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Disaster Diplomacy for Asia and the Middle East

Cyclone Pam nears Vanuatu

Courtesy Harrison Tran/flickr

This article was originally published by the Middle East Institute (MEI) on 16 June 2016.

What is Disaster Diplomacy?

Disaster diplomacy investigates how and why disaster-related activities (pre-disaster and post-disaster) influence conflict and cooperation. [1]

Planning, preparation, and damage reduction are part of pre-disaster activities, which are termed ‘disaster risk reduction,’ focusing on addressing the root causes of disasters. Those root causes are, fundamentally, power and politics (particularly as related to resource allocation), societal sectors gaining from others’ vulnerability, and preference for short-term profit over long-term safety. Post-disaster activities refer to response, reconstruction, and recovery.

There have been numerous case studies of disaster diplomacy, covering various countries, regions and time periods, as well as a wide array of hazards—from environmental phenomena, such as earthquakes and floods, to technology-related incidences, such as train crashes and poisonings. The case studies have investigated many types of diplomacy: bilateralism, multilateralism, intergovernmental and international organizations, nongovernmental entities, and international relations conducted by non-sovereign jurisdictions such as provinces or cities (often called para-diplomacy, proto-diplomacy, and micro-diplomacy). The case studies also encompass many forms of conflict, ranging from interstate war and internal insurrections to the absence of diplomatic relations, frosty interactions, and political disagreements.

Across all case studies, no examples have been found where disaster-related activities have created new diplomatic initiatives. To be sure, disaster-related activities can serve as a catalyst for pre-existing diplomatic endeavors. In such instances, cultural links, informal or secret diplomatic negotiations, interactions in multilateral organizations, trade connections, or business and economic development can provide the conditions conducive to spurring disaster diplomacy.

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The Gulf Oil Spill: What We’re Reading

If It Was My Home

Screenshot of oil spill overlay of Zurich area, ifitwasmyhome.com

If you’re keeping track of the Deepwater Horizon/Gulf of Mexico oil spill, check out these links:

  • David McCandless over at Information is Beautiful has another visual. This one gives visual context to the Deepwater spill, Exxon Valdez and Amoco Candiz spills along with world oil consumption and remaining proven oil reserves.
  • US broadcaster ABC delves into BP’s safety record, while The Boston Globe’s blog The Big Picture brings the catastrophe into focus (some of the images such as the bird mired in oil are sure to become iconic).

How they came up with that, only God knows. Literally.

Kick-starting Development Aid

Photo: Screenshot of kickstarter.com

Often in development aid, misery and natural disasters determine where the money goes. The tsunami that devastated Banda Aceh in 2004 could be seen all over the news for many weeks. The recent Haitian earthquake is still very present in many minds and may touch our conscience in such a way that we gladly give our money to respective development agencies. As a consequence, these places are swarmed with NGOs, IOs and private initiatives creating and realizing projects.

Yet, isn’t that exactly the purpose of development aid? To help people in need? Yes, but meanwhile a disaster victim in Banda Aceh receives 5 tents, 7 pairs of shoes and tons of goods of development aid for years to come, children in the poorer regions of Africa, South America or elsewhere lack the public attention to attract comparable support.

Relying heavily on organizations such as the UN Development Programme or US Aid, funding of projects in unknown and remote areas can be very difficult. It is a widespread practice that agencies, especially those which count on private financial contributions, use the “big disasters” to raise money and then redirect these funds to cross-finance smaller, less known projects in other regions. However, this practice is often prone to intransparency, fraud and improper management.

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The ISN Quiz: Resilience

Are you resilient enough to handle a few questions? Find out what you know about societal resilience, our focus this week, in the ISN Quiz.

[QUIZZIN 16]

Crises and Maps

OSM-Haiti

Map of Port-au-Prince based on OpenStreetMap data

For all the criticism about open collaborative projects, these have one unquestionable asset: the speed and efficiency of updates.

In crisis situations such as the Haiti earthquake, this makes all the difference. I’ve been following the developments of OpenStreetMap (OSM) after the first earthquake hit and it’s fascinating. Just check this comparision with Google to convince yourself (play with the transparency in the top right corner).
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