projects & ideas
Disaster Diplomacy Case Studies
in association with
Radix: Radical Interpretations of and Solutions for Disasters
Case Studies Index
Comment on a case study or suggest more.
Based on Geographical Region or Specific Disaster
Based on Non-geographic Categories
Aral and Caspian Seas (Environmental Disasters) (suggested by Michael Glantz)
Information on the history and nature of the severe human-induced environmental problems affecting these two inland seas can be found at:
- Ascher W. and M. Mirovitskaya (eds.). 2000. The Caspian Sea: A Quest for Environmental Security.
Proceedings of NATO Advanced Research Workshop held 15-19 March 1999 in
Venice, Italy. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, the Netherlands.
- Cullen, R. 1999. "The Rise and Fall of the Caspian Sea". National Geographic May 1999.
- Glantz, M. (ed.). 1999. Creeping Environmental Problems and Sustainable Development in the Aral Sea Basin. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K.
- Glantz M. and I.S. Zonn (eds.). 1997. Scientific, Environmental and Political Issues in the Circum-Caspian Region.
Proceedings of NATO Advanced Research Workshop 950549 held 13-16 May
1996 in Moscow, Russia. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, the
- Stone, R. 1999. "Coming to Grips With the Aral Sea's Grim Legacy". Science, vol. 284, no. 5411 (2 April 1999), pp. 30-33.
Although the Aral Sea and the Caspian Sea are two separate case studies, similarities exist and comparing them would be useful to establish patterns (or lack thereof) in disaster diplomacy for long-term disasters.
Major obstacles to immediate and effective change are the unstable political climate and state rivalries throughout central Asia. Some cooperation amongst the countries affected has been identified, likely because of the impending, detrimental economic and political impacts. Resolution is inhibited by lack of funding, lack of outside interest, and lack of expertise in dealing with such complex, intertwined environmental and international political problems. Successes, either in small parts or over the entire scope of the environmental disasters, have the potential to yield further cooperation or to provide frameworks usable in the future for resolving regional challenges, including enmity.
Armenia Earthquake (suggested by Nick Cater)
(7 December 1988 earthquake)
This earthquake influenced the glasnost and perestroika processes, started in 1986, because:
(a) the Soviet Union admitted they could not cope, which set a precedent;
(b) the Soviet Union let outsiders in to assist, which set a precedent; and
(c) Gorbachev saw the inadequacies of the
Soviet system and the marked contrast with the much better abilities of
Furthermore, few rebuilding promises achieved much. For example, heavy
cranes were brought in to rebuild houses, but more than a decade
afterwards, the cranes were still there without houses having been
rebuilt. As well, the Red Cross set up a specialised spinal injury
institute for the Soviet Union, but when the Soviet Union collapsed, it
turned out to be too big and costly for Armenia to operate.
What were the earthquake's impacts on Gorbachev's thoughts and
policies? Did the event influence the end of the Cold War or, at least,
the speed and pathway by which the inevitable end occurred? Or was the
earthquake simply a small input within the background noise of many,
complicated, rapidly-evolving, interlinked events at all spatial scales?
Despite continuing tensions regarding the Falklands, Argentina and the Falklands/U.K. collaborate regarding search-and-rescue activities. For example, from 4-6 November 2004, as part of a series of joint exercises, Argentina and the U.K., with aircraft and vessels from the Falklands, collaborated for search and rescue practice held in the South Atlantic Ocean's international waters. Two Regional Rescue Co-ordination Centres exist in the region--Ushuaia, Argentina and Mount Pleasant--so they need to collaborate for emergencies in the area.
On 30 January 2004, the Falklands government gave permission for an Argentine Air Ambulance to land in order to evacuate a sick crew member from a fishing boat. Permission was given on humanitarian grounds in that the insurers preferred the cheaper Argentine aircraft over the usual Chilean medevac company. The sick crew member was flown directly to Buenos Aires.
Bangladesh Regional Flood Warning System (suggested by John Twigg)
Ahmad, Q.K. and A.U. Ahmed. 2003. "Regional Cooperation in Flood Management in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Region: Bangladesh Perspective". Natural Hazards, vol. 28, no. 1, pp. 181–198.
Workshop on Regional Cooperation on Flood Warning, May 4-6, 1995, Dhaka, text from workshop and outcomes (1,084 kb in PDF).
Bolivia Floods 2007 (suggested by Ben Wisner)
(February-March 2007 floods)
Download a compilation of media reports (37 kb in PDF) on the flood's political implications from Ben Wisner.
Commentary by Gregory Berger (12 March 2007):
I wish to point
out two other interesting dynamics of Evo's disaster diplomacy:
1. There is
strong regional division in Bolivia that has become more strained since
Evo took office--although it is arguably not his fault, but that of the
oligarchy that has launched a vigorous and racist anti-Evo campaign.
Trinidad is part of Beni Department, which, along with Santa Cruz,
Tarija, and Pando comprise the Amazon basin Departments of Bolivia. The
other Departments are mostly Andean and are comprised of a Quechua and
Aymara indigenous majority, and are the base of Evo's support. The
flooded lowland areas (including Trinidad) are where most of Bolivia's
untapped gas reserves are located and are also home to much of the idle
land that Evo is planning to partially redistribute to landless
Quechuas and Aymaras. Thus, the local lowland elite have been
convincing the local non-indigenous campesino class (as well as the
Guarai indigenous population who are non-Andean) that Evo will be stealing "their" gas
and sending "hordes" of Andean Indians to "steal" their land. The
floods have given Evo a chance to play the hero and undermine his
2. There has been
some controversy over the category of emergency that the flood in
Trinidad has been classified. Due to a legal technicality in the
constitution, if the Federal government calls it a "natural disaster"
it will set back by a couple of years Evo's land reform program by
temporarily suspending the ability for transfer of land title. So it
has been called a "natural emergency" and Evo's
enemies have been quick to accuse him of playing politics with disaster
even on the left, contend that he is constructing a spoils system for
the constituency of his political party at the expense of other
marginalized segments of the population. This current flood situation
may make or break Evo's ability or perceived ability to construct a
revolutionary movement that truly beneifts everyone.
