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Article

Intersectionality as a Forward-Thinking Approach in Disaster Research  

Cassandra Jean, Tilly E. Hall, and Jamie Vickery

Disaster researchers, policymakers, and practitioners are confronted with the pressing need to understand and address how and why certain individuals and groups of individuals experience inequities leading up to, during, and postdisaster. These efforts must consider how to address such inequities through collaborative efforts toward intentional and systemic change. The use of intersectional approaches supports better analyze and critique of discriminatory and oppressive practices that disproportionately impact historically marginalized peoples, especially in the face of hazards and disasters. Intersectionality calls for understanding how different forms of privilege, power, and oppression interact and compound to create unequal socioeconomic outcomes across individuals and groups of individuals based on their identities (e.g., age, race, sexuality, and gender) and conditions (e.g., housing composition, immigration, and marital status). A review of inter- and multidisciplinary terrains of disaster studies shows that there are multifaceted utilities, capabilities, and advantages of adopting an intersectional approach. By considering historical discriminatory practices and the root causes of vulnerability, intersectionality highlights the systemic and institutionalized patterns that create precarious situations for some people while simultaneously protecting others. Intersectionality is also well suited to support insight into individuals’ capacities that affect their ability to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disastrous events, as well as assist them in avoiding or reducing risks that make them susceptible to disaster in the first place. However, intersectional approaches within disaster studies remain underutilized and, sometimes, superficially applied. Simplistic representations, the unequal attention given to certain intersections, and the domination of Western epistemologies must be attended to in order to challenge, disrupt, and diligently undo the interactions of systematic privilege, power, and oppression that render unequal disaster experiences and outcomes.

Article

Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation in South Asia  

Mihir Bhatt, Ronak B. Patel, Kelsey Gleason, and Mehul Pandya

Both the impact and the frequency of natural disasters and extreme events in South Asia are steadily increasing due to growing exposure and vulnerability. These vulnerabilities are compounded by fast economic growth and an increase in natural disasters across the region. Disaster losses in South Asia are rising and are felt across many domains. From the formal to the informal economy, natural disasters have increasingly strong impacts in terms of lives lost, social impact, and impediments to growth. New challenges in disaster risk reduction are emerging due to an increase in the duration and frequency of natural disaster events attributable to climate change. Though both climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction efforts exist to some degree throughout South Asia, integrating climate change adaptation into disaster risk reduction is critical to successful and inclusive growth of economies in the region. Challenges remain, and national and subnational governments are making some progress in policies aimed at both climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. However, many of these efforts are planned, designed, and implemented separately, with limited understanding of how disaster and climate risk are linked. Moreover, progress is hindered by poor understanding of how integration of these concepts can result in better governance of risk in South Asia. Additionally, political will, capacity constraints, and institutional barriers must be overcome. Efforts by the international community are making progress in unifying these concepts, yet gaps and challenges still exist. The benefits of converging climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction in Asia are significant, from minimizing climate-related losses to more efficient use of limited resources and more effective and sustainable development.

