A disaster is
a disaster is
Its "disastrousness" is not
defined by its causal agent.
Lesson to be learned:
We will never even understand
the problem, let alone solve it,
unless we start being realistic
about the world in which we live.
The process of
• utilised Disaster
• adopted risk
• learned reduced
What is the world actually like?
• colossal imbalances in power and wealth
• immense but eminently solvable problems
that are not solved because there is
powerful opposition to attempts to do so
• huge differences in the
definition of what is rational
• many key activities are not
legitimate by any standards.
Terry Cannon's observations on
Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR)
• community-level DRR: communities are
not homogeneous or harmonious units
• communities are not
particularly interested in DRR
• neither are governments
• disasters can be explained with
reference to power structures
• people, governments & communities seldom
act on the basis of evidence and research
• rationality can only be defined in context.
What causes earthquake disasters?
- in probable order of importance • corruption
• political decision-making
• shoddy building (often wilful)
• ignorance (sometimes wilful)
Compared to the
this hospital lacked
more than 500
In the earthquake,
there was mass
mortality in the
NB: Correlation does not
prove causation, but....
• difficult to define
• virtually impossible to measure
• extremely pervasive, endogenous
• moral and ethical frameworks vary
• links with other ills (black economy).
Without corruption, the impact of
this earthquake would have been
about 10% of what it actually was.
• effect of heroin addiction on
the reconstruction of Bam, Iran
• introduction of repressive Shia and
blasphemy laws in Aceh and Padang
• colossal waste of public money on
transitional shelter in L'Aquila, Italy
• government insensitivity to cultural
heritage protection in Christchurch.
More reality check:
• widening wealth gap since 1970
• failure to divert resources from
response to prevention and mitigation
• half of world trade goes
through 78 tax havens
• one fifth of world trade is illicit
(drugs, armaments, people, species)
• relationship of proxy wars to aid.
What is aid?
• resources that debilitate
local coping capacity
• munitions, military hardware, soldier
training and some humanitarian stuff
• an instrument of political influence
• a means of lining
certain people's pockets.
What is aid?
• BIG concrete on poor people's land
• of direct benefit to the donor countries
• aid is in DEEP CRISIS.
" Experts talk of "building back better", of
concepts like "resilience" and "sustainability",
of crisis being opportunity in the way that it
was for the devastated cities of Germany
and Japan in 1945. ... The practice, as
Guardian writers have found out, can be very
different; piecemeal, dilatory, bureaucratic,
venal even. Urban planners, it seems, never
miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
But occasionally, just occasionally, they
surprise on the upside too, and reimagine
the city in ways that might have been
impossible had disaster not struck."
From 1703 until 2014, earthquake
disasters in L'Aquila have been
determined by political decisions
"Our research shows that the success
of early warning is largely determined
by politics, not science."
- Chatham House, London
The economic and social
VALUE of disasters
• consolidate power structures
• augment profits
• allow introduction of conveniently
• permit gratuitous social engineering.
at the service of the people
at the service of vested interests
[spiritual, cultural, political, economic]
In disasters and disaster risk,
how important is gender?
Kobe 1995 earthquake deaths
by gender and age
Correcting a one-sided picture:• advances in knowledge
have had a positive impact
• the whole problem is better
known than ever before
• interdisciplinary research and problemsolving have made some progress
• but the balance is still weighted heavily
in favour of a worsening situation.
• science must not be allowed to be the
justification for political malpractice
• if you supply data, methods or
results you have some responsibility
for how they are used
• accept that the primary effect of
hazards is determined by vulnerability.
theory of disasters
as a negative window
But at the bottom
there was hope....
The positive messages
• realism helps
• transparency is necessary
• gross inequality is in no one's interest
• national policies are needed and can work
• cultivate a flexible attitude.