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Earthquake Disaster Mitigation


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  • 1. Social, Cultural and Political Aspects of Earthquake Disaster Mitigation David Alexander University College London
  • 2. Theorem: A better knowledge of natural hazards will contribute almost nothing to resolving the disasters problem... ...unless context is taken fully into account.
  • 3. The Problem
  • 4. A disaster is a disaster is a disaster... Its "disastrousness" is not defined by its causal agent. Gertrude Stein, 1913 [adapted]
  • 5. 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.
  • 6. + The process of disaster risk reduction (DRR) Analysis Past events • utilised Disaster • adopted risk • learned reduced Lessons - • • • • registered archived forgotten ignored Vulnerability maintained
  • 7. 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.
  • 8. 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.
  • 9. What causes earthquake disasters? - in probable order of importance • corruption • political decision-making • shoddy building (often wilful) • ignorance (sometimes wilful) • seismicity.
  • 10. Compared to the original plans, this hospital lacked more than 500 concrete beams. In the earthquake, there was mass mortality in the maternity wing.
  • 11. NB: Correlation does not prove causation, but....
  • 12. Corruption • difficult to define • virtually impossible to measure • extremely pervasive, endogenous • moral and ethical frameworks vary • links with other ills (black economy).
  • 13. Without corruption, the impact of this earthquake would have been about 10% of what it actually was.
  • 14.
  • 15. Organisational systems: management Political systems: decisions Hazard Vulnerability Resilience Social systems: behaviour Natural systems: function Technical systems: malfunction
  • 16. Liabilities Capabilities Attributes Physical Environment Social (including cultural, (including natural, built, technological) political, economic) Risk Susceptibility VULNERABILITY Resistance Source: McEntire 2001 Resilience
  • 17. Diagnosis
  • 18. Reality check: • 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.
  • 19. 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.
  • 20. 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.
  • 21. What is aid? • BIG concrete on poor people's land • of direct benefit to the donor countries • aid is in DEEP CRISIS.
  • 22. " 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."
  • 23. From 1703 until 2014, earthquake disasters in L'Aquila have been determined by political decisions
  • 24. "Our research shows that the success of early warning is largely determined by politics, not science." - Chatham House, London
  • 25. The economic and social VALUE of disasters • consolidate power structures • augment profits • allow introduction of conveniently repressive measures • permit gratuitous social engineering.
  • 26. BENIGN (healthy) at the service of the people IDEOLOGY interplay dialectic CULTURE MALIGN (corrupt) at the service of vested interests Justification Development [spiritual, cultural, political, economic]
  • 27. In disasters and disaster risk, how important is gender?
  • 28. Kobe 1995 earthquake deaths by gender and age ― males ― females
  • 29. Towards a cure
  • 30. 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.
  • 31. Some precepts • 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.
  • 32. "Pandora's box" theory of disasters Earthquake disaster as a negative window of opportunity But at the bottom there was hope....
  • 33. 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.
  • 34. Ishinomaki, Japan