The Red River Floods in 1997, the Ice Storm of 1998, and the International Joint Commission demonstrate how Canada and the U.S. can work together, both problems and successes. These countries are not quite diplomatic enemies--at least, not too often--but lessons could be learned on cross-border disaster management for nations with more diplomatic problems.
Some sources on the cross-border management of the 1997 Red River floods are:
Wachtendorf, T. 1999. A River Runs Through It: Cross Border Interaction During the 1997
Red River Flood. Thesis #11 (Master of Arts in Sociology), Disaster Research Center, University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware, U.S.A., full text (4,085 kb in PDF) posted here with the kind permission of Tricia Wachtendorf.
Wachtendorf, T. 1999. Cross-border Issues in Disaster Response. Preliminary Paper #278, Disaster Research Center, University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware, U.S.A., full text (1,074 kb in PDF) posted here with the kind permission of Tricia Wachtendorf.
Wachtendorf, T. 2000. Interaction Between Canadian and American Governmental and Non-Governmental Organizations During the Red River Flood of 1997. Historical & Comparative Series #12, Disaster Research Center, University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware, U.S.A., full text (4,511 kb in PDF) posted here with the kind permission of Tricia Wachtendorf.
Wachtendorf, T. 2000. "When disasters defy borders: What we can learn from the Red River flood about transnational disasters". Australian Journal of Emergency Management, vol. 15, issue 3, pp. 36-41.
Canada - U.S.A. border at Niagara Falls, with Ontario on the left and New York on the right.
(Copyright Ilan Kelman 2008.)
Caribbean Disaster Risk Reduction
The Caribbean Region has complex political geography. The complexity arises from the four main languages, the differences in territorial status amongst the European territories, and the loose correlation between geographical position and political/linguistic affiliation.
For example, the French-speaking and Dutch-speaking territories are scattered throughout the Caribbean. The Dutch-speaking locations have different statuses within the Netherlands, plus Suriname on the mainland is an independent state. The French-speaking locations are all legally part of France and hence the European Union, with the exception of Haïti which is an independent state. Meanwhile, only one Central American country is not part of the Caribbean--El Salvador, but it is a member of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS)--while the English-speaking mainland countries of Belize and Guyana are often considered to be in the Caribbean Anglophone island community, since they are English "islands" in their respective regions, although Belize has a large Spanish-speaking population. Furthermore, Puerto Rico and USVI have different statuses within the U.S.A. and different linguistic characteristics while Cuba has been isolated regionally and internationally in many ways by the U.S.A. Cuba was excluded from the Quebec Summit Plan of Action of the Organization of American States (OAS) which had a section on disaster-related activities and Cuba is not participating in the Inter-American Committee for Natural Disaster Reduction (IACNDR).
Such complexities may create coordination challenges amongst different Caribbean organisations dealing with disaster-related activities, such as the regional disaster risk reduction agency, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC). Research is needed to identify and examine any specific problems and opportunities resulting from the Caribbean's political complexity and to recommend mechanisms for overcoming the challenges to ensure that linguistic, political, and geographical barriers do not interfere with disaster-related activities.
A flooded road near Nassau, Bahamas.
(Copyright Ilan Kelman 2011.)
Olson, R.S. and J.P.S. Prieto. 1995. "Guns, Drugs, and Disaster: Cauca/Huila, Colombia, 1994". International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 147-160.
UNDP. 2004. Reducing Disaster Risk: A Challenge for Development. Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), New York, New York, USA.
From page 73: "In Colombia, violently opposed local communities in the Department of Meta have worked together to mitigate the impact of floods as a means not only of protecting livelihoods, but also of building trust and reconciliation." Referenced to "UNDP, Cooperation Framework with UNDP Colombia, 2003".
Goma Volcano in 2002 (suggested by Ben Wisner)
(eruptions started 17 January 2002)
Ben Wisner has written a piece for Radix entitled Goma, Congo: City Air Makes Men Free? (266 kb in Word). This discussion on Goma following the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo in January 2002 examines disaster diplomacy beyond the initial, narrow question by querying the wider interactions amongst disaster events and international politics related to forced migrants. The questions raised indicate how vulnerabilities must be viewed as dynamic, interactive processes which influence each other and thus cannot be viewed or "managed" in isolation. Rassemblement Congolais pour
la Démocratie (RCD) is the rebel movement which controlled the Goma area during the eruptions of Mount Nyiragongo.
On 29 January 2002. Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that South Africa was sending aid to Goma via Kigali. On the same day, UN OCHA Sitrep no. 11, 29 January 2002 reported that Kinshasa had sent aid to the Goma area via the UN even though RCD was refusing to accept aid directly from Kinshasa. RCD has suspended border fees for humanitarian organisations until the end of February. On 1 February 2002, the Organization for African Unity (OAU) (now the African Union (AU)) provided US$100,000 for aid. Did any of that money come from states involved in the conflict?
As of 3 February 2002. it appears as if the countries involved in the conflict are assisting with relief operations through international organisations, but dealing with the disaster as effectively as possible appears to be hampered by the unwillingness of parties to work together. Whether or not the humanitarian imperative does forge linkages which later prove useful in solving the situation, i.e. disaster diplomacy, remains to be seen. Further analysis is required, particularly to determine whether or not providing aid or access for aid is being used in an attempt to further political aims in addition to, or instead of, assisting the affected population. One clear conclusion, as with the other case studies, is that the disaster itself has not immediately created diplomacy for conflict resolution--but it may yet provide an input for the long-term.
On 6 February 2002. Reliefweb reported that the anti-rebel Mai-Mai militia approached the UN offering a ceasefire and requesting to join the DRC peace process. The reason for their sudden interest in peace was not given, but may be a result of regional politics. Illustrating whether or not the volcanic eruption made any direct or indirect difference, or was irrelevant to their decision, would be a useful analysis.
