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Contents of Recent Issues

Volume 22, No. 3 (November 2004)

 

Special Issue

NEW PERSPECTIVES ON VULNERABILITY

Philip Buckle
Guest Editor

CONTENTS

Introduction

Philip Buckle, "Introduction, " pp. 5-8.

Articles by:

David E. A. Johnson, "Call for Dynamic Hazard Assessment," pp. 9-22.

This exploratory study examines the use of agent-based modeling for the dynamic assessment of the hazards associated with flooding responses. While flooding is the specific agent used, the techniques are applicable to any type of hazard. The equation upon which the model is built considers four components: geophysical, built, social environments and response organization capabilities. The development of the agent characteristics requires the quantification of the interdependencies of the environment as well as the interaction among the response agencies in a complex adaptive system.  This study will develop a realistic model of the hazards and the ability of the response organizations to mitigate the incident.  (AA)

Greg Bankoff, "Time is of the Essence: Disasters, Vulnerability and History," pp. 23-42.

As an historian whose interests lie in both contemporary disaster practice as well the historical roots of vulnerability, I have become increasingly intrigued by the manner in which the proponents of these two 'fields' approach the question of time in relation to disasters. Needless to say these actors regard it very differently. Social scientists (and here I include mainly sociologists, anthropologists and human geographers) largely pay lip service to its importance, at best mentioning its relevance en passant but giving historical analysis and specific historical example little real consideration in the greater scheme of things. At the same time, though, they place inordinate emphasis on the importance of 'process' as the basis upon which their understanding of what turns a natural hazard into a disaster depends. The concept of vulnerability is proposed as the key to understanding how social systems generate unequal exposure to risk by making some people more prone to disaster than others, a condition that is largely a function of the power relations operative in each society. Vulnerability to historians, on the other hand, is not even really a conceptual term and, when used at all, usually indicates a state of being not a condition derivative of historical processes. Above all, disasters are primarily 'events' caused by a combination of seismological, meteorological or epidemiological agents (occasionally war is seen in this context as well) that have certain detrimental physical and socioeconomic consequences. At their most extreme, they may even cause the downfall of societies. However, they are rarely integrated into any wider theoretical perspective. Though both social scientists and historians may talk about disasters, they are not necessarily talking about the same thing: the one sees disasters as primarily a historical process (or processes set within recent temporal parameters), the other as non-sequential historical events. This is unfortunate because primarily disasters are both historical processes and sequential events.  If this assertion sounds rather convoluted, I trust the following discussion will make the distinction somewhat clearer though no amount of clarification is really sufficient to adequately address this question.  Instead, I intend what I say more as 'a line of thinking in progress' than 'a work in progress. '  (AA)

John Handmer and Rebecca Monson, "Does a Rights Based Approach Make a Difference? The Role of Public Law in Vulnerability Reduction," pp. 43-59.

Reducing the impact of climate-related disasters can be conceptualized as being about reducing or managing 'vulnerability.' 'Vulnerability' is a multi-faceted concept incorporating issues of livelihood, housing, security and gender among many others. For example, groups of people may be more or less vulnerable to climate-related disasters due to the security of their livelihoods or the quality of their housing. International and national law may regulate some of these constituents of vulnerability. In some jurisdictions, such as countries in the European Union and the Council of Europe, and countries with new constitutions, there is a range of specific tights that may be mobilized to reduce vulnerability.

Much of the work on the link between vulnerability reduction and human rights focuses on international law. However, national law is generally more accessible and enforceable than international law. We draw on three recent South African cases to illustrate the potential for citizens to mobilize public law to reduce their own vulnerability, and raise the question of whether a legal tights based approach might be useful elsewhere in the world.. (AA)

Rebecca Monson, "1998 Floods in the Tambo Valley," pp. 61-86.

This paper examines the flood event of June 1998 and its effect on residents of the upper Tambo Valley, in Victoria south east Australia. While the concept of vulnerability has been widely employed to understand disasters, this case study is unique in that it adopts a long-term historical perspective of vulnerability. It shows that rather than being the result of a chance occurrence of a natural event, the 1998 flood disaster was in fact foreseeable, and the culmination of various social, political, economic and environmental pressures, some of which had existed for well over a century.  (AA)

Julian Bloomer, "Divided We Fall: Towards An Understanding Of Community Risk Assessment: A Case Study From The Lao PDR," pp. 87-108.

Much of the theory that embodies the framework for community risk assessments has been drawn from varying peripheral disciplines. Many potentially important factors such as the suitability of existing disaster management philosophies in differing contexts, the need for methodologies accessible to those with limited training and the development of appropriate indicators for monitoring the success of participation have been largely neglected. Further to these issues that relate directly to the risk assessment, issues surrounding the role of governments in risk reduction and the recognition of the importance of risk perception amongst communities were also encountered during the research process discussed below and have been examined in the context of developing appropriate methodologies. The importance of small-scale threats to the surveyed community was identified during the field study as well as the need for the de-professionalization of risk assessment procedures, particularly for areas that would not ordinarily receive attention from disaster management practitioners but that would benefit from the principles used in the discipline. The study concluded that the development of a more flexible methodology that had the ability to adapt to the multifarious contexts that the process is employed in is a key factor in ensuring the positive future development of the process.  (AA)

 

Book Review by :

Juan Murria, review of José Lugo-Hubp and Moshe Inbar, Desastres Naturales en América Latina, pp. 109-110.

 

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