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Compound Risks in Fragile Contexts – Examples from the Horn of Africa (2020-2021)

Humanitarian crises often result from a combination of multiple physical and societal, rather than individual processes.

In these situations, the combination of processes leads to ‘compound events’, which socio-economic impacts could be larger than those forecasted by analysing each event individually.  In recent years, the Horn of Africa has been increasingly exposed to compound events. Frequent extreme dry and wet conditions often compound with its fragile context characterized by internal ethnic conflicts, unstable governments, and high levels of poverty, resulting in impacts usually larger than expected. An improved understanding of the drivers and their interactions can help to reduce future risks associated to compound events. 

By using a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods, the project aims to untangle the complex spatio-temporal interactions between physical forces (e.g., drought, floods) and societal factors (e.g., demographic changes, violence and conflicts) to understand how risks compound in socially vulnerable contexts, and which early-warning signs could enhance proactive interventions.
The research questions under analysis are addressed through a retrospective study of the humanitarian crises that occurred in Kenya and Ethiopia in 2017-2018, where a severe drought, that occurred over the span of around 18/24 months, was followed by an extensive flooding during the 2018 March-May rainy season. The events compounded with ethnic conflicts, political disruption and crop pest infestation resulting in around 4 million people under food insecurity in Kenya and 8 million in Ethiopia.

From the case studies under analysis we draw general lessons on the interactions of compound events in fragile context, potential early warning signs and windows of opportunities for interventions. A synthesis of the identified relationships is presented using visual formats. Network graphs are employed to display event interactions, explored through online surveys and semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders from national agencies, civil societies and NGOs. The approach resulted in a participatory co-creation of cognitive diagrams used as qualitative mental maps of the perceived drivers and interactions.
The improved understanding of drivers and impacts and their mechanisms in humanitarian crises under analyses can support the development of effective monitoring systems, capable of capturing the complex interactions between physical forces and societal factors. 

The project is funded by the Fragility, Conflict and Violence group at the World Bank. 

Contact information: Dr Anne van Loon and Alessia Matano.