Past Event

Never Let a Disaster Go To Waste: Using Natural Experiments to Understand Vulnerability and Resilience

13 October 2016 13:00–14:30

Institute of Development Studies,
Library Road,
East Sussex BN1 9RE

Extreme events, of various kinds, are likely to increase in magnitude, frequency and impact, though unequally. They will affect all aspects of wellbeing and environmental integrity and threaten to undermine our efforts to advance these values. We are often surprised by extreme events but learn much less than we could from the experience.

This CDI seminar, held in conjunction with IDS’s Climate Change and Development Seminar Series, will explore how extreme events can be framed and analysed as natural experiments. The event delineates a before and after and affects people and places differentially – the hallmark of an experiment. Often the event is of a kind or on a scale that would be impossible logistically or ethically to implement in a controlled experiment. Because the event is typically public, natural experiments can address questions that many people are asking and test hypotheses based on their experiences.

In many cases, existing information on people’s exposure to the event and/or the outcomes they experience can be employed, making the natural experiment economical but also demanding careful scrutiny of the data sources. That information can also be freshly gathered, increasing control as well as costs.

Case studies will illustrate natural experiments’ use in analysing vulnerability to policy change (the Green Revolution and pesticide-linked mortality in the Philippines), extreme climatic events (El Niño and malaria in Rwanda) and complex emergencies (the Malawi Famine and HIV). How natural experiments can contribute to the evaluation of efforts to prevent or mitigate such impacts and to holding institutional actors accountable for their efforts will also be considered.


Rob D. van den Berg, Visiting Fellow at CDI, will chair the seminar and also briefly discuss how the Global Environment Facility has employed natural experiments in evaluation.


Michael Loevinsohn is an ecologist and epidemiologist. Much of his work has been at the intersection of agricultural and environmental change and human health, mainly in Asia and SSA. Now working as an independent researcher, based in Wageningen in the Netherlands, he was until last year at the Institute of Development Studies. Previously he worked with two CGIAR institutes, IDRC and FAO.


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