The concepts of hazards and risks began in engineering when scientists were measuring the points at which materials would become sufficiently stressed by the pressures upon them that they would break. These concepts migrated into the environmental sciences to assess risk in the natural terrain, including the risks that human activities posed to the survival of animals (including fish in streams) and plants in the biosphere. From there, they moved to the social sciences, primarily in formal disaster discourses. With the realization that modern societies constantly faced risks cushioned in uncertainties within everyday life, the media popularized the concept of risk and its accoutrements, including mitigation, adaptation, and preventative measures, among the general populace. A crucial manifestation of this is the media’s accounts of the risks affecting different groups of people or places contracting Covid-19, which burst upon a somnambulant world in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Politicians of diverse hues sought to reassure nervous inhabitants that they had followed robust, scientific advice on risks to facilitate “flattening the curve” by spreading the rate of infection in different communities over a longer period to reduce demand for public health services. Definitions of hazard, risk, vulnerability, and resilience evolved as they moved from the physical sciences into everyday life to reassure edgy populations that their social systems, especially the medical ones, could cope with the demands of disasters. While most countries have managed the risk Covid-19 posed to health services, this has been at a price that people found difficult to accept. Instead, as they reflected upon their experiences of being confronted with the deaths of many loved ones, especially among elders in care homes; adversities foisted upon the disease’s outcomes by existing social inequalities; and loss of associative freedoms, many questioned whether official mitigation strategies were commensurate with apparent risks. The public demanded an end to such inequities and questioned the bases on which politicians made their decisions. They also began to search for certainties in the social responses to risk in the hopes of building better futures as other institutions, schools, and businesses went into lockdown, and social relationships and people’s usual interactions with others ceased. For some, it seemed as if society were crumbling around them, and they wanted a better version of their world to replace the one devastated by Covid-19 (or other disasters). Key to this better version was a safer, fairer, more equitable and reliable future. Responses to the risks within Covid-19 scenarios are similar to responses to other disasters, including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, wildfires, tsunamis, storms, extreme weather events, and climate change. The claims of “building back better” are examined through a resilience lens to determine whether such demands are realizable, and if not, what hinders their realization. Understanding such issues will facilitate identification of an agenda for future research into mitigation, adaptation, and preventative measures necessary to protect people and the planet Earth from the harm of subsequent disasters.
Vincenzo Bollettino, Tilly Alcayna, Philip Dy, and Patrick Vinck
In recent years, the notion of resilience has grown into an important concept for both scholars and practitioners working on disasters. This evolution reflects a growing interest from diverse disciplines in a holistic understanding of complex systems, including how societies interact with their environment. This new lens offers an opportunity to focus on communities’ ability to prepare for and adapt to the challenges posed by natural hazards, and the mechanism they have developed to cope and adapt to threats. This is important because repeated stresses and shocks still cause serious damages to communities across the world, despite efforts to better prepare for disasters. Scholars from a variety of disciplines have developed resilience frameworks both to guide macro-level policy decisions about where to invest in preparedness and to measure which systems perform best in limiting losses from disasters and ensuring rapid recovery. Yet there are competing conceptions of what resilience encompasses and how best to measure it. While there is a significant amount of scholarship produced on resilience, the lack of a shared understanding of its conceptual boundaries and means of measurement make it difficult to demonstrate the results or impact of resilience programs. If resilience is to emerge as a concept capable of aiding decision-makers in identifying socio-geographical areas of vulnerability and improving preparedness, then scholars and practitioners need to adopt a common lexicon on the different elements of the concept and harmonize understandings of the relationships amongst them and means of measuring them. This article reviews the origins and evolution of resilience as an interdisciplinary, conceptual umbrella term for efforts by different disciplines to tackle complex problems arising from more frequent natural disasters. It concludes that resilience is a useful concept for bridging different academic disciplines focused on this complex problem set, while acknowledging that specific measures of resilience will differ as different units and levels of analysis are employed to measure disparate research questions.