8 February 2002. Nick Cater writes for Alertnet "Congo volcano casts a shadow over relief" discussing aspects of the international interest in this disaster: "While one volcano will not inspire the comprehensive political and developmental effort that the region desperately needs, any attention to central Africa and its challenges is welcome".
15 February 2002. Ben Wisner writes for Alertnet "Eruption raises practical and philosophical issues" with similar comments to his piece on this site (see the introduction to this case study above).
February to April 2002. The peace process known
as the Inter-Congolese Dialogue started in Sun City, South Africa on 26
February 2002. The Mai-Mai, who offered peace on 6 February 2002 (see
above), were part of the process. The talks were soon hit by stalling
tactics and walk-outs. They faltered against a backdrop of sporadic
fighting in DRC. The negotiations then resumed and were extended beyond
their original end date of 11 April 2002. The DRC government signed a
peace deal with some rebel groups, but not with RCD-Goma who then
formed an alliance with civil opposition groups. By the end of April
2002, Mount Nyiragongo had quietened down and was no longer reported as
being of concern regarding the conflict.
Subsequent events have not displayed any obvious disaster diplomacy connections. Why did disaster diplomacy apparently not work in the long-term for the Goma volcano?
Hurricane Mitch (suggested by Michael Glantz)
(22 October to 5 November 1998)
Hurricane Mitch led to devastating floods and landslides across several countries in Central America. The situation following Hurricane Mitch created an opportunity for disaster diplomacy to develop and warrants further investigation. As well, as part of Discrimination in International Disaster Aid (suggested by George Kent), Manuel Argüello Rodríguez pointed out that, rather the hurricane solving discrimination problems, statements were made that 'campesinos', 'indígenas' and 'negros' in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras were marginalised during the relief and reconstruction processes.
India and the 1966 to 1967 Bihar Famine (suggested by Thomas Myhrvold-Hanssen)
Thomas Myhrvold-Hanssen has written a piece entitled "Democracy, News Media, and Famine Prevention: Amartya Sen and The Bihar Famine of 1966-67" (261 kb in Word). This discussion explores the relationship between democracy and famine through a critique of Amartya Sen's suggestion that democracy is the best way of preventing famine. The Bihar famine in India from 1966 to 1967 is used as the main case study, but the famine in Sudan from 1986 to 1989 is also examined. This paper provides insights into the relationship between government--particularly democracies--and disaster and indicates possibilities for the interaction not necessarily achieving what we would expect or hope.
Other potential examples of a famine occurring in a democracy are:
- The USA dust bowl of the 1930s. Was it a famine?
- Ireland in the 1840s. Ireland was part of the U.K. which was a democracy, at least comparatively for that era, although perhaps Ireland at that time should be considered a colony rather than part of the democratic state.
See also Rubin, O. 2009. "The Merits of Democracy in Famine Protection - Fact or Fallacy?" European Journal of Development Research, vol. 21, no. 5, pp. 699-717.
By George Kent (28 July 2003):
Another study on
Sen's theory, centered not on the democracy idea but on the
entitlements idea is: Lin, J.Y. and D.T. Yang. 2000. "Food
Availability, Entitlements and the Chinese Famine of 1959-61". Economic Journal, vol. 110, no. 460 (January), pp. 136-158.
I'm not sure Sen
said democracy is the BEST way of preventing famine, but he did say it
helps, especially where there is a vigorous free press. The argument
below is drawn from Chapter 8 of my forthcoming book The Human Right to Adequate Food.
Sen observed there are far fewer famines in democracies:
&nnbsp; nbsp;"...the working of democracy and of political rights can even help to
prevent famines and other economic disasters. Authoritarian rulers, who are
themselves rarely affected by famines (or other such economic calamities),
tend to lack the incentive to take timely preventive measures. Democratic
governments, in contrast, have to win elections and face public criticism,
and have strong incentives to undertake measures to avert famines and other
such catastrophes. It is not surprising that no famine has ever taken place
in the history of the world in a functioning democracy--be it economically
rich (as in contemporary Western Europe or North America) or relatively poor
(as in postindependence India, or Botswana, or Zimbabwe).
...no substantial famine has ever occurred in a democratic country--no
matter how poor. This is because famines are extremely easy to prevent if
the government tries to prevent them, and a government in a multiparty
democracy with elections and free media has strong political incentives to
undertake famine prevention."
democracies, the people hold the government accountable, not only
through the press but also through their voting powers and, more
generally, through their sustained and vigorous participation in public
life. The observation apparently correlates with the democratic peace
hypothesis, that democracies do not make war on one another, and are
much less violent internally than undemocratic nations.
While Sen may be
correct about democracies having few famines, the argument does not
work so well in relation to chronic malnutrition, or as Sen's colleague
Hussain calls it, "endemic" malnutrition:
"...even an active press, as in India, can be less than effective in
moving governments to act decisively against endemic undernutrition and
deprivation--as opposed to dramatically visible famines. The quiet
persistence of 'regular hunger' kills millions in a slow and non-dramatic
way, and this phenomenon has not been much affected, it appears, by media
critiques. There is need for an analysis here of what explains the
Many factors account for the tendency of the media to emphasize episodic
famines rather than chronic malnutrition, including, for example, their
tendency to emphasize sudden-onset events over continuing phenomena.
However, the major factor undoubtedly is that democracies are not as
democratic as we sometimes assume. Sen has come to acknowledge that there is
chronic malnutrition in democracies, but it seems he does not associate that
with any possible defects in the qualities of their democracy.
Societies can be
democratic but at the same time highly unequal. Democratic governments
are responsive to their people, but they are most responsive to the
most powerful of them. These are the constituencies that keep their
leaders in power. This pattern is clearly visible in major democracies
such as the United States and India. Thus, while Sen is correct in
observing that acute famines are virtually nonexistent in democracies,
he overlooks the fact that they continue to have extensive chronic
malnutrition among their poor.
may tend to be more equitable in the sense of having less extreme
divisions between top and bottom, but all states have substantial
inequalities in fact. Drèze and Sen speak of "the importance of public
accountability in making it hard for a government to allow a famine to
develop". The unfortunate fact is that in all societies, including
democracies, governments tend to be more "accountable"--more
responsive--to those who are more powerful. Those who are politically
weak tend to be ignored, except when those who are relatively powerful
speak out in their behalf.
