Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Disaster Governance in Conflict-Affected Authoritarian Contexts: The Cases of Ethiopia, Myanmar, and Zimbabwe

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Abstract:  Disaster governance in conflict areas is of growing academic concern, but most existing research comprises either single case studies or studies of a variety of country contexts that group all types of conflict together. Based on three case studies, this article offers a middle-ground scenario-based approach, focusing on disaster governance in authoritarian contexts experiencing low-intensity conflict. Low-intensity conflict is characterized by intense political tensions and violence that is more readily expressed in ways other than direct physical harm. Inspired by Olson’s (2000) maxim that disasters are intrinsically political, this article explores the politics of disaster response by asking what is at stake and what happened, unpacking these questions for state, civil society, and international humanitarian actors. Using data from a total of one year of qualitative fieldwork, the article analyzes disaster governance in 2016 drought-ridden Ethiopia, marked by protests and a State of Emergency; 2015 flooded Myanmar, characterized by explosive identity politics; and 2016–2019 drought-ridden Zimbabwe, with its intense socioeconomic and political turbulence. The study’s findings show how framing and power processes in disaster governance—comprising state and non-state actors—largely lean toward the state, with the consequence that political interests, rather than needs assessments, steer who and what will be protected from disaster impact.

Keywords:  authoritarianism; conflict; disaster response; Ethiopia; governance; humanitarian; Myanmar; politics; Zimbabwe



© Isabelle Desportes, Dorothea Hilhorst. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.