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Reid Basher Disaster Impacts: Implications and Policy Responses DISASTERS ARISE WHEN A COMMUNITY IS UNABLE TO COPE WITH THE natural hazard it faces. A hazard by itself does not necessarily lead to a disaster. If a com m unity is prepared for storms, for example, w ith strong buildings built in relatively safe locations, well-protected and healthy ecosystems, an effective warning and evacuation system, and an informed populace, the losses may be modest. Nations and commu­ nities can do m uch to avoid the stresses of extrem e hazard events. The term “disaster risk reduction” can be defined as “action taken to reduce the risk of disasters and the adverse impacts of natural hazards, through systematic efforts to analyze and manage the causes of disasters, includ­ ing through avoidance of hazards, reduced social and economic vulner­ ability to hazards, and im proved preparedness for adverse events” (UNISDR, 2008). From this perspective, the widely used term natural disaster is a m isnomer, as it reflects and reinforces the unfortunately widespread belief that disasters are acts of God, som ething that little can be done about, and perhaps even a punishm ent for the past sins of those affected. A key characteristic of severe hazards is their relative uncom m on­ ness and uncertainty for m ost places or people, w hich often leads to lack of awareness and understanding and to complacency or denial of risks by individuals and policymakers alike. The absence of an immedi­ ate guaranteed payoff for a risk reduction investm ent tends to discour­ social research Vol 75 : No 3 : Fall 2008 937 age the assignm ent of political and financial priority to the problem. Moreover, greater rewards are accorded to those leaders who visibly assign attention and resources to respond to disasters than to those who labor unseen to reduce their root causes. The core concept of risk arising from natural hazards is not a fundam ental mode of thinking or discourse for policymaking, and in addition is greatly overshadowed nowadays by the issue of terrorism, in spite of the decades of evidence of greater losses in lives and economic assets from risks of natural origin. A second im portant characteristic is the nature of disasters as com plex interactions of the natural and hum an worlds and hence involving a diverse range of knowledge, spanning the physical, ecologi­ cal, social, and cultural disciplines as well as engineering, financial, and political perspectives. A m ajor challenge is to link these different types of knowledge to provide answers to disaster-specific questions. Similarly, there is a need to link the equally diverse range of m eth­ ods and tools of disaster risk reduction, w hich are largely based on tried-and-tested approaches used in endeavors such as civil engineer­ ing, w eather prediction, w ater m anagem ent, forest protection, urban planning, architecture, insurance, public health, public education, and com m unity action. In the sam e way th at we have seen the environ­ m ental science field forged from disparate areas of expertise over the last 40 years, so too can we expect to see the field of disaster studies structured and integrated through m ultidisciplinary approaches in the coming years. The third characteristic of note is the m ultisectoral and m ulti­ level nature of the task to actually im plem ent disaster reduction. All sectors are affected by disaster risk, and all can contribute to the reduc­ tion of risks—or, unwittingly, to the inadvertent increase of risks. This m eans th at the responsibility for disaster risk reduction cannot be assigned to one sector or one m inistry alone, but m ust be systematically im plem ented in all sectors, and particularly in land-use planning, envi­ ronm ental m anagem ent, infrastructure developm ent, construction, i agriculture, w ater resources, public health and social policy. Equally, 938 social research it requires efforts at all levels of both governm ental and nongovern­ m ental society—from national action to establish public institutions, policies and program s, through city and local governm ent planning and im plem entation, and civil society and com m unity activity to raise awareness and to...


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