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Challenges for Natural Hazard and Risk Management in Mountain Regions of Europe  

Margreth Keiler and Sven Fuchs

European mountain regions are diverse, from gently rolling hills to high mountain areas, and from low populated rural areas to urban regions or from communities dependent on agricultural productions to hubs of tourist industry. Communities in European mountain regions are threatened by different hazard types: for example floods, landslides, or glacial hazards, mostly in a multi-hazard environment. Due to climate change and socioeconomic developments they are challenged by emerging and spatially as well as temporally highly dynamic risks. Consequently, over decades societies in European mountain ranges developed different hazard and risk management strategies on a national to local level, which are presented below focusing on the European Alps. Until the late 19th century, the paradigm of hazard protection was related to engineering measures, mostly implemented in the catchments, and new authorities responsible for mitigation were founded. From the 19th century, more integrative strategies became prominent, becoming manifest in the 1960s with land-use management strategies targeted at a separation of hazardous areas and areas used for settlement and economic purpose. In research and in the application, the concept of hazard mitigation was step by step replaced by the concept of risk. The concept of risk includes three components (or drivers), apart from hazard analysis also the assessment and evaluation of exposure and vulnerability; thus, it addresses in the management of risk reduction all three components. These three drivers are all dynamic, while the concept of risk itself is thus far a static approach. The dynamic of risk drivers is a result of both climate change and socioeconomic change, leading through different combinations either to an increase or a decrease in risk. Consequently, natural hazard and risk management, defined since the 21st century using the complexity paradigm, should acknowledge such dynamics. Moreover, researchers from different disciplines as well as practitioners have to meet the challenges of sustainable development in the European mountains. Thus, they should consider the effects of dynamics in risk drivers (e.g., increasing exposure, increasing vulnerability, changes in magnitude, and frequency of hazard events), and possible effects on development areas. These challenges, furthermore, can be better met in the future by concepts of risk governance, including but not limited to improved land management strategies and adaptive risk management.


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.


Collective Choices Affecting Natural Hazards Governance, Risk, and Vulnerability  

Thomas Thaler, David Shively, Jacob Petersen-Perlman, Lenka Slavikova, and Thomas Hartmann

The frequency and severity of extreme weather events are expected to increase due to climate change. These developments and challenges have focused the attention of policymakers on the question of how to manage natural hazards. The main political discourse revolves around the questions of how we can make our society more resilient for possible future events. A central challenge reflects collective choices, which affect natural hazards governance, risk, and individual and societal vulnerability. In particular, transboundary river basins present difficult and challenging decisions at local, regional, national, and international levels as they involve and engage large numbers of stakeholders. Each of these groups has different perspectives and interests in how to design and organize flood risk management, which often hinder transnational collaborations in terms of upstream–downstream or different riverbed cooperation. Numerous efforts to resolve these conflicts have historically been tried across the world, particularly in relation to institutional cooperation. Consequently, greater engagement of different countries in management of natural hazards risks could decrease international conflicts and increase capacity at regional and local levels to adapt to future hazard events. Better understanding of the issues, perspectives, choices, and potential for conflict, and clear sharing of responsibilities, is crucial for reducing impacts of future events at the transboundary level.


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.


Corruption and the Governance of Disaster Risk  

David Alexander

This article considers how corruption affects the management of disaster mitigation, relief, and recovery. Corruption is a very serious and pervasive issue that affects all countries and many operations related to disasters, yet it has not been studied to the degree that it merits. This is because it is difficult to define, hard to measure and difficult to separate from other issues, such as excessive political influence and economic mismanagement. Not all corruption is illegal, and not all of that which is against the law is vigorously pursued by law enforcement. In essence, corruption subverts public resources for private gain, to the damage of the body politic and people at large. It is often associated with political violence and authoritarianism and is a highly exploitative phenomenon. Corruption knows no boundaries of social class or economic status. It tends to be greatest where there are strong juxtapositions of extreme wealth and poverty. Corruption is intimately bound up with the armaments trade. The relationship between arms supply and humanitarian assistance and support for democracy is complex and difficult to decipher. So is the relationship between disasters and organized crime. In both cases, disasters are seen as opportunities for corruption and potentially massive gains, achieved amid the fear, suffering, and disruption of the aftermath. In humanitarian emergencies, black markets can thrive, which, although they support people by providing basic incomes, do nothing to reduce disaster risk. In counties in which the informal sector is very large, there are few, and perhaps insufficient, controls on corruption in business and economic affairs. Corruption is a major factor in weakening efforts to bring the problem of disasters under control. The solution is to reduce its impact by ensuring that transactions connected with disasters are transparent, ethically justifiable, and in line with what the affected population wants and needs. In this respect, the phenomenon is bound up with fundamental human rights. Denial or restriction of such rights can reduce a person’s access to information and freedom to act in favor of disaster reduction. Corruption can exacerbate such situations. Yet disasters often reveal the effects of corruption, for example, in the collapse of buildings that were not built to established safety codes.


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.


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.