Article

Natural Hazards Governance in Zambia  

Mitulo Silengo

Zambia, like many other developing nations, is grappling with the challenges of development in the context of climate change. The development–climate change–disaster nexus has emerged as one of the most intractable problems that countries such as Zambia are currently facing. The most common hazards are usually hydro-meteorological in nature. These are floods and droughts. Climate change is responsible for causing weather-related disasters and in making communities more vulnerable to the effects of disasters. Zambia, like many developing economies that are dependent on climate-sensitive sectors, such as agriculture and natural resources, is very vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In responding to the challenges of climate change, the government has developed adaptation strategies and plans. The Zambian government has made strides in aligning development planning with disaster risk management. The mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction has been outlined in the Zambia Vision 2030 and the National Development Plans. The National Climate Change Response Strategy was developed to respond to the challenges that climate change and variability pose on the Zambian economy. It offers a coordinated response to climate change issues in the country, envisaging Zambia as “a Prosperous Climate Change Resilient Economy.” The Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit under the Office of the Vice President is the institution responsible for disaster risk reduction and management in Zambia. It responds to natural, human-induced, and complex hazards. The legal framework for disaster risk management (DRM) in Zambia is provided by the Disaster Management Act No. 13 of 2010 (GRZ, 2010). Its provisions are operationalized by the Disaster Management Policy of 2015 and the Disaster Management Manual of 2015. As a way of domesticating the Sendai Framework, the government has development a National Disaster Risk Management Framework. The goals of this framework are to prevent and reduce existing risks in the country through the implementation of integrated and inclusive economic, social, cultural, health, legal, education, political, environmental, structural, and institutional measures. Although major achievements have been made in setting up the legal and institutional frameworks for disaster risk governance, gaps in the localization of DRM programs, especially at local and community levels, still exist. The absence of such programs and lack of awareness of disaster risks contribute to the vulnerabilities of communities at the local level. In order to reduce their vulnerability, strengthening local-level structures is necessary. Such structures can only be articulated by a robust disaster risk governance framework that is decentralized to local levels.

Article

Supporting Natural Hazards Management With Geospatial Technologies  

Diana Mitsova

On a global scale, natural disasters continue to inflict a heavy toll on communities and to pose challenges that either persist or amplify in complexity and scale. There is a need for flexible and adaptive solutions that can bridge collaborative efforts among public agencies, private and nonprofit organizations, and communities. The ability to explore and analyze spatial data, solve problems, visualize, and communicate outcomes to support the collaborative efforts and decision-making processes of a broad range of stakeholders is critical in natural hazards and disaster management. The adoption of geospatial technologies has long been at the core of natural hazards risk assessment, linking existing technologies in GIS (geographic information system) with spatial analytical techniques and modeling. Practice and research have shown that though risk-reduction strategies and the mobilization of disaster-response resources depend on integrating governance into the process of building disaster resilience, the implementation of such strategies is best informed by accurate spatial data acquisition, fast processing, analysis, and integration with other informational resources. In recent years, new and accessible sources and types of data have greatly enhanced the ability of practitioners and researchers to develop approaches that support rapid and efficient disaster response, including forecasting, early warning systems, and damage assessments. Innovations in geospatial technologies, including remote sensing, real-time Web applications, and distributed Web-based GIS services, feature platforms for systematizing and sharing data, maps, applications, and analytics. Distributed GIS offers enormous opportunities to strengthen collaboration and improve communication and efficiency by enabling agencies and end users to connect and interact with remotely located information products, apps, and services. Newer developments in geospatial technologies include real-time data management and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), which help organizations make rapid assessments and facilitate the decision-making process in disasters.

Article

Disasters and Large-Scale Population Dislocations: International and National Responses  

Anthony Oliver-Smith

Large-scale displacement takes place in the context of disaster because the threat or occurrence of hazard onset makes the region of residence of a population uninhabitable, either temporarily or permanently. Contributing to that outcome, the wide array of disaster events is invariably complicated by human institutions and practices that can contribute to large-scale population displacements. Growing trends of socially driven exposure and vulnerability around the world as well as the global intensification and frequency of climate-related hazards have increased both the incidence and the likelihood of large-scale population dislocations in the near future. However, legally binding international and national accords and conventions have not yet been put in place to deal with the serious impacts, and material, health-related, and sociocultural losses and human rights violations that are experienced by the millions of people being swept up in the events and processes of disasters and mass population displacements. Effective policy development is challenged by the increasing complexity of disaster risk and occurrence as well as issues of causation, adequate information, lack of capacity, and legal responsibility. States, international organizations, state and international development and aid agencies must frame, define, and categorize appropriately disaster forced displacement and resettlement to influence effective institutional responses in emergency humanitarian assistance, transitional shelter and care, and durable solutions in managing migration and resettlement if return is not possible. The forms that disaster-associated forced displacements are projected to take and corresponding national responses are explored in the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 in Sri Lanka, a massive disaster in a nation riven by civil conflict; Hurricane Katrina of 2005 in the United States, where the scale and nature of displacement bore little relation to hazard intensity; and the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, Tsunami, and nuclear exposure incident exemplifying the emerging trend of complex, concatenating, multihazard disasters that bring about large-scale population displacements.

