In 2011, a prolonged drought, and food and political insecurity in the horn of Africa led to a full-scale humanitarian crisis. In 2019, a severe drought coupled with conflict left 8.7 million people in Somalia and South Sudan at risk of severe food insecurity. Fuelled by climate change, this convergence is now more common in many parts of the world. A combination of natural hazards, conflict and social fragility is a recipe for human suffering.
When disasters and conflicts collide, a recent report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), states that such situations pose particular challenges for governments and development agencies as poverty is expected to be highly concentrated in fragile and conflict-affected states by 2025.
Leave no one behind
Katie Peters, senior research fellow with ODI said, “At the moment the evidence says that 58% of deaths from natural hazard-related disasters, occur in the top 30 fragile states. So, there’s what we call colocation of disasters in fragile states.” This phenomenon, she continued, is driven by the lack of structure and order that would support disaster risk reduction programmes and emergency response.
The report makes recommendations for disaster risk reduction programming that leaves no one behind, including interventions which Katie describes as going beyond people’s comfort zones.
“To some DRR (Disaster Risk Reduction) stakeholders, they should be actively trying to work in areas that are under control of non-state armed groups – this may sound controversial but if we are serious about inclusive DRR, then we have to reach such people.”
Conflicts, fragility and COVID-19
As the world battles COVID-19, Katie observes that the pandemic has illustrated the need to tackle conflict and disaster risks concurrently. Citing the examples of Colombia, Cameroon and the Philippines, she said the global ceasefire appeal by UN Secretary General António Guterres back in March 2020 has had some positive outcomes in these countries, including new humanitarian collaborations in response to the pandemic and local level initiatives promoting cooperation and cohesion.
Conflict and fragile contexts persist in some parts of Africa, including Nigeria, and we asked Katie for some tips on reporting on COVID-19 in such contexts. She notes that there are stories that haven’t yet been told, most importantly those that touch on community interpretation of government risk communication.
“What we haven’t seen enough of is reporting that helps us understand the way different individuals are waring out different risks. It is good to have government advice but not everyone will be able to follow it and I think it boils down to the different trade-offs that individuals have to deal with” she said.
She gave the example of communities in Colombia faced with difficult decisions of staying home in conflict zones. “They have to weigh between staying at home and potentially reduce their exposure to COVID or move and essentially move from a conflict area.” Understanding such trade-offs, she says, will help reporters to report more comprehensively on government response to COVID-19.
“Individuals are not just listening to advice about COVID, they are weighing it up against everything else in their lives and if we are to deal with the pandemic effectively, we need to get much better at understanding those decisions that people are weighing up.”
Listen to Tersoo Zamber’s interview with Katie below.