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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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Leveling the Afghan Playing Field

Afghan farmer works in the field

An Afghan farmer works in the field.

NEW YORK – Afghanistan’s security and political situation remains plagued by uncertainty, stemming from the withdrawal of United States and NATO combat troops, the upcoming presidential election, and the stalled peace negotiations with the Taliban. Recognizing that continued economic insecurity will exacerbate this perilous situation, the government has announced a new package of economic incentives aimed at attracting foreign direct investment.

The package includes the provision of land to industrialists at dramatically reduced prices, tax exemptions of up to seven years for factory owners, and low-interest loans of up to ten years for farmers. Such incentives are targeted at foreign investors and the local elite, with the aim of stopping or even reversing capital flight. But the new measures ultimately amount to more of the same: a fragmented policy approach that will prove inadequate to solve Afghanistan’s fundamental economic problems. » More

Occupy Shines a Light Amidst Ongoing Sandy Disaster

Damage from Hurricane Sandy to the New Jersey coast, Oct. 30, 2012. Photo: US Air Force/Wikimedia Commons

“Thank God for Sandy!” said Leviticus Sumpter, a supervisor of a mold clean-up team in New York City, to The Brooklyn Bureau.

“I’m not going to say that,” said Albert Gibbs, Sumpter’s nephew and also part of the crew. “I’m going to say, ‘Thank God for employment.’ […] One person’s mishap is another person’s blessing.”

The tragedy of thousands of lives overturned in the wake of Hurricane—later superstorm—Sandy has become a success story for the Occupy movement, bringing the group national recognition for its efforts to help their fellow man recover from a disaster with a far-reaching level of destruction (somewhat less than the infamous Hurricane Katrina). » More

ISN Weekly Theme: Sri Lanka Beyond the War

Flag lowering ceremony in Colombo, Sri Lanka, photo: Skandhakumar Nimalaprakasan/flickr

After decades of violence and political polarization, Sri Lanka is taking tentative steps toward peace and reconciliation. A broader discourse and policies that take the socio-economic needs of all ethnic groups into account is vital for conflict resolution.

This Special Report includes the following content:

  • An Analysis by Nobert Ropers, director of the Berghof Foundation for Peace Support in Berlin, on the dangers inherent in an uneven victory by the Sri Lankan government over the Tamil Tigers.
  • A Podcast with Asoka Bandarage of Georgetown University examining the need for a more inclusive approach to peacebuilding, less focused on the narrow ethnic dualism of the conflict.
  • Security Watch articles on the war and its aftermath, including the refugee crisis.
  • Publications housed in our Digital Library, including an International Crisis Group report on the Tamil Diaspora after the LTTE and an Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies paper on India’s role in post-conflict Sri Lanka.
  • Links to external resources, including The Virtual Library of Sri Lanka.
  • Our IR Directory with relevant organizations, including the Centre for Policy Alternatives based in Colombo.