Democracies such as the United States and India do not have famines, but
they do have widespread chronic undernutrition. We can explain this, and
still save Sen’s concept, by acknowledging that these democracies-as-lived
are imperfect. They are not fully egalitarian, but are more responsive to
those of their people who are richer and more powerful. There is government
accountability to the people, but not uniformly. Democracies have the same
flaw as other political systems: they tend to be more responsive to those
who are powerful than to those who are needy. We see this in their economic
systems, their social systems, their educational systems—indeed, in every
quarter of society. Even programs designed for the poor tend to favor the
more capable among the poor. This pattern of democracy-as-lived may be
described as elite democracy, to distinguish it from truly egalitarian ideal
Thus we come to
an explanation for chronic malnutrition. We can understand the
persistent and widespread chronic malnutrition in the world, within
countries and internationally, as a concrete manifestation of the
persistent and widespread disparities in power in the world. Weaker
people have weaker entitlements, and thus will always have a
disproportionately small share of the earth’s abundant produce. Some
individuals will enjoy meals costing hundreds of dollars, and thus
command the labor of many others, and at the same time other
individuals will squat before nearly empty rice bowls.
governments are not very responsive to the weaker segments of their
populations. In much the same way, the international community is
skewed against the weaker nations of the world. Explicitly stated human
rights, affirmed in the law, accompanied by distinct mechanisms of
implementation and of accountability, contribute to counterbalancing
this bias in social systems. Thus, a well-developed human rights system
is not an add-on luxury; it is an integral part of any social system
that aspires to be truly egalitarian. It is essential to good
On related issues, also by George Kent, see "Blaming the Victim, Globally" (214 kb in Word).
1997-1999 Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1,084 kb in PDF) summarised Israeli humanitarian relief operations including work in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Jordan, and Russia. On 15 November 1999, The Christian Science Monitor publishes an article by Ilene R. Prusher on the "quiet diplomacy" consequences of Israeli search-and-rescue teams conducting emergency response operations around the world.
27 March 2007. A sewage flood inundates parts of Gaza City, killing several people. The Israeli army offers to help for search and rescue. Suggestions are made that, after Hamas won the January 2006 elections in Palestine and international aid funding was reduced, this sewage project--and other development projects--were neglected, leading to disaster risk reduction concerns which manifested in this disaster. BBC Reports.
May 2010 to October 2011 Israel and Turkey have traditionally been on friendly terms. On 31 May 2010 in international waters, Israel soldiers boarded a Turkey-linked ship aiming to break Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. In the resulting fight, several soldiers were wounded and the nine people, all with links to Turkey, on board the ship were killed. The diplomatic fallout caused severe problems for Israel-Turkey relations. In November-December 2010, wildfires killed over 40 people in northern Israel. Turkey sent assistance, but relations did not improve. On 23 October 2011, hundreds died in an earthquake in Eastern Turkey. Turkey initially declined offers of international assistance and then relented, including accepting assistance from Israel on 25 October 2011. No change in Israel-Turkey relations was noticed as a result of either the fires in Israel or the earthquake in Turkey.
Bar-Dayan, Y., P. Beard, D. Mankuta, A. Finestone, Y. Wolf, C. Gruzman, Y. Levy, P. Benedek, M. Van Rooyen, and G. Martonovits. 2000. "An Earthquake Disaster in Turkey: An Overview of the Experience of the Israeli Defence Forces Field Hospital in Adapazari". Disasters, vol. 24, no. 3, pp. 262-270
Beck, A.A. 2015. "Building bridges: The role of disaster diplomacy". Crisis Response Journal, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 42-43.
Karp, E., G. Sebbag, J. Peiser, O. Dukhno, A. Ovnat, I. Levy, E. Hyam, A. Blumenfeld, Y. Kluger, D. Simon, and G. Shaked. 2007. "Mass casualty incident after the Taba terrorist attack: an organisational and medical challenge". Disasters, vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 104-112.
Schalimtzek, A. and I. Fischhendler. "Dividing the cost burden of environmental services: the Israeli-Palestinian wastewater regime". Environmental Politics, vol. 18, no. 4, 612-632.
Mekong River (suggested by Bastien Affeltranger)
Bastien Affeltranger has summarised his work on Floodproof diplomacy? Data Exchange and Flood Forecasting on the Mekong" (112 kb in PDF). This work examines hydrological cooperation on the
Mekong River basin, focusing on the production and circulation of
hydrological and meteorological data for flood forecasting purposes.
Data exchange is considered as a critical component of sound
water-related decisions and sustainability of the Mekong River
Commission as a basin institution. The research aims to identify the
technical and political conditions and constraints to circulating
hydrological data in particular. A key consideration is that lack of
data weakens the institutional capacity (technically and politically)
of environmental regimes such as basin organisations. Research results
are also expected to devise incentives likely to foster data exchange
at both national and international levels.
Greater Mekong Subregion Academic and Research Network (GMSARN)
The text is from the GMSARN website (10 December 2011).
"GMSARN enhances the roles and functions of academic and research institutions in the Greater Mekong Subregion to take part in project evaluation and development planning for achieving truly self-reliant and sustainable development of the GMS in the long run. Through multi-disciplinary research and joint activities, various complex problems covering both cross-border issues and other issues that are common to GMS countries are resolved, scientifically and objectively.
Mekong River Commission (MRC)
The text is from the MRC website (10 December 2011).
"The Mekong River Commission (MRC) is the only inter-governmental agency that works directly with the governments of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam on their common specific interests—joint management of shared water resources and sustainable development of the Mekong River. As a regional facilitating and advisory body governed by water and environment ministers of the four countries, the MRC aims to ensure that the Mekong water is developed in the most efficient manner that mutually benefits all Member Countries and minimises harmful effects on people and the environment in the Lower Mekong Basin."