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

Health Care Challenges After Disasters in Lesser Developed Countries  

Joseph Kimuli Balikuddembe, Binhua Fu, and Jan D. Reinhardt

A public health disaster occurs when the adverse health effects of an event such as a natural hazard or threat exceed the coping capacity of the affected human population. The coping capacity of the affected population is hereby dependent on available resources including financial and human resources, health infrastructure, as well as knowledge, planning and organizational capabilities, and social capital. Disasters therefore disproportionally affect lesser resourced regions and countries of the world and pose specific challenges to their health systems as well as to the international humanitarian community in terms of dealing with mortality and injuries, communicable and noncommunicable disease, mental health effects, and long-term disability. Challenges for health care delivery in disaster situations in lesser resourced settings include deficiencies in the construction of resilient health care facilities, the lack of disaster response plans, shortage of specialized medical personnel, shortcomings regarding training in disaster response, and scarcity of resources such as medicines and portable medical devices and supplies. Other challenges include the absence of appropriate algorithms for the distribution of scarce resources; lack of coordination of medical teams and other volunteers; limited awareness of particular health issues such as mental health problems or disability and rehabilitation; and lack of plans for evacuation, sheltering, and continuation of treatment of those with preexisting health conditions. Many challenges lesser resourced settings face with regard to health care delivery after disasters such as the organization of mortality management, triage and treatment of the injured, or the delivery of rehabilitative and mental health care cannot be reduced to the lack of baseline resources in terms of health infrastructure, technology, and personnel but are related to the absence of proper planning for future disaster scenarios including implementation strategies and simulation exercises. This not only encompasses the formal drafting of disaster preparedness and response plans, contingency planning of hospitals, and the provision of disaster-related training to health personnel but also in particular the identification and involvement of the potentially and traditionally affected communities and especially vulnerable groups in all the process of disaster risk reduction.

Article

Linking Risk Reduction and Community Resilience  

Hyunjung Ji

Risk reduction is a policy priority in governments at all levels. Building community resilience is one of the keys to reducing disaster risks. Resilience-focused risk reduction considers the wider social, political, and cultural environments of a community and emphasizes the importance of working with community members. This is in stark contrast to the previous vulnerability-focused risk management that treats disasters as unavoidable natural events and recognizes people as passive or helpless under the unavoidable disasters. Community resilience is a critical concept in identifying visions and directions for risk reduction strategies. Community resilience has two major qualities: inherent community conditions (inherent resilience) and the community’s adaptive capacity (adaptive resilience). There are at least four components that should be included in risk reduction strategies to enhance both inherent and adaptive community resilience: risk governance, community-based risk reduction policies, non-governmental disaster entrepreneurs, and people-centered risk reduction measures. Risk governance is required to bridge the gap between national policies and local practices, scientific knowledge of natural hazards and locally accumulated knowledge, and national assistance and local actions. Community-based risk reduction policies should complement national disaster policies to reflect locally specific patterns of hazard, exposure, and resilience that are otherwise ignored in policy design process at the international and national levels. Risk reduction strategies should also encourage emergence of non-governmental entrepreneurs who can contribute to the speed and success of community relief and recovery following a disaster by resolving the immediate needs of the affected communities and transitioning people toward autonomy and self-reliance. Finally, risk reduction strategies should include people-centered policy measures that are designed to change the awareness, attitudes, and behaviors of people so that they are more prepared when facing a disaster.

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.