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Evolving disaster intervention strategies

Disaster intervention is not new.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) can trace its own history and that of the original Geneva Conventions back over 150 years (ICRC, 2014). Oxfam was campaigning in 1945 to send food parcels to Germany. Six years later, it was responding to famine in India. A quick look back over the past 50 years will identify numerous major events (conflict, drought, sudden onset disasters and so on) which have affected populations across the globe.

In fact, disaster interventions have been documented far earlier than that. Shahid (2018) describes numerous examples of disaster mitigation and response across the globe, performed at local, national and international levels. Examples include:

  • Defence against natural disasters, for example dams built by Ancient Chinese civilisations to contain floods caused by the Yellow River
  • Monitoring systems, for example the Seismological Society of Japan set up in 1880 following the Yokohama earthquake
  • National responses to localised natural disasters, such as the congressional act of 1803 in which the US federal government provided assistance to a New Hampshire town following a fire
  • The response to the Irish famine of the 1840s, which involved money being sent internationally, including from India and the USA

Your task

The focus of disaster interventions has shifted over time, particularly since the 1960s, driven by an increasing awareness that many disasters are not natural but caused by human factors (Ball, 1975; Bankoff, 2004).

Using this chronology by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, summarise the shift in preferred types of disaster interventions in the comments section, and what the broad limitations might have been of the approach taken in previous decades.


Ball, N. (1975). The myth of the natural disaster. Ecology, 5(10), 368–369

Bankoff, G. (2004). Time is of the essence: disasters, vulnerability and history. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 22(3), 23–42

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC, 2014). 150 years of Humanitarian Action. https://www.icrc.org/en/document/150-years-humanitarian-action-photos-past-and-present-0

Shahid, A. (2018, December 5). Disaster relief in historical perspective: 25 years of UNDAC. The London School of Economics and Political Science. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/lseih/2018/12/05/disaster-relief-in-historical-perspective-25-years-of-undac/

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Disaster Interventions and the Need for Evaluation, Accountability and Learning

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