By Ben Wisner (7 April 2004):
Recent flash flooding in Rio Pedras, Mexico, across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas might be an instance of disaster diplomacy. Within 15 minutes, a tributary of the Rio Grande rose 8 meters. At least 37 people died, many of them elderly. U.S. Border Patrol helicopters were used for search and rescue. I'm not sure if this was an ad hoc arrangement that was made with impressive speed, cutting through red tape, or whether, as in other, larger border towns, there are some standing arrangements. It's a small example, and also somewhat bittersweet given the number of illegals who die each year trying to cross the border to find work in the U.S. (probably at least 200-300 each year).
By Ilan Kelman (9 May 2007)
On 24 April 2007,
tornadoes killed seven people in Rosita Valley, Texas on the Mexican
border. The clean-up was significantly helped by the neighbouring town
of Piedras Negras in Mexico which provided several trucks along with
personnel, even though Piedras Negras was also hit by the tornadoes and
suffered three fatalities. Aside from the cross-border disaster, the
disaster diplomacy dimension is poignant because this border area is
watching the American federal government build a wall along the
frontier in order to keep out immigrants, despite the locals'
unhappiness with this policy and the strong cultural connections
between both sides of the border. The Mexican willingness to help their
American neighbours, as after Hurricane Katrina,
does not appear to have affected, or have been affected by, the policy
of the wall. Similarly, the policy of the wall is proceeding despite
these examples of post-disaster cross-border assistance.
By Ilan Kelman (25 July 2008)
On 23 July 2008,
Category 2 Hurricane Dolly made landfall in Texas near the Mexican
border. Severe flooding resulted across the region and one person was
electrocuted in the border town of Matamoros, Mexico after stepping on
a submerged power line while wading through flood water. Including
some questions from Ben Wisner, this case study would be an excellent
opportunity not only to examine differences in all disaster-related
activities across a border, but also the extent (or lack thereof) of
cooperation across a border which one state, the USA, is trying to seal
even further. Did authorities on each side of the border communicate
regarding the hurricane? Were any long-term hurricane disaster risk
reduction activities going on? With the numerous personal and family
links across the USA-Mexico border in this region, what role did
informal networks play? Did response authorities on one side of the
border assist on the other side? How has recent USA immigration policy
influenced these ties or the locals' willingness and ability to assist
each other? Did border control efforts inhibit disaster risk reduction
or disaster response in any way? Given the overwhelming response to
supporting research after Hurricane Katrina, it is a shame that similar attention is not accorded to this situation which would provide significant insights into cross-border disaster risk reduction and disaster diplomacy at multiple levels.
By Ilan Kelman (2 July 2010)
On 20 April 2010, a BP drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded leading to one of the worst unintentional oil spills in history, up to that time. The U.S.A.'s efforts to contain the spill and to repair the damage took several months, with Mexico amongst the countries offering assistance. Then, on 30 June 2010, Hurricane Alex, which had interfered with the clean-up efforts, made its second landfall just south of the Mexico-U.S.A. border as a category 2 storm. Some border towns experienced major flooding.
Clifford, R.A. 1956. The Rio Grande flood; a comparative study of border communities in disaster. Publication No. 458, National Academy of Sciences - National Research Council, Washington, D.C., U.S.A.
Collins, T.W. 2010. "Marginalization, Facilitation, and the Production of Unequal Risk: The 2006 Paso del Norte Floods". Antipode, vol. 42, no. 2, pp. 258-288.
Norman, L.M., H. Huth, L. Levick, I.S. Burns, D.P. Guertin, F. Lara-Valencia and D. Semmens. 2010. "Flood hazard awareness and hydrologic modelling at Ambos Nogales, United States-Mexico border". Journal of Flood Risk Management, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 151-165.
Olson, R.S. and V.T. Gawronski. 2003. "Disasters as Critical Junctures? Managua, Nicaragua 1972 and Mexico City 1985". International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 5-35.
Mexican truck and workers helping clean up tornado damage in Rosita Valley, Texas.
(Copyright Ilan Kelman 2007.)
Middle East Seismicity
Middle East Regional Cooperation (MERC)
The text is from MERC (10 January 2002):
"Earthquake Hazard Assessments for Building Codes
The overall aim and specific objective is to produce maps and charts that will provide the necessary seismological data for the implementation of building codes and regulations in Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian National Authority. In order to achieve this overall aim we shall conduct studies and surveys to obtain:
1. A unified catalogue of earthquakes.
2. Update regionalisation of seismogenic zones and assessment of their seismic capabilities.
3. Scaling laws of dynamic source parameters of local and regional earthquakes and attenuation of seismic energy across the region.
4. Implement state of the art procedures for earthquake hazard assessments and testing new approaches (e.g. a modification of the SEEH (SvE) method).
5. Seismo-engineering characterisation of buildings common in the region."
MERC is funded by USAID.
Middle East Seismological Forum (MESF)
The text is from MESF (4 December 2011):
"MESF is a Non-Profit Scientific Cyber Forum that provides a One-Stop Web Source for authoritative earthquake information on the Middle Eastern Region’s seismicity, seismologists and ongoing scientific activities for a better interaction and integration with the international seismological communities."
Segalla, S.D. 2012. "The 1959 Moroccan oil poisoning and US Cold War disaster diplomacy". The Journal of North African Studies, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 315-336.
Segalla, S.D. 2016. "Natural Disaster, Globalization, and Decolonization: the Case of the 1960 Agadir Earthquake". Chapter 4, pp. 101-127 in P. Lorcin and T. Shepard (eds.), French Mediterraneans: Transnational and Imperial Histories, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, U.S.A.
Bommer, J. 1985. The politics of disaster - Nicaragua. Disasters, vol. 9, no. 4, pp. 270-278.
de Boer, J.Z. and D.T. Sanders. 2005. "The 1972 Managua Earthquake: Catalyst for Revolution". Chapter 10, pp. 221-241 in J.Z. de Boer and D.T. Sanders, Earthquakes in Human History: The Far-Reaching Effects of Seismic Disruptions, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, U.S.A.
