Mapping Vulnerability: Disasters, Development and People


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What we offer instead is a map. It delineates the landscape of vulnerability, revealing the lie of the land and the shape of its contours. While there are many possible paths on this map, there are, however, no set routes or even fixed destinations. Terry Cannon persuasively argues that while hazards are natural, disasters are not. Social processes generate unequal exposure to risk by making some people more prone to disaster than others, and these inequalities are largely a function of the power relations operative in every society.

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Since the s, the dominance of technical interventions focused on predicting hazards or modifying their impact have been increasingly challenged by this alternative approach, which seeks to combine the risk that people and communities are exposed to with their social, economic and cultural abilities to cope with the damages incurred. Examining disasters through the lens of vulnerability confers real insights at a time when both the frequency and magnitude of such events are escalating.

The total number of reported disasters rose from in to in — an increase of over 93 per cent in a decade. More telling, however, is the doubling of the number of people affected over the same period — rising from 78,, in to ,, in , though the figures had already peaked at a high of ,, in IFRC, , pp—7.

Not all poor people are vulnerable to disasters, nor are the poor all vulnerable in the same way, and some people who are not poor are also vulnerable. Vulnerability, as shown by Charlotte Benson see Chapter 11 , is very much a forward-looking concept and hence more appropriate for policy-making than poverty. By linking disasters to development by way of poverty, vulnerability shares many issues with parallel, and at times overlapping, discourses in social security and sustainable livelihoods.

All three are primarily engaged with the means by which individuals and the communities they constitute attempt to cope with risk, uncertainty and insecurity in their lives.

Mapping Vulnerability: Disasters, Development, and People - Google книги

The powerful insights that vulnerability has to offer have not gone unnoticed. It has increasingly found inclusion in mainstream development jargon to identify people particularly in need of interventions and has also been widely adopted and co-opted by the expert community who tend to appropriate the term without actualizing its potential. Vulnerability is often regarded as a property and not as an outcome of social relations. However, the measure of vulnerability should not be regarded as static.

Rather, vulnerability expresses changing social and economic conditions in relation to the nature of hazard and is part of a dynamic, evolutionary and accretive process Lewis, , p It is also important to recognize that the same social and cultural processes that give rise to vulnerability are partly subordinate to, and enmeshed in, broader processes that are expressions of international and national political and economic considerations Introduction: Mapping Vulnerability 3 Cannon, , p Moreover, the co-optation of vulnerability as a state of affairs that development attempts to address fails to reveal how development processes actually generate vulnerability.

Disasters are not simply the product of one-off natural phenomena, as Allan Lavell shows in his discussion of the Lempa River Valley in El Salvador see Chapter 5 , but are equally the result of environmentally unsustainable development projects over time. Even well-intentioned relief operations can have unforeseen consequences and create new vulnerabilities, as Zenaida Delica-Willison and Robin Willison so tragically depict in examples drawn from African experiences see Chapter Everyday risks, often brought about as a result of the development process, share with disasters a common origin that an appreciation of vulnerability more fully reveals.

And vulnerability, as Delica-Willison and Willison remind us, is all about placing the people who experience disasters, whether sudden or slow-onset ones, at the centre of research and policy agendas. In their different ways, all the contributors to this volume explore how vulnerability provides a conceptual link in improving our understanding of the relationship between disasters, development and people thus the title of this book.

Building on the critical notions of vulnerability from the s, this volume explores how these notions have evolved during the s as the complexity of the relationship between peoples and their environments — mediated by processes of climate change — has become increasingly apparent. A proper appreciation of the construction of vulnerability is still often hampered by the lack of an adequate historical perspective from which to understand the contexts and roots of disaster causality Oliver- 4 Mapping Vulnerability Smith, , p18; Lees and Bates, , p Similarly, the condition of dependency created by colonialism and cash-cropping, along with climate change, is credited by some French Marxist economic anthropologists as the principal cause of drought and famine in the Sahel Copans, ; Meillassoux, History reveals that vulnerability may be centuries in the making: societies and destructive agents are mutually constituted and embedded in natural and social systems as unfolding processes over time.

Asking why disasters happen is a political question; but understanding how they occur is a social and historical one. Above all, it is the present condition the outcome of past factors that transforms a hazard into a calamity and determines whether people have the resilience to withstand its effects or are rendered vulnerable to its consequences.

Oliver-Smith talks about the mutuality that exists between nature and culture and how disasters are uniquely situated in both the material and social worlds, and in some hybrid space created at their intersection. This hybridity, however, also creates a sense of historical complexity that is decisive in the ways in which disasters occur.

As the modern world becomes increasingly complex, a more holistic appreciation of the interrelation between environment and society over time is required to adequately meet the challenges posed by the processes of globalization.

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Mapping Vulnerability: Disasters, Development, and People - Google Libri

It is this mutuality that lies at the heart of an understanding of vulnerability and its application in both revealing the multifaceted nature of disaster and its historical roots and political agenda. Vulnerability is also about people, their perceptions and knowledge. Perception, of course, is not knowledge, nor does knowledge necessarily translate into action.

Yet, perception is important in understanding why people exhibit certain behaviours. All three are equally valuable and necessary in understanding what makes people vulnerable and how they can set about reducing that condition. And knowledge is also intimately related to issues of power, both locally and globally. It may take the form of firsthand knowledge of the environment and its limitations and dangers that may provide a practical guide to what steps should or should not be taken in the face of the onset of a sudden or slow-onset hazard.


