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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

Comparative Public Finance Approaches to Natural Hazards Management  

Mohammed Alkhurayyif, Julie Winkler, Simon Andrew, and Skip Krueger

An important challenge of natural hazards is that they inflict the greatest total economic damage in large, developed countries, where wealth is aggregated, but they create the greatest economic impact in smaller and developing countries, where a disaster caused by a natural hazard can easily overwhelm a national government’s ability to respond and its economy to recover. Thus, a common understanding in the literature is that the fiscal effect of a natural hazard is a function of the size of the disaster relative to the size of a nation’s economy at the time of the disaster. At the international level, the economic impact of disasters, for example, has been estimated to be US$2.9 trillion between 1998 and 2017, and approximately $945 billion of that occurred in the United States. With a 2019 gross domestic product (GDP) of $21 trillion, the total economic effect for those 20 years is close to 5% of the value of economic output for a single year. Developing country losses, on the other hand, can be overwhelming, especially as measured against the size of the economy. For example, Hurricane Maria’s impact on Dominica is estimated to have been approximately US$1.37 billion, which was equivalent to 225% of Dominica’s GDP. While an appreciation for the connection between the size of a national economy and natural hazards is clearly critical, the literature points to a number of additional factors that are important to understand about how government financial conditions are affected by natural hazards and vice versa. Debates continue about the role of foreign direct investment, government and private debt levels, investments in education, and internationally sponsored protective actions and insurance pools in improving the resilience of smaller and developing countries to disasters. For example, structural approaches to understanding the linkage between disasters and economic development suggest that countries with a limited number of sources of income have economies that are more vulnerable to disasters than more diversified economies, which might suggest that fiscal policies designed to increase economic diversity are important. Neoclassical approaches, on the other hand, argue that economic recovery is slowed by government intervention in the economy, and suggest that the best way for developing economies to recovery quickly is to reduce the amount of regulation in the economy. Whatever the theoretical approach, what remains most clear is the ongoing challenge of decoupling the emotional need to participate in responses to the human tragedy associated with disasters caused by natural hazards from the strategic imperative to invest in hazard mitigation at much higher rates globally and plan toward disaster risk reduction.

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

Disaster Risk Reduction and Furthering Women’s Rights  

Supriya Akerkar

Traditional conceptions of disaster mitigation focus mainly on risk reduction practices using technology; however, disaster mitigation needs to be reconceptualized as a discursive and social intervention process in the disaster-development continuum to further women’s rights and equality and their emancipatory interests before, during, and after disasters. Such reconception would be more aligned with current formulations within the Sendai Framework of Action (2015–2030), which to an extent highlights the need to engage with gender inequalities through women’s leadership in disaster and development planning and the fifth UN Sustainable Development Goal on furthering gender equality. As discursive practices, disaster mitigation should question discrimination against and marginalization of women in disaster recoveries and development processes in different contexts. Discourse about women and gender is ingrained in the society and further perpetuated through regressive and patriarchal state policies and practices in the disaster-development continuum. A critical and progressive politics for women’s rights that furthers their equality would counter regressive discourses and their effects. Women experience discrimination through complex and multiple axes of power, such as race, class, ethnicity, and other social markers. Instead of treating women as a passive site for relief and recovery, nongovernmental organizations, both national and international, should work with women as persons with agency, voice, aspirations, and capacity to bring about policy and social change in the terrain of the disaster-development continuum. Critical humanitarianism and mobilizing women’s leadership would be a hallmark of such work. The relation between disaster mitigation and women’s rights is that of a virtuous cycle that calls for a synergy between disaster response and development goals to further women’s equality and rights. A vision for socially just and equal society must inform the relation between disaster mitigation and furthering women’s rights.

Article

Economics and Disaster Risk Management  

Randrianalijaona Mahefasoa, Razanakoto Thierry, Salava Julien, Randriamanampisoa Holimalala, and Lazamanana Pierre

Economics is the science of wealth, the main objective of which is to satisfy human needs within the constraint of limited available resources. The production and consumption patterns of economic agents are examined in order to identify the most efficient and optimal ways of meeting needs. At the same time, redistribution problems have an important place in economic science, and they lead to questions of development and economic growth. Since the 1990s, officially declared by the United Nations as the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR), the relatively frequent occurrence of devastating disasters, induced mainly by natural hazards but also by human activities, development efforts and economic growth have been seriously threatened. Poverty alleviation efforts undertaken by nations in the Global South and supported by international donors, as well as development outcomes worldwide, are suffering from disasters. The international community has become more and more aware of the need to systematically mainstream disaster risk reduction in development policy and strategy. Therefore, disaster risk reduction economics is becoming a priority and part of economics as a science. For more than three decades, based on risk assessment, risk prevention and mitigation strategies, including structural and nonstructural measures, such as but not limited to, risk retention and transfer, preparedness as well as ex-post activities such as response, recovery and reconstruction are using economic variables and tools since mid-2000s to become more efficient. Furthermore, protecting economic growth and development benefits is possible only if enough attention is given to risk science. From this perspective, risk science is becoming part of economics, as evidenced by the new branch called risk reduction economics, which is essential to the attainment of sustainable development goals and resilient societies.

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.

Article

Extending a Gendered Lens to Reduce Disaster- and Climate-Related Risk in Southern Africa  

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.