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Community-Based Disaster Risk Reduction  

Rajib Shaw

Community-based approaches existed even before the existence of the state and its formal governance structure. People and communities used to help and take care of each other’s disaster needs. However, due to the evolution of state governance, new terminology of community-based disaster risk reduction (CBDRR) has been coined to help communities in an organized way. Different stakeholders are responsible for community-based actions; the two key players are the local governments and civil society, or nongovernment organizations. Private sector and academic and research institutions also play crucial roles in CBDRR. Many innovative CBDRR practices exist in the world, and it is important to analyze them and learn the common lessons. The key to community is its diversity, and this should be kept in mind for the CBDRR. There are different entry points and change agents based on the diverse community. It is important to identify the right change agent and entry point and to develop a sustainable mechanism to institutionalize CBDRR activities. Social networking needs to be incorporated for effective CBDRR.

Article

Disaster Epistemology, Vulnerability, and Mitigation in Guatemala  

Roberto E. Barrios

From 1976 to 2023, disaster studies experienced a revolution in the way scholars think about natural hazards and disasters. Central to this transformation was the emergence of vulnerability theory, which defines disasters as processes that unfold over long periods because of human practices that enhance the materially destructive and socially disruptive capacities of natural hazards. For researchers involved in developing this analytical perspective, the 1976 earthquake in Guatemala stands out as a prime example of the role of social forces in engendering disaster. Beyond the 1976 earthquake, a review of Guatemala’s history of disasters illuminates the intimate relationship between development practices, socioeconomic inequity, and catastrophes from the pre-Columbian period to the early 21st century. Paralleling the rise of vulnerability theory in the 1970s was the growing interest of disaster scholars in the methodological potential of catastrophes to reveal social structures (e.g., kinship organization) and fault lines (e.g., class and racial structures) that are not readily apparent in times of “normalcy.” Moreover, this interest in the revelatory qualities of disasters was accompanied by a number of hypotheses concerning the relationship between disasters and social change. Once again, Guatemala has offered a number of case studies that illustrate how disasters allow researchers to see social structures, inequities, and contradictions and have shed light on why some disasters are conducive to progressive social change while others are not. Specifically, the case of Guatemala demands social scientists understand disaster vulnerability and the transformative potential of disasters within the broader global political–economic networks of colonial and postcolonial extraction and exploitation. As the 21st century progresses, Guatemala struggles with the local particularities of global disasters. Central America is the tropical region that stands to be most affected by anthropogenic climate change, yet the country’s national government has not implemented the hazard mitigation, urban planning, and inequity reduction programs necessary to counteract these effects. From 2015 to 2023, climate change–related droughts and floods displaced thousands of subsistence farmers, many of whom chose to migrate internationally in search of better livelihoods. Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted a country with a fragmented and critically underfunded health care system and deeply entrenched inequities between urban and rural and Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. As a result, Guatemala’s excess mortality rate during the most acute years of the pandemic (2020 and 2021) more than doubled that of Costa Rica, the Central American nation that was best prepared to confront the global health crisis. Despite the notable role of the 1976 earthquake as a classic example of vulnerability theory and the role disasters have played in inciting socio-political upheavals and change, disaster social science research and disaster risk reduction remain poorly developed in Guatemala.

Article

Lessons on Risk Governance From the UNISDR Experience  

Sálvano Briceño

In the context of this article, risk governance addresses the ways and means—or institutional framework—to lead and manage the issue of risk related to natural phenomena, events, or hazards, also referred to popularly, although incorrectly, as “natural disasters.” At the present time, risk related to natural phenomena includes a major focus on the issue of climate change with which it is intimately connected, climate change being a major source of risk. To lead involves mainly defining policies and proposing legislation, hence proposing goals, conducting, promoting, orienting, providing a vision—namely, reducing the loss of lives and livelihoods as part of sustainable development—also, raising awareness and educating on the topic and addressing the ethical perspective that motivates and facilitates engagement by citizens. To manage involves, among other things, proposing organizational and technical arrangements, as well as regulations allowing the implementation of policies and legislation. Also, it involves monitoring and supervising such implementation to draw further lessons to periodically enhance the policies, legislation, regulations, and organizational and technical arrangements. UNISDR (now known as UNDRR) was established in 2000 to promote and facilitate risk reduction, becoming in a few years one of the main promoters of risk governance in the world and the main global advocate from within the United Nations system. It was an honor to serve as the first director of the UNISDR (2001–2011). A first lesson to be drawn from this experience was the need to identify, understand, and address the obstacles not allowing the implementation of what seems to be obvious to the scientific community but of difficult implementation by governments, private sector, and civil society; and alternatively, the reasons for shortcomings and weaknesses in risk governance. A second lesson identified was that risk related to natural phenomena also provides lessons for governance related to other types of risk in society—environmental, financial, health, security, and so on, each a separate and specialized topic, sharing, however, common risk governance approaches. A third lesson was the relevance of understanding leadership and management as essential components in governance. Drawing lessons on one’s own experience is always risky as it involves some subjectivity in the analysis. In the article, the aim has, nonetheless, been at the utmost objectivity on the essential learnings in having conducted the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction—UNISDR—from 2001 to around 2009 when leading and managing was shared with another manager, as I prepared for retirement in 2011. Additional lessons are identified, including those related to risk governance as it is academically conceived, hence, what risk governance includes and how it has been implemented by different international, regional, national, and local authorities. Secondly, I identify those lessons related to the experience of leading and managing an organization focused on disaster risk at the international level and in the context of the United Nations system.

Article

Natural Hazards Governance in Chile  

Vicente Sandoval, Benjamin Wisner, and Martin Voss

The governance of natural hazards in Chile involves how different actors participate in all stages of managing natural hazards and their impacts. This includes monitoring and early warning systems and response to the most significant hazardous events in the country: earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, hydrological and meteorological events, and wildfires. Other general processes, such as disaster recovery, disaster risk reduction (DRR), and political economy and socioenvironmental processes of disaster risk creation are fundamental to understanding the complexity of natural hazard governance. Chile has a long history of disasters linked to its geographical and climatological diversity as well as its history and development path. The country has made significant advances toward an effective disaster risk management (DRM) system, which is backed up by sophisticated monitoring systems for earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, hydro- and meteorological events, and wildfires. These technical advances are integrated with disaster response mechanisms that include trained personnel, regulatory frameworks, institutions, and other actors, all under the direction of the National Emergency Office. The Chilean mode of DRM and DRR is characterized by a centralized, top-down approach that limits the opportunities for community organizations to participate in discussions of DRR and decision-making. It also centralizes planning of post-disaster processes such as reconstruction. Likewise, the dominant politico-economic model of Chile is neoliberalism. This development path has reproduced the root causes of disaster vulnerability through socioeconomic inequalities as well as poorly regulated urbanization and the practices of extractive industries. This has created numerous socioenvironmental conflicts throughout the Chilean territory with sometimes hazardous effects on local communities, especially indigenous groups. The governance of hazards and risk reduction in Chile still has a long way to go to secure the country’s path to sustainable human development.