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Albert Gonzalez Farran / UNAMID

Chapter 15.2 DRR, social crisis and conflict

Implementing disaster risk reduction in insecure contexts

Photo: Albert Gonzalez Farran / UNAMID

Governments and other organisations working in ‘fragile’ or conflict-affected states are often unable to plan and implement DRR or development programmes. Political instability, power struggles and challenges to government authority from political or armed factions undermine the normal processes of decision-making and long-term planning. Hazard-prone regions affected by insecurity or conflict are often neglected. National governments may choose to overlook them because they are too marginal economically, politically or ethnically. Lack of basic services and functioning local infrastructure, such as roads, water and power supplies, makes project implementation more difficult and expensive. Official institutions may be weak, with limited human capacity, technical expertise and material or financial resources, and corruption may be a major challenge. Civil society organisations may lack capacities or be affected by wider divisions in society.

DRR and other sustainable development agendas are likely to be marginalised by what are perceived to be more urgent needs: even in countries and communities affected by both conflict and natural hazards, and where it is acknowledged that conflict and other forms of disaster are linked, it is still common to find conflict management and DRR pursued as independent initiatives, with a lack of coordination between organisations in the field and strategies, programming and assessment carried out independently. Humanitarian assistance agencies can often obtain donor funding in crisis-affected regions, but donors are wary of committing funds to longer-term development or DRR initiatives where the risks are high and the outcomes are perceived to be uncertain. Alternative financing mechanisms for DRR, such as those discussed in Chapter 12, are unlikely to be available, and livelihoods projects may be hampered by difficulties in accessing markets. Security may be a major concern: organisations are often deterred from working in dangerous places because they fear that aid materials and equipment will be destroyed or stolen, and because staff may be put at risk. Security planning and training, together with good risk assessments, are essential to minimise risks, although safety can never be guaranteed. Relationships may have to be built with a number of national, local, official and non-governmental organisations to ensure acceptance and safe access; delicate and protracted negotiations are often required to achieve this. At the same time, external organisations must be perceived as neutral and non-threatening by local groups and factions.+Detailed guidance on aid worker security is provided in another Good Practice Review, Operational Security Management in Violent Environments (revised edition) (London: ODI, 2010), There are a number of training courses for field staff, include those offered by RedR (

DRR practitioners have to adapt their normal programming and ways of working to insecure contexts. They may need to operate on a different scale, for example, or use different entry points where it is impossible to work through government structures, and should be flexible in their approach to programming. As instability or crisis worsens, some types of DRR intervention may no longer be possible, particularly if they require long-term or multi-stakeholder engagement. In extreme situations, the emphasis may have to shift to short-term coping or response mechanisms, with a greater focus on external assistance to individual households in need rather than community-based approaches. Nevertheless, the overall aim should always be to build local capacities for DRR and adaptation. Humanitarian agencies may also need to adjust by implementing longer-term programmes (i.e. lasting years rather than months) in places suffering from protracted crisis.