Hurricane Mitch (suggested by Michael Glantz)
Olson, R.S. and V.T. Gawronski. 2003. "Disasters as Critical Junctures? Managua, Nicaragua 1972 and Mexico City 1985". International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 5-35.
Southeast Asia Regional Haze
Brauer, M. and J. Hisham-Hashim. 1998. "Fires in Indonesia: Crisis and reaction". Environmental Science and Technology, vol. 32, no. 17, pp. 404A-407A.
Islam, Md S., Y.H. Pei, and S. Mangharam. 2016. "Trans-Boundary Haze Pollution in Southeast Asia: Sustainability through Plural Environmental Governance". Sustainability, vol. 8, no. 499, pp. 1-13.
Zhang, R., G. Li, J. Fan, D.L. Wu, and M.J. Molina. 2007. "Intensification of Pacific storm track linked to Asian pollution". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 104, no. 13, pp. 5295-5299.
10 June 2002. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) signs a pact to jointly combat regional transborder haze. The ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (272 kb in PDF) was accompanied by the following Press Release:
ASEAN Signs Agreement to Tackle Haze
ASEAN Secretariat - Asean Secretariat, Jakarta, 10 June 2002
Governments of the member countries of the Association of Southeast
Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed today the Asean Agreement on Transboundary
Haze Pollution. The Haze Agreement is the first such regional
arrangement in the world, which binds a group of contiguous states to
tackle transboundary haze pollution resulting from land and forest
The Haze Agreement, signed by the ASEAN Environment Ministers, provides
a legal basis for the ongoing activities of the Regional Haze Action
Plan (RHAP) to deal with haze arising from land and forest fires in the
region. These include timely and more accurate weather forecast and
early warning measures, strict enforcement of existing laws and
enactment of new laws to regulate open burning, training of prosecution
and law enforcement officers, development of preventive tools such as
GIS database and fire danger rating systems, information management
through the ASEAN Haze Action On-line website, and mitigation efforts
in member countries.
The Agreement obligates member countries to (1) co-operate in
developing and implementing measures to prevent, monitor, and mitigate
transboundary haze pollution by controlling sources of land and/or
forest fires, establishment of early warning systems, exchange of
information and technology, and the provision of mutual assistance; (2)
respond promptly to a request for relevant information sought by a
state or states that are or may be affected by such transboundary haze
pollution when the transboundary haze pollution originates from within
their territories; and (3) take legal, administrative and/ or other
measures to implement their obligations under the Agreement.
The signatory states shall also facilitate the transit through their
respective territories of duly notified personnel, equipment and
materials involved or used in firefighting, search and rescue and other
activities requested by a third Party.
The Haze Agreement provides for the establishment of an Asean
Coordinating Centre for Transboundary Haze Pollution Control to
facilitate cooperation and coordination in managing the impact of land
and forest fires, in particular haze pollution arising from such fires.
The Agreement was negotiated from March to September 2001. Such speedy
conclusion of a regional legal instrument is testimony to ASEAN’s
resolve to deal with regional problems constructively, no matter how
complex it may be.
ASEAN expressed deep appreciation to the financial, legal and technical expertise provided by the United Nations Environment Programme and financial support of the Hanns Seidel Foundation for the negotiation of this Agreement.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is composed of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam.
Haze between Singapore (foreground) and Malaysia (background).
(Copyright Ilan Kelman 2013.)
Southern Africa and the 2002 to 2003 famine
Full BBC Coverage.
- 31 May 2002. Zimbabwe rejects American GMO food aid. BBC Coverage.
- 17 August 2002. Zambia rejects American GMO food aid. BBC Coverage.
- 21 August 2002. Head of USAID accuses Mugabe of causing famine. BBC Coverage.
- 23 August 2002. WFP wants countries to accept GMO food aid. BBC Coverage.
- 3 September 2002. Zambia calls GMO food aid "poison". BBC Coverage.
- 6 September 2002. Deal reached for Zimbabwe accepting GMO food aid. BBC Coverage.
- 8 September 2002. Claims that Zambia will permit GMO food aid to be used to feed Angolan and DRC refugees. BBC Coverage.
- 11 September 2002. Zambia denies claims that GMO food aid will be allowed for refugees. BBC Coverage.
- 29 October 2002. Zambia again rejects GMO food aid. BBC Coverage.
- 31 October 2002. USA criticises Zambia over GMO food aid stance. BBC Coverage.
- 6 November 2002. Zambia asks why aid workers distributed GMO food aid in refugee camps. BBC Coverage.
- 14 November 2002. BBC Summary and Analysis.
By Ilan Kelman (17 August 2002):
The refusal in
August 2002 of Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Mozambique to accept food aid
which contains or might contain genetically modified items raises
poignant disaster and development questions. Is it a case of
exacerbating the short-term/acute disaster of famine in order to avert
the long-term/chronic disaster of GM crops contaminating local crops?
Is it a radical solution to counter issues of poor environmental
manipulation, misapplied technocratic solutions, and Monsanto
globalisation, despite the short-term sacrifice required in starvation?
Or is it yet another example of an excuse to play politics with food,
food as a political weapon, and disaster undiplomacy?
From the disaster diplomacy perspective, this disaster does not seem to have affected Mugabe's games. Useful insights might be gleaned from an analysis of
the current situation and comparison with Ailsa Holloway's analysis of drought diplomacy in southern Africa. Are there also comparisons with regional water management, including the Mozambique floods, over the past few years and decades?
Back to the
current famine, to what extent is the conflict over GM aid dominated by
donor countries' views that any aid is acceptable? USAID's Andrew
Natsios seems to take the stance that Africa should accept all
proffered aid, irrespective of other criteria. In interviews, he
implied that no right to refuse aid exists and it is typical arrogance
to assume that what is good for the USA is good for everyone else in
I believe that
the disaster management community has gone beyond this attitude. Aid
and assistance must be socially and culturally acceptable and must be
sensitive to the needs of the beneficiary. During the Mt. Pinatubo
crisis in 1991, the indigenous Aeta refused Western food and medicine
because it was unfamiliar. Many died in camps. Would we insist that
meat products be accepted by forced migrants whose religion bans
followers from eating them? Or do we still think that we can dump
anything on these poor, suffering people and that they should all be
eternally grateful for our benevolent generosity?
