building resilience 

In Haiti, for example, Concern began working in 2009 on an urban DRR programme addressing vulnerability in Martissant. This is a heavily populated district at high risk of flooding and landslides during rainy season, but where gang violence and endemic criminality had previously prevented Concern from working with at risk communities.

The team therefore began its DRR work by teaming up with a specialist peace and reconciliation organisation, Glencree. The programme supported local people to tackle the drivers of conflict in their region. It built trust, established community peace committees and laid the foundations for addressing other hazards in the community, enabling Concern to follow up with more traditional DRR activities.

When Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti in October 2016, the benefits of addressing conflict under the DRR programme were clear. The timely evacuation of the area was possible thanks in part to the work of community committees supported by the DRR programme. Capacity building of these community structures would previously have been impossible, because they would have been viewed by the gangs as a threat.

Exception, not the rule

This and the other Concern case studies in the report show what can be achieved by undertaking DRR in fragile contexts. Other agencies have undertaken similar programmes in conflict affected areas. But across the global DRR community, these examples are the exception rather than the rule. While conducting research for the report, ODI spoke extensively to experienced DRR policy-makers, donors and practitioners to unearth what is preventing greater investment in DRR in fragile and conflict affected contexts.

Drawing on the findings, the report makes a number of recommendations for how to improve the current situation. These include integrating the theme of DRR  into  processes such as the mechanism which monitors the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and establishing a community of practice to share and learn about the practical application of DRR in fragile and conflict affected states.

The report doesn’t claim to offer all the answers, but rather to provoke debate. The intention is to challenge the relative scarcity of support for DRR in fragile states and redirect  efforts to where the need is greatest, ensuring we leave no one behind.


You can read and download the report here.