Dual Disasters: Humanitarian Aid after the 2004 Tsunami
Kumarian Press, Sterling, VA, 2011. pp. xvii, 171.
Jennifer Hyndman sets an ambitious goal in this slim volume, nothing less than a re-examination of the way in which humanitarian aid is provided in the light of the increasing complexity of humanitarian disasters. The international response to the tsunami, which struck countries around the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004, provides the starting point for her analysis, but the scope of the book is broader than the impact of the tsunami alone. The bulk of the empirical material comes from Sri Lanka and the Indonesian province of Aceh, both locations where terrible devastation as a result of the tsunami coincided with ongoing separatist conflicts. This combination of political and environmental emergencies leads to the characterization "dual disasters" that forms the central theme of the book. This clear, straightforward term encapsulates a complex and detailed argument and is sure to be widely cited.
The core of the argument is that environmental emergencies and politically focused conflict have much in common and (in contrast to the common characterization of specifically natural disasters) both may be exacerbated by human action. The notion that there is no such thing as a purely natural disaster is now widely accepted but it is given new force here through the comparison of Sri Lanka and Aceh. In Aceh, the tsunami was a "key catalyst" (p. 105) for a peace agreement which ended the decades long conflict and still holds. In Sri Lanka, in contrast, the central agreement to deliver assistance to areas of the country controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam broke down. The tsunami was followed by a gradual resumption of conflict which escalated to a catastrophic end in 2009 with what an official UN report has since estimated was as many as 40,000 civilian casualties.
Systematic comparative analysis of the two contexts is deliberately avoided. Hyndman anticipates and avoids any potential criticism that she is using the nation-state as a unit of analysis, which such a comparison would inevitably involve. Rather, she emphasizes the significance of scale, incorporating multiple scales into her analysis, from the individual human body (an analysis of the changing status of widows) to global political economy (discussion of the securitization of international aid). All of the analysis is empirically informed...