Perhaps the USA
is playing politics with food? Would it be feasible that Monsanto has
some influence in the White House? Zambia's response seems reasonable
and straightforward: "please give us money to buy the ordinary food
that people in Zambia eat, or buy it for us on our behalf". Why is
USAID not doing so?
nbsp; I am also
disappointed by some of the reporting on this issue, such as claiming
that southern Africa is facing severe food shortages caused by erratic
rains and floods. Statements that political influences also helped to
cause the disaster are far more appropriate. We must never forget the
vulnerability contribution to disaster.
By George Kent (19 August 2002):
Ilan raises some very important issues here about the use of genetically modified foods in humanitarian assistance. There is fault to be found on the part of both the donor government (USA) and the receiving governments (Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe). Both appear to be engaged in GMO politics while people go hungry.
Since the debate over genetically modified foods is still raging, I think the operative principle ought to be informed choice on the part of the final consumer. That is, the people who are the end users should be free to decide, but on the basis of the best available information. Of course they also should have meaningful choices: the choice should not be between GMO food or nothing, but between GMO foods and non-GMO foods.
It is true that there is an obligation to take account of the preferences and cultural norms of the recipients. This is clearly indicated in:
United Nations Economic and Social Council, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Substantive Issues Arising in the Implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: General Comment 12 (Twentieth Session, 1999) The Right to Adequate Food (art. 11), (Geneva: ECOSOC E/C.12/1999/5).
Paragraph 11 speaks of the need to consider acceptability: "Cultural or consumer acceptability implies the need also to take into account, as far as possible, perceived non nutrient-based values attached to food and food consumption and informed consumer concerns regarding the nature of accessible food supplies".
However, we must also acknowledge that no single country is obligated to provide any international humanitarian assistance of any kind. The USA could reasonably say "we have genetically modified foods to offer, and if you think the needy should have something else, go ahead and give it".
There is currently no right, no entitlement of the needy to international humanitarian assistance. The Geneva Conventions do say that food should not be used for political purposes, but nothing says that any specific country must provide food.
In an article on "The human right to disaster mitigation and relief" (2001, Environmental Hazards, vol. 3, pp. 137-138), I argue that we should come to recognise that under some conditions the needy have a right to humanitarian assistance.
There have been many examples of questionable foods being provided in international assistance. For example, when wheat is supplied to rice-consuming peoples, there is the suspicion that part of the donor's purpose is to convert the recipients into bread eaters. Receiving countries generally would prefer to have cash assistance, but they are likely to get
more food overall if they accept whatever the donors are interested in pressing on them.
I think disaster specialists should focus on the broader question of when and how the needy should be viewed as having a right to assistance, and leave the specific debate over genetically modified foods to be resolved by others.
By Patrick Burnett (November 2002):
Death, Starvation and Political Affiliation in Zimbabwe" (216 kb in Word)
Sri Lanka Floods
By Ilan Kelman (21 May 2003):
In May 2003, Sri Lanka was hit by devastating floods, reported as being the worst in 50 years. Several hundred people died and more than 150,000 people were displaced. Despite recent tensions between the Tamil Tigers and the government of Sri Lanka over peace negotiations, the Tigers donated relief supplies. BBC Coverage.
The news story suggests that the significance of the gesture is far more important the impact of the actual donation--a classic case of disaster diplomacy.
Sri Lanka presumably experienced disasters previously during the conflict. Did the Tigers assist in any way during such events or did they use disasters to their advantage? If the May 2003 floods are the first case of the Tigers actively assisting Sinhalese areas during a disaster, then further support is provided for the view that disaster can assist but not start diplomatic processes. Otherwise, Sri Lanka might be a good disaster diplomacy case study.
Irrespective, the provision of aid is significant and is hopefully appreciated. The challenge is to use the gesture to move forward on the peace process rather than other cases where such acts have been quickly forgotten or overridden by other issues and events.
By Rob Taylor (23 March 2008) posted on Alertnet:
Heavy rains in Sri Lanka have killed eight people and affected more than 340,000 others while restricting military gains over rebels in the country's worsening civil war, the military said on Sunday.
Unusually heavy torrential rains have caused widespread flooding and landslides in eastern agricultural and rice-growing areas, as well as in the north where the military has launched a fresh offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels.
Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanyakkara said the offensive against the Tigers was continuing, but flooding had caused supply bottlenecks.
Autesserre, Séverine. 2002. "United States 'Humanitarian Diplomacy' in South Sudan". Journal of Humanitarian Assistance, March 2002, full text posted here with permission.
Holcombe, A. 1987. "Reaching beyond famine relief: Planning a strategy for
rehabilitation and development in Darfur Region, western Sudan". GeoJournal, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 11-18.
Myhrvold-Hanssen, T. discusses the 1986-1989 famine in Sudan and its relationship to democratic government in his paper posted at the case study of India and the 1966 to 1967 Bihar Famine.
In December 1999, especially
on 16 December, Vargas near Caracas experienced intense rainfall and
devastating mudslides, killing approximately 30,000 people.
Fassin, D. and P. Vasquez. 2005. "Humanitarian exception as the rule: The political theology of the 1999 Tragedia in Venezuela". American Ethnologist, vol. 32, no. 3, pp. 389-405.
"Along with more than $7 million in donations collected during the
first five days of the disaster--which, according to the local press,
bore witness to the Venezuelan people's generosity--international
contributions were seen as so many 'gestures of friendship' (El Nacional
1999). The governments of the United States and France were the first
aid, followed by the UN Development Programme, the Inter-American
Development Bank, and nongovernmental organizations, led by Caritas.
