Views and approaches to disasters:From ancient period to to-date


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Lecture for MS-Development Studies students at Shaheed Zulifkar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (SZABIST) Islamabad taking Disaster Management Course.

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Views and approaches to disasters:From ancient period to to-date

  1. 1. Views and approaches to disasters From ancient period to to-date Dr Abdur Rehman Cheema Assistant Professor SZABIST, Islamabad March 4, 2013
  2. 2. Approaches to disasters • Exercising of deliberate choices to avoid and lessen the risk from disasters is not a recent phenomenon. • However, the evolution of this thinking, and of these social choices, views and approaches have been far from similar in different societies and within societies at the same time. 2Dr Abdur Rehman Cheema, SZABIST, Islamabad
  3. 3. Views and approaches to deal with disasters 3Dr Abdur Rehman Cheema, SZABIST, Islamabad
  4. 4. Religious views and approaches • The original Latin meaning is star. In this context, disasters have been related with the movement of stars, in particular, ―ill-starred‖ (Gibson, 2006, p. 9). • The story of the Prophet Yusuf (PBUH) in the Koran (Chapter 12), referred to as Prophet Joseph in Christian and Jewish scriptures, describes food rationing and storage to save people from drought and famine, around 1500 B.C. 4Dr Abdur Rehman Cheema, SZABIST, Islamabad
  5. 5. Religious views and approaches (contd.) • Coppola (2007, p. 3) notes the example of two towns in Italy, Herculaneum and Pompeii, which faced a volcanic eruption in AD 79 from Mount Vesuvius. • The leaders of Pompeii coordinated the evacuation of the residents of the town many hours before pyroclastic flows approached their town and thus saved many lives, even though the city was buried in the ash. • The inhabitants of Herculaneum, however, could not survive since the town was at the base of the Mount and pyroclastic flows overtook the town in no time. 5Dr Abdur Rehman Cheema, SZABIST, Islamabad
  6. 6. Religious views and approaches (contd.) • An English clergyman, Thomas Robert Malthus (1766– 1834), shared his view of disasters as acts of God while suggesting that nature would take away the excess population if human beings did not observe moral restraint. • If human beings exceed the availability of food on earth, nature would balance the proportion of human beings and food by removing the surplus number of humans through floods, droughts, diseases, famines and wars (Malthus, 1958, pp. 5-11). 6Dr Abdur Rehman Cheema, SZABIST, Islamabad
  7. 7. Religious views and approaches (contd.) • In the 18th century a major earthquake struck the Portuguese city of Lisbon on November 1, 1775, resulting in widespread destruction (Quarantelli, 2009, p. 10). • Voltaire (1694–1778) Did fallen Lisbon deeper drink of vice Than London, Paris, or sunlit Madrid? In these, men dance; at Lisbon yawns the abyss 7Dr Abdur Rehman Cheema, SZABIST, Islamabad
  8. 8. Technocratic views and technical approaches • Technocratic views, from the mid-20th century until the end of 1970s, treated hazards and disasters as separate and discrete from the social domain of human environment and perceived them only as a result of geophysical processes (Haque & Etkin, 2007). • The emphasis in the early 20th century remained on understanding geographical features such as location, frequency, intensity and probability of events. 8Dr Abdur Rehman Cheema, SZABIST, Islamabad
  9. 9. Technocratic views and technical approaches (contd.) • Paradoxically, such measures resulted in an increase in losses due to a false sense of full control over disasters. • Technocrats‘ expertise was trusted blindly in some cases, as in the example of Saint-Pierre, Mont Pelée, 30,000 people on the West Indian Island of Martinique on May 8, 1902. 9Dr Abdur Rehman Cheema, SZABIST, Islamabad
  10. 10. Technocratic views and technical approaches (contd.) • Overall, the central argument in this approach was that nature could be controlled by understanding its physical characteristics through scientific inquiry along with traditional disaster reduction measures such as warnings insurance and emergency relief. • Therefore, based on scientific input, the main responsibility for dealing with natural hazards remained in the domain of the state. 10Dr Abdur Rehman Cheema, SZABIST, Islamabad
  11. 11. Holistic views and integrated approaches • In the last quarter of the 20th century, the dominant paradigm, mostly applying scientific solutions, began to be challenged in disaster studies. • Inadequate consideration of the full social costs … dams not only increased the vulnerability of displaced populations, damaged natural resources, livelihoods and, habitat…the benefits proved to be short-lived and out- numbered by losses. 11Dr Abdur Rehman Cheema, SZABIST, Islamabad
