“Natural Disasters as Threats to Peace”

United States Institute of Peace - 2012-09-13

From the US Institute of Peace, this new special report was recently released.  The executive summary and details about the author are located here.  A link to the full text ( 17 pages) also is provided.

I think I will have to add this topic to my list of What Keeps Me Up at Night. The current list was posted on Nov. 15th on this blog.

The main theme is fascinating and one that would make a great discussion topic at future conferences. The author makes a number of generalizations about disasters and emergency management systems used in recent years, which I find interesting and consistent with some of my observations.  One example follows:

Most fundamental to stoic readiness is the political capacity of societies to mobilize in the face of crises. Such capacity includes the ability to make decisions quickly and cohesively, to redirect funding rapidly without corruption, and to deliver supplies and support efficiently. * * * In failed or failing states, government capabilities are especially lacking, and such political capacity is the most difficult set of skills and institutions to improve, even with major develop assistance from outsiders.”

A related report is this one from Harvard University: Climate Change As a National Security Issue. Feb. 2013. The full report ( 184 pp.) is here.

One more article on the topic, from the NY Times on March 3 in this review by Thomas Friedman of The Arab Spring and Climate Change.

3 thoughts on ““Natural Disasters as Threats to Peace”

  1. One of my concerns, and I think the report addresses more or less, is that we should avoid the tendency to think of the developing world’s vulnerabilities to disaster are the primary issue needing to be addressed as a threat to world peace. Disasters risk the collapse of even well-established government systems in developed countries, the consequences of which might be near impossible to predict.

    I came across an article in my bibliometric work (though wish I could find it now) which posited the idea that the specific disaster vulnerabilities that can destabilize a developed country are different than in developing countries. As I seem to recall the idea focused on the provision of public goods as the key feature of developed countries, and how disaster could affect the ability of these goods to be provided, thus undermining confidence in the system.

    I did find however a very interesting research paper on the relationship of disasters to political change: http://www.princeton.edu/~pcglobal/conferences/methods/papers/smith.pdf. What makes it particularly interesting is that it provides an explanation of how many countries can sustain catastrophic disaster losses repeatedly with little change, whereas if the same level of loss were to occur in another country, it might bring about revolution. 200,000+ casualties from Cyclone Nargis brought slight change to Myanmar’s junta, but it did not cause its collapse. If a single natural disaster were to cause 200,000 deaths in the U.S., what might be the consequences? .

    • Very interesting comments. Thanks. I will check out the paper you mentioned.

      By the way, I added a reference to a recent related Harvard study. tacking it to the bottom of the original posting. I have not have a chance to read it all, but it may add to the discussion.

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