Gender plays a role in all phases of the disaster cycle, from the lived experience of disaster survivors to the development of disaster risk reduction (DRR) policy and practice. Early research into the entanglement of gender and disaster revealed how women are made more vulnerable to disaster impacts by sexist and misogynist social structures. Researchers have since identified women’s central roles in building disaster resilience and aiding community recovery. Feminist scholarship has been highly influential in disasters research, prompting consideration of how intersecting social characteristics, including gender, sexuality, race, class, and bodily ability each contributes to the social construction of disaster. Drawing on work in the field of critical men’s studies, a small but growing body of research has engaged with the role of gender in men’s disaster experiences, as well as how hegemonic masculinity shapes emergency management practice, constructs widely understood disaster narratives, and influences the development of DRR policy, including policies related to the crisis of climate change. Rather than a fixed identity, hegemonic masculinity operates as a culturally dominant ideal to which men and boys are expected to strive. It is spatially constituted and relational, often defined by attributes including physical strength, bravery, and confidence. To date, the most substantial focus of research into masculinity and disasters relates to the lived and bodily experience of men impacted by wildfire. Australian researchers in particular have identified ways in which hegemonic ideals increase the disaster vulnerability of men, who feel pressure to act with bravery and to exhibit emotional and physical strength in conditions of extreme danger. Expectations of stoicism and courage equally impact men’s recovery from disaster, potentially limiting opportunities to access necessary support systems, particularly in relation to mental health and emotional well-being. Hegemonic masculine ideals similarly impact the experiences of frontline emergency workers. Emergency management workplaces are often constructed as masculine spaces, encouraging high-risk behaviors by male workers, and limiting opportunities for participation by people of other genders. Male dominance in the leadership of emergency management organizations also impacts policy and practice, including in the distribution of resources and in attentiveness to the role of gender in the disaster experiences of many survivors. Dominant disaster narratives, as seen in movies and the news media, contribute to the idea that disaster landscapes are ideal places for the performance of hegemonic masculine identities. Male voices dominate in media reporting of disasters, often leaving invisible the experiences of other people, with consequences for how disasters are understood by the wider public. Common tropes in Hollywood cinema similarly depict disasters as masculine events, in which brave cisgender men protect vulnerable cisgender women, with people of other genders entirely invisible. Identifying and addressing the role of masculinities in disaster is increasingly important within the crisis of global heating. As climate change increases the frequency and intensity of disasters, new ways of engaging with the environment and constructing DRR policy has become more urgent. Research in this field offers a critical baseline by which to move beyond binary gender definitions and to address damaging masculine ideals that ultimately harm the environment and people of all genders.
Humankind has always lived with natural hazards and their consequences. While the frequency and intensity of geological processes may have remained relatively stable, population growth and infrastructure development in areas susceptible to experiencing natural hazards has increased societal risk and the losses experienced from hazard activity. Furthermore, increases in weather-related (e.g., hurricanes, wildfires) hazards emanating from climate change will increase risk in some countries and result in others having to deal with natural hazard risk for the first time. Faced with growing and enduring risk, disaster risk reduction (DRR) strategies will play increasingly important roles in facilitating societal sustainability. This article discusses how readiness or preparedness makes an important contribution to comprehensive DRR. Readiness is defined here in terms of those factors that facilitate people’s individual and collective capability to anticipate, cope with, adapt to, and recover from hazard consequences. This article first discusses the need to conceptualize readiness as comprising several functional categories (structural, survival/direct action, psychological, community/capacity building, livelihood and community-agency readiness). Next, the article discusses how the nature and extent of people’s readiness is a function of the interaction between the information available and the personal, family, community and societal factors used to interpret information and support readiness decision-making. The health belief model (HBM), protection motivation theory (PMT), person-relative-to-event (PrE) theory, theory of planned behavior (TPB), critical awareness (CA), protective action decision model (PADM), and community engagement theory (CET) are used to introduce variables that inform people’s readiness decision-making. A need to consider readiness as a developmental process is discussed and identifies how the variables introduced in the above theories play different roles at different stages in the development of comprehensive readiness. Because many societies must learn to coexist with several sources of hazard, an “all-hazards” approach is required to facilitate the capacity of societies and their members to be resilient in the face of the various hazard consequences they may have to contend with. This article discusses research into readiness for the consequences that arise from earthquake, volcanic, flood, hurricane, and tornado hazards. Furthermore, because hazards transcend national and cultural divides, a comprehensive conceptualization of readiness must accommodate a cross-cultural perspective. Issues in the cross-cultural testing of theory is discussed, as is the need for further work into the relationship between readiness and culture-specific beliefs and processes.
