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
• 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.
What is the world actually like?
• 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
Terry Cannon's observations on
Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR)
• people, governments & communities seldom
act on the basis of evidence and research
• rationality can only be defined in context.
• political decision-making
• shoddy building (often wilful)
• ignorance (sometimes wilful)
What causes earthquake disasters?
- in probable order of importance -
Serious conclusion: there is not one
reality, but there are many of them.
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).
(fast) reformation (slower) repopulation
Recoverycapital displaces labour
Total: life is
Economic: people lack
to the riskiness of technology
Delinquent: caused by
corruption, negligence, etc.
Residual: caused by
lack of modernisation
Newly generated: caused by
changes in circumstances
Built in 1509
to survive the
inhabited in 1625
by Francis Bacon.
Sylva Sylvarum, 1625
[Are we to criticise him for using
the "greengrocer's apostrophe"?]
as a material has brittle
strength and ductility:
society must have an optimum
combination of resistance to
hazard impacts and ability
to adapt to them.
• 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.
• 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.
More reality check:
• 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.
What is aid?
" 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 …
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."
The catastrophic earthquakes that have
occurred since 1999, in Turkey, Taiwan,
Sumatra, Kashmir and Sichuan,
demonstrate that elementary engineering
guidelines for earthquake resistance in
crucial civil structures (schools, hospitals
and fire stations,) have been alien
concepts to local authorities, or have
Roger Bilham, Nature
From 1703 until 2014, earthquake
disasters in L'Aquila have been
determined by political decisions
Without corruption, the impact of
this earthquake would have been
about 10% of what it actually was.
"Our research shows that the success
of early warning is largely determined
by politics, not science."
- Chatham House, London
• consolidate power structures
• augment profits
• allow introduction of conveniently
• permit gratuitous social engineering.
The economic and social
VALUE of disasters
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
― males ― females
Gender and Disasters Network
• advances in knowledge
have had a positive impact
• the whole problem is better
known than ever before
• interdisciplinary research and problem-
solving have made some progress
• but the balance is still weighted heavily
in favour of a worsening situation.
Correcting a one-sided picture:-
• 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.
as a negative window
But at the bottom
there was hope....
theory of disasters
• realism helps
• transparency is necessary
• gross inequality is in no one's interest
• national policies are needed and can work
• cultivate a flexible attitude.
The positive messages
Thank you for