According to the traditional classification, disasters are broken down into two main categories: natural and man-made. Recently, a third category has been introduced in the literature, which is the hybrid type of disasters. Man-made disasters are those catastrophic events which result from human decisions and are usually known as “unnatural.” Natural disasters are catastrophic events resulting from natural causes, such as volcanic eruptions, tornadoes and earthquakes over which man has no control. Hybrid disasters are those which appear to be natural at the first glance, yet the element of human intervention is also detectable.

Most importantly, and regardless of the different definitions and classifications, all disasters have common characteristics including: the existence of a triggering factor (hazard), the element of surprise, the overwhelming nature, the large-scale impact on society and the surrounding environment, the difficulty to manage, the intensive resource requirements, and the long-lasting impact.

A closer look at warfare shows the above-mentioned elements exist, which indicates it should be treated like the other types of disasters, at least conceptually, if there is no practical way of stopping enemies from fighting.

If war is declared, there is no way to escape the consequences. The traditional disaster management cycle consists of four main stages: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. Each of these involves several measures which can be adopted depending on the nature of the disaster. Some disasters necessitate the need for intensifying recovery efforts above the other measures. Others necessitate the adoption of advanced response mechanisms, such as the case of COVID-19 when it inflated like a supernova during a very short period. Many countries around the world, including developed countries, found themselves struggling and in need to impose curfews, lockdowns, and restrictions as immediate response mechanisms.

In the case of war, a greater emphasis should be made on the pre-disaster stage than the post-disaster stage. This implies doubling efforts to reduce the probability of occurrence; that is prevention. Prevention is the stage that precedes a disaster and involves mitigation, negotiation, and reconciliation. Post-event attempts, in the case of war, are very likely to bring the disaster into its “acute” stage and further escalate all the surrounding conditions ending in even more adverse consequences. Several theorists in the field of crisis management argue when the element of hazard is highly observable and outrage level is prevalent between people, communications is one of the effective techniques which can be employed to build common grounds between the combatants.

Conflict resolution is another technique which is highly advisable in this context. It suggests conflict needs to be normalized before it escalates into more destructive behavior. Practically, conflicts begin when one party perceives another party has negatively affected, or is about to negatively affect, something the first party cares about or considers one of its legitimate possessions or belongings. Perhaps, the current Russian-Ukrainian war is an example. No wonder, competition and rivalry can be triggering events for conflict as well.

In the case of war, time is a critical element. The sooner the conflict is resolved the less likely it will escalate. Some disaster management theorists described the early stages prior to disasters as the “golden hour” or a “window of opportunities” – a crucial period prior to an incident which incorporates opportunities for resolution. Windows of opportunity represent all the favorable opportunities only available to opponents for a short time to reach common ground. In other words, windows of opportunity represent a brief period in which more favorable solutions and/or options can be considered, otherwise inevitable is expected. The notion “minutes wasted are minutes lost” is self-expressive.

To recap, warfare is a type of disaster. Still, it has its own distinguishing characteristics. Practically, when war is declared there is no escape except the total submission of consequences – most of which are detrimental. Today, non-conventional wars have emerged in which CBRN substances and materials are being used to compound the impact on people, societies, and human well-being. Recovery, rehabilitation, reconstruction, and restoration efforts might be meaningless and, in many cases, useless.

I am afraid, the only way out is prevention.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ihab H. Sawalha

Ihab H. Sawalha is an associate professor of risk management at the American University of Madaba, Jordan. He has an MBA from Coventry University, UK, and a Ph.D. in risk management from the University of Huddersfield, UK. He is currently the dean of scientific research and graduate studies at the American University of Madaba.

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