This demonstration of international solidarity with the victims was
hardly dented by Chávez's highly symbolic decision to deny U.S. ships
berthing rights in Venezuelan waters, in the name of national
sovereignty." (p. 397).
El Nacional. 1999. "Solidaridad total". El Nacional, December 21. Section: Editorial, Primera página.
- In September 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the USA. Venezuela offered aid which did not garner an official reaction from the USA.
Disaster Casualty Identification
Karp, E., G. Sebbag, J. Peiser, O. Dukhno, A. Ovnat, I. Levy, E. Hyam, A. Blumenfeld, Y. Kluger, D. Simon, and G. Shaked. 2007. "Mass casualty incident after the Taba terrorist attack: an organisational and medical challenge". Disasters, vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 104-112.
McEntire, D., A.A. Sadiq, and K. Gupta. 2012. "Unidentified Bodies and Mass-Fatality Management in Haiti: A Case Study of the January 2010 Earthquake with a Cross-Cultural Comparison". International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, vol. 30, no. 3, pp. 301-327.
Merli, C. and T. Buck. 2015. Forensic identification and identity politics in 2004 post-tsunami Thailand: Negotiating dissolving boundaries. Human Remains and Violence, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 3-22.
Plass Data. c. 2011. DVI System International Disaster Victim Identification. Plass Data Software A/S, Holbaek, Demmark.
Scanlon, J. 2006. "Dealing with the Tsunami Dead: Unprecedented International Co-operation". Australian Journal of Emergency Management, vol. 21, no. 2, pp. 57-61.
Solheim, T. and A. van den Bos. 1982. "International Disaster Identification Report. Investigative and Dental Aspects." American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 63-67.
van den Bos A. 1980. "Mass identification: A multidisciplinary operation. The Dutch experience." American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 265-270.
van den Bos, A. 1981. "International Cooperation in Disaster Victim Identification". Journal of the Forensic Science Society, vol. 21, no. 2, pp. 88 (abstract only).
van den Bos, A. 1983. "International Cooperation in Disaster Victim Identification". Journal of the Forensic Science Society, vol. 23, no. 2, pp. 162-163.
Disaster Science Diplomacy
Kelman, I. 2017. "Governmental duty of care for disaster-related science diplomacy". Disaster Prevention and Management, vol. 26, no. 4, pp. 412-423.
Kelman, I. and C. Kaltofen. 2019. "Exploring the duty of care in science diplomacy: Challenges for secure states in an insecure world". Chapter 4, pp. 53-71 in N. Græger and H. Leira (eds.), The Duty of Care in International Relations: Protecting Citizens Beyond the Border, Routledge, Abingdon, U.K.
Kontar, Y.Y., Tom Beer, Paul A. Berkman, John C. Eichelberger, Alik Ismail-Zadeh, Ilan Kelman, John L. LaBrecque, A. Ester Sztein, and Yulia Zaika. 2018. "Disaster-related Science Diplomacy: Advancing Global Resilience through International Scientific Collaborations". Science & Diplomacy, vol. 7, no. 2 (June), https://www.sciencediplomacy.org/article/2018/disaster-related-sciencediplomacy-advancing-global-resilience-through-international
Discrimination in Disaster Aid (suggested by George Kent)
Could potential disaster diplomacy outcomes, and their ultimate success or failure, be influenced by the culture, race, ethnicity, or religion of the parties (e.g. countries or political groups) involved? Would successful disaster diplomacy be more likely when the parties are from similar groups, due to empathy? Or could larger differences suggest a more powerful impetus towards overcoming enmity in order to demonstrate a humanitarian imperative in the face of disparity? One aspect of this issue which could be explored are case studies where racism, sexism, and other biases were evident in the disaster assistance proffered to survivors.
Central America. Hurricane Mitch.
India. Following the 26 January 2001 earthquake as part of the India/Pakistan
case study, allegations were made that aid was withheld from lower castes at the local level because of the view that those people did not deserve to receive any help.
Indian Ocean Tsunami 26 December 2004.
In Sri Lanka and Aceh, the warring groups accused each other of inhibiting aid operations. Were any differences observed in the amount or type of aid received by countries, due to criteria other than need? If not, what went right?
Kosovo. In 1999, Kosovar refugees were treated far better than refugees in Africa were being treated in issues such as food, medical care, and shelter.
U.S.A. In 2005, following Hurricane Katrina, suggestions were made that the poor response and relief efforts in the immediate aftermath of the disaster were because most of the people who needed assistance were black.
How would the patterns for international disaster aid compare to the patterns for domestic disaster aid?
Global Seismic Hazard Assessment Program
The Global Seismic Hazard Assessment Program (GSHAP) ran from 1992-1998 to promote a regionally coordinated, homogeneous approach to seismic hazard evaluation. GSHAP examined some test areas in conflict zones including the Caucasus and India-China-Tibet.
The map from the Global Seismic Hazard Assessment Program (GSHAP).
Plenty of ongoing efforts exist to monitor and track Near-Earth Objects (NEOs), with international scientific collaboration, although little is provided on potential disaster diplomacy implications. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) works on international cooperation for astronomy while the United Nations Office For Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) has worked on international cooperation for dealing with NEOs.
International cooperation could form the basis for linkages amongst countries which normally would not consider working together. When political decisions on NEOs must be made--for example related to monitoring NEOs, sharing information, planning for a crisis, preventing an impact, or responding to an impact--these scientific linkages have the potential for leading to interaction at higher political levels: the spillover mentioned in the Preface to Kelman and Koukis (2000).
The Kaali meteorite crater on the island of Saaremaa, Estonia, created within the last several thousand years.
(Copyright Ilan Kelman 2008.)
The material on the disaster diplomacy website is provided as only an information source. Neither definitive advice nor recommendations are implied. Each person or organisation accessing the website is responsible for making their own assessment of the topics discussed and are strongly advised to verify all information. No liability will be accepted for loss or damage incurred as a result of using the material on this website. The appearance of external links on this website does not constitute endorsement of the organisations, information, products, or services contained on that external website.