7 Jun 2022



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Academic level: College

Paper type: Case Study

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Over the years, natural disasters have been increasing regarding their intensity, the level of injuries, number of deaths, and displacing millions of people each year, while simultaneously causing billions of U.S. dollars in damages i . Research has shown that a natural disaster increases the probability of war within the countries that they affect. The question asked is whether natural disasters raises the intensity of pre-existing civil wars. Natural disaster considerably increases the overall risk of the wars and conflicts. 

A study undertaken in the year 2008 by Philip Nel and Marjolein Righarts established that natural calamities especially those related to climate, for instance, earthquakes increases the overall risk of violent civil conflicts. The authors claim that natural disasters have the potential to augment the risk of conflicts and even wars via the testing of a variable they referred to as brevity of peace, which measures a society’s predisposition for conflict over time ii . Based on the author’s argument, natural disasters and civil wars are closely correlated. To them, natural disasters affect the intensity level of pre-existing conflicts. As natural disasters rise, the risk of the rapid civil war within the affected country increases as well. Natural disasters result into severe resource scarcity within the affected regions of countries in these categories, inciting competition for their control. Furthermore, Nel & Righarts asserted that rapid-onset calamities especially those linked to geology and climate often poses a high conflict risk. Their data was acquired from the UPPSALA/PRIO dataset on domestic armed conflict, the EM-DAT, the World Bank, and the Polity IV Project, with country-year observations from 1950 to 2000. The highest levels of competition will revolve around essential resources such as food, water, shelter, medicine, which become scarce after the natural disaster. To survive, people in the affected regions will be tempted to engage in conflicts and wars to access the disputes resources, leading to civil war. 

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When a natural calamity destroys people’s livelihood where they lose all sources of income hence cannot provide for themselves, and their families thus might not be able to engage in war or conflict since they lack core resources. In an area with pre-existing conflicts like a civil war, terrorist activities, the options available would be for this individual to join a faction participating in the battle to gain income, shelter, food, protection hence preventing war and conflict with them. For example, if a severe drought hits the agricultural Sri Lanka, many farmers would lose their crops. The harvest would not result in an adequate product for the farmers to earn a living wage they will have to move to the neighboring community to work and access food and other resources hence reducing the possibilities of conflicts and war. There would then be a significant increase in the labor supply within that area improving their coexistence iii . Some of these people are tempted to join the local insurgent group, as a means of earning income and supporting themselves/their families. Influenced by increasing relevance of the issue of global climate change, a study by Rune T. Slettebak, conducted in 2012, determined that some natural disasters especially those that are related to climate often lower the overall risk of war in the countries that they affect based on data from 1946 - 2008. The study used a model created by Fearon & Laitin in the year 2003, which was modified to test how natural disasters caused by climate changes affect the likelihood of civil war. The findings of his study conflict with much of the argument that supports the idea that the natural disasters such as flooding and earthquake tend to increase the risk of wars and disputes. 

Based on the notion that natural disasters raise the overall risk of the rapid emergence of war it is essential that governments around the world take precautions to reduce their risk of war. To control the risk of mounting development of disasters, governments should seek to eliminate the possibility of natural disaster to withstand natural disasters or reducing risk by building settlements away from areas with high natural disaster frequency. Natural disasters have been shown to upset the order of affected economies, creating some degree of unpreventable chaos. The overall probability of war would be higher in developing economies, where the poverty stricken would be significantly affected, the damage would be greater, and the local government would be less capable of preventing conflict through non-violent measures iv . 

One of the best examples of a situation where natural disasters have led to increased level of conflicts and wars is the case of Somalia. The Somali government is frail where it has been established that the government only controls a limited region of the capital city because of the long-standing wars and conflicts. The country has been unable to effectively respond to various natural disasters such as drought and flooding. It has led the country to experience increased conflict and war with their neighboring countries such as Kenya. If there were no wars and conflicts in Somalia, then it would have followed that the country would have managed the natural disasters affecting them hence preventing disasters and conflicts. A natural disaster has the potential to destroy the livelihoods of millions of people particularly in developing and agrarian economies where their infrastructure to avoid severe damages does not exist. The lack of adequate infrastructure leads to intense competition for a limited number of resources to the affected population. 


i Bergholt, Drago, and Päivi Lujala. "Climate-related natural disasters, economic growth, and armed civil conflict." Journal of Peace Research 49, no. 1 (2012): 147-162. 

ii Nel, Philip, and Marjolein Righarts. "Natural disasters and the risk of violent civil conflict." International Studies Quarterly 52, no. 1 (2008): 159-185. 

iii Maxwell, John W., and Rafael Reuveny. "Resource scarcity and conflict in developing countries." Journal of peace Research 37, no. 3 (2000): 301-322. 

iv Brancati, Dawn. "Political aftershocks: The impact of earthquakes on intrastate conflict." Journal of Conflict Resolution 51, no. 5 (2007): 715-743. 

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