When disaster brings reconciliation

Adapted from an article published in The Christian Science Monitor, April 3, 2017.

Natural disasters often create unexpected bonds between people, even between longtime rivals, which can then alter the course of history. A good example was earlier this year, when armed rebels in Colombia made an offer to assist in the recovery of a town hit by a flood. At least 262 civilians were killed by the flooding and more than a thousand were made homeless. “We are ready to help,” stated the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Colombia’s government is in the midst of ending a half-century of war with the FARC. The tragedy in the town of Mocoa offered an opportunity for 400 rebels encamped nearby to show they are prepared to work with the government and forsake killing for cooperation. Their humanitarian gesture could help break down political barriers and provide an antidote to a long war.

Another example of disaster-related reconciliation occurred in 2004 when a tsunami struck the province of Aceh in Indonesia, killing some 130,000. The mass devastation, and the aid provided by the Army, forced a group of rebels to end its 30-year struggle for Aceh’s independence. The government and rebels signed a peace deal the next year.

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