Complex/manmade hazards: complex emergencies

Some disasters can result from several different hazards or, more often, to a complex combination of both natural and man-made causes and different causes of vulnerability. Food insecurity, epidemics, conflicts and displaced populations are examples.

A humanitarian crisis in a country, region or society where there is total or considerable breakdown of authority resulting from internal or external conflict and which requires an international response that goes beyond the mandate or capacity of any single agency and/or the ongoing UN country program (IASC).

Such “complex emergencies” are typically characterized by:

  • extensive violence and loss of life;
  • displacements of populations;
  • widespread damage to societies and economies;
  • the need for large-scale, multi-faceted humanitarian assistance ;
  • the hindrance or prevention of humanitarian assistance by political and military constraints;
  • significant security risks for humanitarian relief workers in some areas .

Definition and characteristics


On a national level, conflict may involves warlike encounters between armed groups from the same country which take place within the borders. Such outbreaks of war may pose large-scale medical problems such as epidemics, lack of water, accumulation of rubbish, displaced persons, refugees, food shortage, hunger etc.

Internationally, war may break out between two or more armies from different countries. Similarly such conflict may cause large scale mass movements of refugees and displaced persons.

Within the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is the lead agency for response to war and conflict situations.

The ICRC mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and internal violence and to provide them with assistance. It directs and coordinates the international relief activities conducted by the Movement in situations of conflict. It also endeavours to prevent suffering by promoting and strengthening humanitarian law and universal humanitarian principles.

For more information on the ICRC and their operations visit their web site: www.icrc.org.

Find out more

Related useful links:

Related Red Cross / Red Crescent operations:

  • Chad operation (2003).
  • Iraq humanitarian crisis (2003).
  • Humanitarian crisis in the Middle East (2006).

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world's largest humanitarian organization, with 189 member National Societies. As part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, our work is guided by seven fundamental principles; humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. About this site & copyright