Disaster Conflicts Essay

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Natural Disaster Conflicts1 Rakhi Bhavnani Harvard University Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 rakhi@post.harvard.edu February 2006 1 The author would like to thank Doug Bond, Joe Bond, Jennifer Leaning, and Gary King for comments on this project. Abstract This paper explores the effect of natural disasters on conflict. Disasters disrupt daily lives and social systems and call into question prevailing social and political arrangements. Directly and indirectly they create the conditions for instability and conflict by exacerbating social grievances and resource scarcities, and accelerating changes in social systems. Despite a plethora of studies in the disaster realm, however, negligible attention has been devoted to the study of conflict in the aftermath of a natural disaster. This study takes a preliminary step in that direction, analyzing the wide range of environmental, social, spatial, political, and psychological effects of natural disasters in both conflict-ridden and conflict-free areas of the world. Building on the findings and conclusions of disaster and conflict scholarship, together with natural disaster and event data covering the period of 1991-1999, the linkages between natural disasters and conflict are tested statistically within a multivariate model. This paper finds that natural disasters are important factors in explaining social conflict. The analysis both validates the traditional determinants of conflict and indicates the importance of incorporating system shocks such as natural disasters. 1. Introduction Natural disasters are much more than environmental events. They have profound political, environmental, social, spatial, and psychological consequences. A natural disaster unearths and challenges the power structure of an affected society, disrupting livelihood strategies and deconstructing social arrangements. Researchers
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