Disasters Without Borders





Dramatic scenes of devastation and suffering caused by disasters such as the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami, are viewed with shock and horror by millions of us across the world. What we rarely see, however, are the international politics of disaster aid, mitigation and prevention that condition the collective response to natural catastrophes around the world. In this book, respected Canadian environmental sociologist John Hannigan argues that the global community of nations has failed time and again in establishing an effective and binding multilateral mechanism for coping with disasters, especially in the more vulnerable countries of the South.


Written in an accessible and even-handed manner, Disasters without Borders it is the first comprehensive account of the key milestones, debates, controversies and research relating to the international politics of natural disasters. Tracing the historical evolution of this policy field from its humanitarian origins in WWI right up to current efforts to cast climate change as the prime global driver of disaster risk, it highlights the ongoing mismatch between the way disaster has been conceptualised and the institutional architecture in place to manage it. The book’s bold conclusion predicts the confluence of four emerging trends - politicisation/militarisation, catastrophic scenario building, privatisation of risk, and quantification, which could create a new system of disaster management wherein 'insurance logic' will replace humanitarian concern as the guiding principle. 


Disasters Without Borders is an ideal introductory text for students, lecturers and practitioners in the fields of international development studies, disaster management, politics and international affairs, and environmental geography/sociology.

Table of Contents

J. M. Santos-Hernandez University of Delaware, Choice


Canadian disaster researcher Hannigan (sociology, Toronto) presents a discussion on the construction of discursive realms dealing with international assistance and international disaster response. The author uses political theory to examine issues of diplomacy, cooperation, legitimacy, and political change in disasters, and explores the nexus between the disaster risk reduction community and the climate change adaptation community. He argues that the climate change adaptation community has a broader scope that includes stakeholders that are not considered by those focused on disaster risk reduction. The author stresses the value of the concept of "emergent institutionalism," as defined by Christopher Ansell and Jane Gingrich in their study of the 1980s "mad cow" epidemic in the UK, to visualize the changing landscape of international disaster politics. Hannigan claims that the emergence of new challenges involving climate change, disasters, and social justice is mismatched with emergent institutions focused on quantification, modeling, securitization, and privatization. An important read for researchers and advanced students interested in the politics of international emergency management and disaster assistance. 


Times Higher Education, 26 February 2013.


“John Hannigan’s worthy attempt to “view disaster events through the lens of international politics” and to map the “global policy field” in this area is therefore a significant contribution to the literature. Hannigan effectively explores the actors and agendas involved in political and humanitarian responses to natural disasters, including the debate on the extent to which efforts aimed at reducing the risks of disaster should be subsumed under climate change adaptation. One of his key concerns is to wrest the concept of vulnerability to natural disasters from the hands of seismologists and volcanologists, who have predominantly seen it as a physical or technical matter, in order to demonstrate its sociopolitical dimensions”.



The Global Journal, January 9, 2013


“As international attention on natural disasters increases, John Hannigan examines the latest trend in international politics to resolve “borderless” issues. Conceived as a textbook reviewing contemporary debates, Disasters Without Borders presents a comprehensive account of the failures of diplomacy in the realm of disaster management. The book views the field through an intense politicosociological lens, from the emergence of Disaster Risk Reduction in the 1980s, to the recent integration of climate change debates into humanitarian relief strategies”.



D. Rick Van Schoik, Journal of Borderland Studies 29(1), 2014


“Professor Hannigan from the University of Toronto hypothesizes in his new book  Disasters Without Borders that a disaster risk reduction (DRR) approach should replace ‘business as usual’ in responding to transboundary catastrophes. He argues for new emerging institutions to deal with the emerging natural disasters, many of which are exacerbated by global climate change and its threat multipliers. As the author of the book states: ‘Escalating concern over global climate change and its threats to economic prosperity and national security have prompted the shift in thinking about natural disaster.”