Disasters, conflict and fragility: A joint agenda

Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery


How can the international community better understand the multi-dimensional nature of risk and crises? How can international partners integrate the implications of this analysis for their own strategies and approaches? How can strategic partnerships be strengthened in future engagements in fragile and conflict-affected countries? This paper provides an analysis on current thinking about the intersections between natural disasters, conflict, fragility, and also highlights some lessons from GFDRR’s engagement in fragile and conflict-affected settings.

While evidence suggests the link between disasters and conflict is not causal, it can be mutually reinforcing: there is growing evidence that people and institutions in fragile and conflict-affected states are much more vulnerable to natural hazards. Fragility and conflict must be considered as core drivers of vulnerability for millions of the world’s poorest people. A review of literature identified the following themes as key intersections of disaster, fragility and conflict:

  • The increasing importance of resilience reflects the growing recognition across the international community of the interconnection between different risks and the importance of strengthening the capacity of people, communities and countries to cope with risks, shocks and crises. Translating commitments to resilience into good practice and impact on the ground has proven to be challenging. A new focus on managing risk more holistically has also evolved, with the disaster risk management community calling for development sectors to be risk informed. There is a growing body of literature on how international donors and agencies manage risks in disasters, conflict and fragile contexts, including on risks to their own programmes and institutions, and the financial risks of funding programmes in such contexts.
  • A common thread linking approaches to vulnerability and protection in situations of disaster and conflict is necessary for continued focus on the different ways in which diverse groups of people are affected. Much of the literature agrees that existing vulnerabilities in conflict and fragile contexts are often exacerbated by disasters, and that conflicts can make the impact of disasters worse. Examining the conditions and drivers of vulnerability and associated risks helps to understand how multiple vulnerabilities accumulate and affect specific populations. Protection has been far more prevalent in the international community’s engagement in conflict than in disasters. However, attention to the issues raised in the IASC’s Operational Guidelines for the Protection of IDPs in Natural Disasters are critical in all disaster situations.
  • The literature highlights challenges in managing forced displacement crises and in understanding the drivers of displacement in diverse contexts. Some studies highlight misunderstanding of drivers and patterns as one of the biggest obstacles to addressing root causes and engaging the right resources. Understanding these complex patterns requires analysis from a range of perspectives, including: political economy, land tenure, and psycho-social vulnerability. An increasing number of internally displaced peoples are seeking refuge in urban settings. Cities can amplify risk to individuals, particularly for those living in urban slums.
  • There is a growing body of research on the interface between natural resources management, conflict and peacebuilding, and the effects of climate change on disasters and conflict. Contestation over access to, and control of, natural resources can be a powerful driver for conflict: profits can finance armed conflict and natural resource management often features in peace negotiations. It is necessary to understand natural resources in the context of the local political economy, natural resource rights and entitlements, and the impact on different actors, especially vulnerable groups in relation to livelihoods.
  • Disasters that occur in fragile states can have negative impacts on governance and undermine the capacity of already weak institutions to deliver assistance and services. While there is a lot of evidence on the need to focus on addressing fragility, current efforts remain fragmented. Many studies have stressed the importance of paying careful attention to distinctions within the fragility spectrum and typologies of violence, the characteristics of affected countries and societies, and the willingness of the government and society to engage in development cooperation. Post-tsunami Aceh and post-Cyclone Nargis Myanmar are examples of when a disaster has had a positive impact on statebuilding and peacebuilding, provided there is leadership and political will.


  • Multi-stakeholder partnerships are most effective when they ensure analysis is used to inform the design of interventions, develop shared results-based frameworks and systems, and engage in joint area-based planning and coordination to address specific problems.
  • Disaster reconstruction and recovery can offer windows of opportunity to secure political commitments towards inclusive, resilient and conflict-sensitive recovery.
  • Post-conflict recovery should be linked with disaster risk management and sustainable natural resource management in order to reduce disaster risk and vulnerability. Such efforts could include safeguards to ensure that a conflict-sensitive DRM lens is applied to new investments in a post-conflict society.
  • The integration of DRM into priority sectors in fragile states could serve as an entry point for broader institutional reform in key sectors (health, infrastructure, housing, water and education). While there is a need to intensify work with national governments, it is also important to engage  sub-national and regional government, as these are first-responders to crises and also responsible for the implementation of national policies.


GFDRR. (2016). Disasters, conflict and fragility: A joint agenda. Washington DC: GFDRR