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It may equally stem, however, from a memory pool, whether traditional or invented, added to and mutated over the generations and often manifest in the form of self-help practices and mutual assistance associations at the community level. However, it rarely empowers people in any context beyond the community level and is frequently contrasted disadvantageously with a more universal and implicitly Western knowledge system see Bankoff in Chapter 2 and Hilhorst in Chapter 4.

Less than adequate attention, too, has been directed at considering the historical roots of the discursive framework within which vulnerable people are generally presented and the particular cultural values that determine the way in which certain regions or zones of the world are usually imagined.

Greg Bankoff discusses how, by depicting large parts of the globe as hazard prone, Western countries have employed the concept of disasters as a means of maintaining their socio-economic and political ascendancy in world affairs see Chapter 2. Which areas are vulnerable, and why the people living there are considered as such, often form part of a political discourse evoked by both international agencies and national governments to decide who should receive assistance and in what manner.

Perception, knowledge and power provide both the means and the explanation that link people through vulnerability to disasters and development. This defies the possibility of reading vulnerability from a general chart, and points to the need for more local or regional and more dynamic analyses of what makes certain people vulnerable to risk and through what processes they become resilient.

Students of vulnerability today face the challenge of having to establish these processes at different levels of analysis, while taking into account the different dimensions of complexity involved. Principal among these processes are the need for a transdisciplinary 6 Mapping Vulnerability approach, the realization of vulnerability as a differentiating process and the consideration of temporal dimensions.

Mapping vulnerability: disasters, development and people

First, there is the need for a transdisciplinary approach where social and natural sciences join hands in developing explanatory and policy models for dealing with vulnerability. As Oliver-Smith see Chapter 1 rightly points out, such blending of approaches is complicated by the character of disasters that constitute material events just as much as a multiplicity of interwoven social constructions.

While this underscores the necessity of interdisciplinary work, it also tends to hinder academic communication and breeds paradigmatic confusion. Second is the realization that vulnerability constitutes a differentiating process. Vulnerability is the outcome of socio-economic processes, but it is not a translation of these processes. As Ben Wisner elaborates see Chapter 13 , this can lead to ever-more nuanced definitions of specific vulnerabilities among poor people, according to markers such as age, gender, sexual orientation, parenthood, location, origin and mobility.

Finally, the fact that vulnerability lies at the intersection of different dimensions of time must be considered. Vulnerability changes through time in unpredictable ways and in varying directions: increasing, decreasing, accelerating, oscillating, concentrating or diffusing.

It varies with the interplay of three different time frames: long-term, short-term and cyclical change see Holling, , p9. Yet another complication in pinpointing vulnerability relates to its spatial and organizational qualities. As Allan Lavell points out see Chapter 5 , the space where risk originates and the areas where loss is suffered are often not the same.

Mapping Vulnerability

Thus, while vulnerability to floods might be localized, the causes are manifest more widely and include the operations of major infrastructure, mismanagement of the environment leading to deforestation, and human-induced erosion. In the case of disasters that are caused by human-induced climate change, the spatial and organizational dimension is even more complex. Risks and disasters do not often respect national boundaries and are dealt with by international, regional or global regulatory bodies whose governance patterns are far from coherent.

Finally, there is also the complexity of scale. Linda Stephen see Chapter 7 develops this dimension. She points out how regional analysis of vulnerability tends to homogenize vulnerability to the effect that localized problems do not command the solutions or resources that they should. In particular, this refers to the difficulty of aggregating vulnerability data. Charlotte Benson further elaborates this problem in Chapter 11, where she critically discusses the underlying presumptions and biases in international financial estimations of vulnerability and disaster damage.

As the contributors to this volume argue, drawing out these different dimensions of complexity for specific situations — such as regions, floodplains, mountain ranges or cities — involves, first and foremost, the study of people. It is only through people that the dynamics of these complexities and their interrelations make sense and are realized in practice.


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  8. They also do not offer any easy solutions to the problem of what makes people vulnerable and how that condition is related to disasters and development. But the chapters do not stop at merely mapping out the landscape of vulnerability. They are also concerned with trying to distinguish a way forward, however tentatively that may be expressed, and exploring some of the policy and governance implications of those paths.

    Vulnerability to natural disasters: Professor David Sanderson, Oxford Brookes University

    They are all agreed, too, that there is an urgent need to break with existing patterns that maintain or enhance vulnerability: the continued expansion of human activities in the world is straining both the limits of human adaptive capacities and the resilience of nature. Nevertheless, while the complex nature of vulnerability may defy any simple solutions, and the quest for alternatives is far from complete, four future directions can be discerned among the issues raised by the contributors.

    Mapping Vulnerability: Disasters, Development and People Mapping Vulnerability: Disasters, Development and People
    Mapping Vulnerability: Disasters, Development and People Mapping Vulnerability: Disasters, Development and People
    Mapping Vulnerability: Disasters, Development and People Mapping Vulnerability: Disasters, Development and People
    Mapping Vulnerability: Disasters, Development and People Mapping Vulnerability: Disasters, Development and People
    Mapping Vulnerability: Disasters, Development and People Mapping Vulnerability: Disasters, Development and People

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