  12. 12. Holistic views and integrated approaches (contd.) • Cuny (1983) argued that the rise in disaster-related losses was strongly related to the vulnerability caused by human-inspired development. • Cuny (1983, p. 14) noted that only 48 people were reported dead during an earthquake of 6.4 magnitude in San Fernando, California in 1971. • The city had a population of about seven million. On the other hand, six thousand people died during an earthquake of 6.2 magnitude in Managua, Nicaragua, two years later. 12Dr Abdur Rehman Cheema, SZABIST, Islamabad
  13. 13. Holistic views and integrated approaches (contd.) • The term ―natural disasters‖ was strongly opposed (Twigg, 2004). It was argued that only natural hazards exist, not natural disasters, and a disaster occurred when a group of people were struck by a hazard of such magnitude that it was beyond their capability to cope (Twigg, 2004). • The alternative view of disasters guided by the vulnerability perspective view criticised the dominant paradigm for ignoring the role of vulnerability. 13Dr Abdur Rehman Cheema, SZABIST, Islamabad
  14. 14. Holistic views and integrated approaches (contd.) • Comparing the 1976 earthquake of Guatemala with that of Hurricane Katrina, similar patterns of vulnerability appear. In the Guatemala earthquake, 90,000 people became homeless and as the majority of victims were slum residents, it was called a class earthquake (Twigg, 2004, p. 16). • In both cases, economic pressures had left people with no choice except to settle in cheap but risky areas. It becomes evident that vulnerability is often a compulsion rather than a choice. 14Dr Abdur Rehman Cheema, SZABIST, Islamabad
  15. 15. Holistic views and integrated approaches (contd.) • Disaster risk was not viewed only as the result of purely geophysical and natural processes but as a compound function of hazards and vulnerability. • The new conceptualisation of ―disaster risk articulated that risk was a product of hazard and vulnerability (Wisner et al., 2004, p. 49) Risk = Hazard x Vulnerability 15Dr Abdur Rehman Cheema, SZABIST, Islamabad
  16. 16. Holistic views and integrated approaches (contd.) • Another way of looking at reduction of vulnerability to hazards is by increasing the capacity or capability and resilience of people. 16Dr Abdur Rehman Cheema, SZABIST, Islamabad
  17. 17. Explanation of the terms vulnerability, capacity and resilience 17 Dr Abdur Rehman Cheema, SZABIST, Islamabad
  18. 18. International Trends towards Disaster Risk Reduction Dr Abdur Rehman Cheema, SZABIST, 18 Islamabad
  19. 19. International Trends • At the international level, concerted efforts to reduce disaster losses were highlighted when the UN designated the 1990s as the United Nations International Decade for Natural Disaster Risk Reduction 19Dr Abdur Rehman Cheema, SZABIST, Islamabad
  20. 20. International Trends • Mid-term review in 1994 • Yokohama strategy for disaster reduction was adopted at a world conference, and the human dimension of disasters was incorporated, at least theoretically. 20Dr Abdur Rehman Cheema, SZABIST, Islamabad
  21. 21. References • Anderson, B., & Woodrow, P. (1989). Rising from the ashes: Development strategies in times of disaster. Boulder: Westview Press. • Blaikie, P., Cannon, T., Davis, I., & Wisner, B. (1994). At risk: Natural hazards, peoples vulnerabilities and disasters (Ist ed.). London: Rutledge. • Cutter, S. L., Boruff, B. J., & Shirley, W. L. (2003). Social vulnerability to environmental hazards. Social Science Quarterly, 84(2), 242-261. • Cutter, S. (2006, June 11). The geography of social vulnerability: Race, class, and catastrophe. Social Science Research Council. Retrieved October 28, 2011, from • Gaillard, J. C. (2010). Vulnerability, capacity and resilience: Perspectives for climate and development policy. Journal of International Development, 22(2), 218-232. • Haque, C., & Etkin, D. (2007). People and community as constituent parts of hazards: the significance of societal dimensions in hazards analysis. Natural Hazards, 41(2), 271-282. • Haque, C. E. (2003). Perspectives of natural disasters in East and South Asia, and the Pacific Island states: Socio-economic correlates and needs assessment. Natural Hazards, 29(3), 465-483. • Hewitt, K. (1983). The idea of calamity in a technocratic age. In K. Hewitt (Ed.), Interpretations of calamity (pp. 3-32, 123- 139). Boston: Allen & Unwin Inc. • Pasteur, K. (2011). From vulnerability to resilience: A framework for analysis and action to build community resilience. Warwickshire: Practical Action. • Pooley, J. A., Cohen, L., & OConnor, M. (2006). Links between community and individual resilience: Evidence from cyclone affected communities in North West Australia. In D. Paton & D. Johnston (Eds.), Disater resilience: An integrated approach (pp. 161-173). Illionois: Charles C Thomas. 21Dr Abdur Rehman Cheema, SZABIST, Islamabad