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Abstract

This thesis analyses attempts to create international institutions to manage natural disaster between the early 1920s and the late 1980s. The overall focus is on the International Relief Union of the inter-war period, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s activities in the field of disaster prevention, the UN Disaster Relief Office, and the project to name the 1990s International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. Most of these attempts did not fulfill the purpose, for which they had been created: to improve coordination and efficiency in disaster management. The thesis finds that the process of internationalisation and institutionalisation in this field was slow and irregular. However, the thesis does not seek to assess the success of aforementioned institutions and their activities, but problematizes the contexts, reasons and motivations that caused actors – state governments, IGOs, NGOs, individuals – to oppose or support ideas for greater international and inter-agency coordination and multilateral forms of collaboration in the field of natural disaster. What did these projects and institutions mean to the aforementioned actors? The discussed institutions serve as a thread to shed light on the national, international and transnational, as well as occasionally colonial or post-colonial historical contexts in which ideas emerged. Furthermore, it brings attention to the individual biographies of international civil servants, humanitarians, and scientists, who were involved in the creation and day-to-day business of these institutions.

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