This paper considers in particular the role of social protection in the aftermath of war, in what are commonly referred to (sometimes misleadingly) as ‘post-conflict’ contexts. This can be seen as part of a wider discussion about people’s ability to withstand and recover from severe shocks. Apart from the effects of conflict, this includes the human impact of natural hazards of various kinds, including drought; and the impact on the household of severe macro-economic shocks, including the collapse of national economies or of commodity prices in world markets. The human impact of such events may be catastrophic, resulting in the kinds of acute deprivation that are the subject of international humanitarian responses. For many, these ‘extraordinary’ events or processes are in fact a recurrent feature of life. Together with the gradual erosion of livelihoods that may already be marginal, such events contribute to levels of impoverishment that lead to chronic vulnerability. One of the results is the perpetuation of levels of infant and maternal mortality that are chronically high, a concern central to the Millennium Development Goals. In the case of chronically conflict-affected areas, what would otherwise be considered abnormally high mortality rates and levels of acute malnutrition may have become the norm rather the exception – and so may not be accorded the priority they deserve.