Flooded landscape.

Photo: Easton Mok/Unsplash

He wants to contribute to a broader perspective on environmental disasters

In his doctoral thesis, Rasmus Andrén examines the conflict dynamics that emerged in connection with the 2014 flood disaster in Kashmir.

“I demonstrate that disasters can both exacerbate and alleviate various aspects of a conflict. Understanding these processes, which often occur simultaneously, can help us better comprehend and manage environmental disasters," he says.

Rasmus Andrén's thesis is based on the idea that environmental disasters often lead to wars, conflicts, and political instability.

"These are the scenarios we are often presented with, in films and the media – that the significant environmental problems we face will lead to catastrophic circumstances, both geographically and politically," he says.

However, research findings on the potential outcomes of climate change and environmental disasters are diverse and encompass many different perspectives. One camp looks at how climate change can lead to conflicts, while another, more sociological approach, suggests that people tend to cooperate in the face of disasters.

"I was interested in how we can understand these different interpretations and contribute something new to the discussion. These different conclusions do not contradict each other; instead, they can coexist," says Rasmus Andrén.

Portrait of Rasmus Andrén.

Rasmus Andrén defended his PhD thesis the 26 January 2024 at the Department of Political Science.

Starting from the 2014 flood disaster in the Kashmir Valley

In his thesis, he starts from the 2014 flood disaster in the Kashmir Valley to examine the dynamics that arise. Kashmir has a long history of separatist conflicts, where parts of the population seek independence, while primarily India and Pakistan compete for control of the region.

Rasmus Andrén believes that Kashmir is particularly interesting because the protracted political conflict undergoes different phases alongside the numerous environmental disasters that have affected the region.

"This limited empirical case illustrates the dynamics that arise. On one hand, we have floods that generate great frustration and devastation, and on the other hand, the relationship with primarily India goes through various phases."

The 2014 flood was catastrophic, but it also generated significant local engagement, leading to collaborations, including with Indian voluntary aid organizations.

"There were collaborative dynamics, but also conflict dynamics. Part of my interpretation is that not only do these happen simultaneously, but they can also reinforce each other. Having an understanding that these relationships can help us better understand environmental disasters," he says.

Highlighting the humanitarian aspect of disasters and conflicts

In addition to contributing to the field of research, Rasmus Andrén hopes that his thesis will support a new perspective. He also points out that conflicts often highlight opposing relationships, such as friends or enemies.

"However, my research shows that despite the conflict, there is a significant openness to broader ideas."

An example of this is how the population in Kashmir, where a majority is Muslim, also includes other religious groups like Sikhs and Hindus when discussing the region.

"When attempting to describe Kashmir during the flood disaster, you notice that there is a great openness to the idea that Kashmir is more than just Muslim; it is seen more broadly, including various communities. This suggests that even under challenging circumstances, people have the ability to see beyond boundaries. It's an exciting dynamic that has inspired me in this work."

Studying a disaster and analyzing what it's like to come so close to death has sometimes been a taxing process where it's been difficult not to become emotionally affected.

"That's why it felt important to emphasize the more solidary and humanitarian aspect. I hope that those who read my thesis will find hope for the future, even though I write about a conflict that is very bleak," he says.


Rasmus Andrén (2024): Anxiety and (In)Security in Times of Calamity: The 2014 flood and the Kashmir Conflict.
Rasmus Andrén defended his doctoral thesis on 26 January 2024 at the Department of Political Science, Swedish Defence University.

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