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Article

The management of natural hazards is undergoing considerable transformation, including the establishment of risk-based management approaches, the encouragement to govern natural hazards more inclusively, and the rising relevance of the concept of resilience. The benefits of this transformation are usually framed like this: Risk-based approaches are regarded as a rational way of balancing the costs associated with mitigating the consequences of hazards and the anticipated benefits; inclusive modes of governing risks help to increase the acceptance and quality of management processes as well as their outcomes; and the concept of resilience is connoted positively since it demands a greater openness to uncertainties and aims at increasing the capacities of various actors to cope with radical surprises. However, the increasing consideration of both concepts in policy and decision-making processes is associated with a changing demarcation between public and private responsibilities and with an altering relationship between organizations involved in the management process and the wider public. To understand some of these dynamics, this contribution undertakes a change of perspective throughout its development: Instead of asking how the concepts of risk or resilience might be useful to improve the management and governance of natural hazards, one must understand how societies, particularly with regard to their handling of risks and hazards, are governed through the concepts of risk and resilience. Following this perspective, risk-based management approaches have a defensive function in deflecting blame and rationalizing policy choices ex-ante by enabling managing organizations to more clearly define which risks they are responsible for (i.e., non-acceptable risks) and which are beyond their responsibility (i.e., acceptable risks). This demarcation also has profound distributional effects as acceptable risks usually need to be mitigated individually, raising the question of how to ensure the just sharing of the differently distributed benefits and burdens of risk-based approaches. The concept of resilience in this context plays a paradoxical yet complementary role: In its more operational interpretation (e.g., adaptive management), resilience-based management approaches can be in conflict with risk-based approaches as they require those responsible for managing risks to follow antagonistic goals. While the idea of resilience puts an emphasis on openness and flexibility, risk-based approaches try to ensure proportionality by transforming uncertainties into calculable risks. At the same time, resilience-based governance approaches, with their emphasis on self-organization and learning, complement risk-based approaches in the sense that actors or communities that are exposed to “acceptable risks” are implicitly or explicitly made responsible for maintaining their own resilience, whereas the role of public authorities is usually restricted to an enabling one.

Article

Natural hazards have repercussions that reverberate to the political level. Their adverse socio-economic impacts could undermine political support from key fractions in society. Governments, aware of this, have incentives to ease the adverse social impacts of natural hazards. However, the channels of impact from natural hazards to voter and government behavior are complex, indirect, and nonlinear. More than their immediate impact, therefore, major natural hazards contain important symbolic and mythological power that can sway public opinion and influence disaster policies for years to come.

Article

Disasters are significant events with enormous consequences for democratic political systems. As such, they provide important insights into how governmental institutions address hazardous situations. They also reveal the critical role that the media and politics play in this process. These themes are echoed in the general research on disasters, as well as in the accounts of hazardous events occurring in specific communities and locales. However, despite the wealth of scholarship conducted on this topic across a variety of disciplines, important questions remain about what role citizens play in this process, as well as the impact of governmental hazard management policies on broader democratic processes and societal conditions.