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Managing Vulnerability During Cascading Disasters: Language Access Services  

Federico Marco Federici

Communication underpins all phases of disaster risk reduction: it is at the heart of risk mitigation, by increasing resilience and preparedness, and by interacting with affected communities in the response phase and throughout the reconstruction and recovery after a disaster. Communication does not alter the scope or severity of a disaster triggered by natural hazards, but the extent to which risk reduction strategies impact on affected regions depends greatly on existing differences inherent in the society of these regions. Ethnic minorities and multilingual language groups―which are not always one and the same―may become vulnerable groups when there has been little or no planning or no awareness of the impact of limited access to trustworthy information when the disaster strikes. Furthermore, large-scale disasters are likely to involve personnel from the humanitarian sector from both local and international offices. Communication in most large-scale events has progressively become multilingual; from the late 20th and early 21st centuries, it is expected that large disasters see collaboration between intergovernmental, governmental, local, national, and international entities that operate in different ways in rescue and relief operations. Regardless of linguistic contexts, communication of reliable information in a trustworthy manner is complex to achieve in the aftermath of a disaster, which may instantaneously affect telecommunication infrastructures (overloading VOIP and GPS systems). From coordination to information, clear communication plays a role in any activity intending to reduce risks, damages, morbidity, and mortality. Achieving clear communication in crisis management is a feat in a monolingual context: people from different organizations and with different capacities in multi-agency operations have at least a common language, nonetheless, terminology varies from one organization to another, thus hampering successful communication. Achieving effective and clear communication with multilingual communities, while using one language (or lingua franca), such as English, Arabic, Spanish, or Hindi, depending on the region, is impossible without due consideration to language translation.

Article

Integrating Access and Functional Needs in Community Planning for Natural Hazards  

Nnenia Campbell

Populations that are rendered socially invisible by their relegation to realms that are excluded—either physically or experientially—from the rest of society tend to similarly be left out of community disaster planning, often with dire consequences. Older adults, persons with disabilities, linguistic minorities, and other socially marginalized groups face amplified risks that translate into disproportionately negative outcomes when disasters strike. Moreover, these disparities are often reproduced in the aftermath of disasters, further reinforcing preexisting inequities. Even well-intentioned approaches to disaster service delivery have historically homogenized and segregated distinct populations under the generic moniker of “special needs,” thereby undermining their own effectiveness at serving those in need. The access and functional needs perspective has been promoted within the emergency management field as a practical and inclusive means of accommodating a range of functional capacities in disaster planning. This framework calls for operationalizing needs into specific mechanisms of functional support that can be applied at each stage of the disaster lifecycle. Additionally, experts have emphasized the need to engage advocacy groups, organizations that routinely serve socially marginalized populations, and persons with activity limitations themselves to identify support needs. Incorporating these diverse entities into the planning process can help to build stronger, more resilient communities.

Article

Natural Hazards Governance in India  

Anshu Sharma and Sunny Kumar

India faces a very broad range of hazards due to its wide geoclimatic spread. This, combined with deep-rooted social, economic, physical, and institutional vulnerabilities, makes India one of the highest disaster-affected countries in the world. Natural hazards have gained higher visibility due to an increasing frequency and magnitude of their impact in recent decades, and efforts to manage disasters have been largely unable to keep pace with the growing incidences, scale, and complexities of disaster events. A number of mega events between 1990 and 2005, including earthquakes, cyclones, floods, and a tsunami, created momentum in decision making to look at disasters critically and to push for a shift from response to mitigation and preparedness. While efforts were put in place for appropriate legislation, institution building, and planning, these processes were long drawn out and time and resource intensive. It has taken years for the governance systems to begin showing results on the ground. While these efforts were being formulated, the changing face of disasters began to present new challenges. Between 2005 and 2015, a number of unprecedented events shook the system, underscoring the increasing variability and thus unpredictability of natural hazards as a new normal. Events in this period included cloudbursts and flash floods in the deserts, droughts in areas that are normally flood prone, abnormal hail and storm events, and floods of rare fury. To augment the shifting natural hazard landscape, urbanization and changing lifestyles have made facing disasters more challenging. For example, having entire cities run out of water is a situation that response systems are not geared to address. The future will be nothing like the past, with climate change adding to natural hazard complexities. Yet, the tools to manage hazards and reduce vulnerabilities are also evolving to unprecedented levels of sophistication. Science, people, and innovations will be valuable instruments for addressing the challenges of natural hazards in the times ahead.

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

Hazards, Social Resilience, and Safer Futures  

Lena Dominelli

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.

Article

The Human Ecology of Disaster Risk in Cold Mountainous Regions  

Kenneth Hewitt

A range of environmental and social dimensions of disasters occur in or are affected by the mountain cryosphere (MC). Core areas have glaciers and permafrost, intensive freeze-thaw, and seasonally abundant melt waters. A variety of cryospheric hazards is involved, their dangers magnified by steep, high, and rugged terrain. Some unique threats are snow or ice avalanches and glacial lake outburst floods. These highlight the classic alpine zones, but cryospheric hazards occur in more extensive parts of mountain ecosystems, affecting greater populations and more varied settings. Recently, habitat threats have become identified with global climate warming: receding glaciers, declining snowfall, and degrading permafrost. Particularly dangerous prospects arise with changing hazards in the populous mid-latitude and tropical high mountains. Six modern calamities briefly introduce the kinds of dangers and human contexts engaged. Disaster style and scope differs between events confined to the MC, others in which it is only a part or is a source of dangerous processes that descend into surrounding lowlands. The MC is also affected by non-cryospheric hazards, notably earthquake and volcanism. In human terms, the MC shares many disaster risk issues with other regions. Economy and land use, poverty or gender, for instance, are critical aspects of exposure and protections, or lack of them. This situates disaster risk within human ecological and adaptive relations to the predicaments of cold and steepland terrain. A great diversity of habitats and cultures is recognized. “Verticality” offers a unifying theme; characterizing the MC through ways in which life forms, ecosystems, and human settlement adjust to altitudinal zones, to upslope transitions, and the downslope cascades of moisture and geomorphic processes. These also give special importance to multi-hazard chains and long-runout processes including floods. Traditional mountain cultures exploit proximity and seasonality of different resources in the vertical, and avoidance of steepland dangers. This underscores sustainability and changing risk for the many surviving agro-pastoral and village economies and the special predicaments of indigenous cultures. Certain common stereotypes, such as remoteness or fragility of mountain habitats, require caution. They tend to overemphasize environmental determinism and underestimate social factors. Nor should they lead to neglect of wealthier, modernized areas, which also benefit most from geophysical research, dedicated agencies, and expert systems. However, modern developments now affect nearly all MC regions, bringing expanding dangers as well as benefits. Threats related to road networks are discussed, from mining and other large-scale resource extraction. Disaster losses and responses are also being rapidly transformed by urbanization. More broadly, highland–lowland relations can uniquely affect disaster risk, as do transboundary issues and initiatives in the mountains stemming from metropolitan centers. Anthropogenic climate warming generates dangers for mountain peoples but originates mainly from lowland activities. The extent of armed conflict affecting the MC is exceptional. Conflicts affect all aspects of human security. In the mountains as most other places, disaster risk reduction (DRR) policies have tended to favor emergency response. A human ecological approach emphasizes the need to pursue avoidance strategies, precautionary and capacity-building measures. Fundamental humanitarian concerns are essential in such an approach, and point to the importance of good governance and ethics.