Ricardo Marten, Theresa Abrassart, and Camillo Boano
The establishment of effective linkages between institutional urban planning and disaster risk strategies remains a challenge for formal governance structures. For governments at all administrative scales, disaster resilience planning has required systemic capacities that rely on structures of governance, humanitarian frameworks, and budgetary capacities. However, with growing urbanization trends, humanitarian responses and Disaster Risk Management (DRM) frameworks have had to adapt their operations in contexts with high population density, complex infrastructure systems, informal dynamics, and a broader range of actors. Urban areas concentrate an array of different groups with the capability of contributing to urban responses and strategies to cope with disaster effects, including community groups, government agencies, international organizations and humanitarian practitioners. In addition, cities have running planning structures that support their administration and spatial organization, with instruments that supply constant information about population characteristics, infrastructure capacity and potential weaknesses. Processes and data ascribed to urban planning can provide vital knowledge to natural hazard governance frameworks, from technical resources to conceptual approaches towards spatial analysis. Authorities managing risk could improve their strategic objectives if they could access and integrate urban planning information. Furthermore, a collaborative hazard governance can provide equity to multiple urban actors that are usually left out of institutional DRM, including nongovernmental organizations, academia, and community groups. Traditional top-down models can operate in parallel with horizontal arrangements, giving voice to groups with limited access to political platforms but who are knowledgeable on urban space and social codes. Their still limited recognition is evidence that there is still a disconnect between the intentions of global frameworks for inclusive governance, and the co-production of an urban planning designed for inclusive resilience.
Kylah Forbes-Biggs and Darren Lortan
The social construct of gender has been used to perpetuate an uneven treatment of women and men in various contexts and settings. Lessons learned through understanding this inequality and its role in shaping the differential impact of hazards and disasters on women and girls have led to the acknowledgment that their unique vulnerabilities and strengths need to be incorporated into planning and policy to reduce disaster- and climate-related risk. Notwithstanding these achievements, this incorporation into planning and policy has engendered little meaningful change at community and household levels. This focus on women and girls has had the further unintended consequence of overlooking the vulnerabilities experienced by those who do not necessarily identify as male or female and by those who may be prone to discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation. Certain aspects influencing the lived experiences of gender and sexual minorities are different from those of heterosexual women and girls. While some of the differential treatment they encounter may overlap, many of the discriminating practices target these gender and sexual minorities. The sentiments of others who advocate for extending the gendered lens approach employed in disaster and climate change research are echoed to include all within the continuum of gender and sexual minorities. Reported experiences of some these communities are explored in the context of disaster and climate change, drawing on lessons learned from their accounts. The focus is on the southern African geographical region, where gender inequality is predominant, and the growing threats posed by a changing climate and increasing hazard frequency and magnitude, exacerbate the vulnerabilities that the population may already be exposed to. This gendered-lens approach to the study of disaster- and climate-related risk is a purposeful examination of inequality across the gendered continuum intended to encourage inclusive planning, policy, and practice that are necessary for broader systemic change and foregrounding transformative action.