People and community as constituent parts of hazards: the significance of societal dimensions in hazards analysis
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Nature-triggered hazards and disasters have traditionally been treated only from the lens of geophysical and biophysical processes, implying that the root cause of large-scale death and destruction lies in the natural domain rather than in a coupled human–environment system. Conceptually, the physical domain has been seen as discrete and separate from human entities, and solutions were sought in the technological intervention and control of the physical environment—solutions that often ended up being less effective than hoped for and sometimes even counter productive. At all levels, institutions have directed and redirected most of their financial and logistical resources into the search for scientific and engineering solutions without allocating due attention and resources towards the assessment of effects and effectiveness of the applications of such technological outcomes. However, over the last two decades, forceful criticisms of the ‘dominant’ technocratic approach to hazards analysis have appeared in the literature and consequently there has not only been a shift in thinking of causation of disaster loss in terms of human vulnerability, but also newer questions have arisen regarding distinguishing between the ‘physical exposure’ of people to threats and societal vulnerability, and linking them with propensity to hazards loss.
Though the vulnerability/resilience paradigm has largely replaced the hazards paradigm within the social sciences and much of the professional emergency and disaster management communities, this shift of thinking has not progressed to much of the physical science community, decision-makers and the public, who have not yet accepted the idea that understanding and using human and societal dimensions is equally or more important than trying to deal and control nature through the use of technology. This special issue is intended to further the idea that the aspects of community and peoples’ power to mitigate, to improve coping mechanisms, to respond effectively, and recover with vigor against the environmental extremes are of paramount conceptual and policy importance.
KeywordsRisk Hazards Vulnerability Resilience Community Disaster management Canada United States Bangladesh
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The symposium on ‘Reducing Risk through Partnerships’ was an initiative of the Canadian Risk and Hazards Network (CRHNet), and we would like to thank Leslie King of the Clayton H. Riddell Faculty of Environment, Earth, and Resources of the University of Manitoba for her support and advice. Public Safety Canada, Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization, Earth Science Division of the Natural Resources Canada, Environment Canada, and Health Canada, co-sponsors of the symposium, made major contributions to its success and the follow up publications. For this, we thank Peter Hill, Irwin Itzkovitch, Chuck Sanderson, Valeriah Hwacha, Dave Hutton, and Grace Kosida. Finally, this special issue could not have been accomplished without the help of several research and editorial assistants. We would also like to extend our special thanks to Nancy Powell Quinn, Glenn Bergen and Cameron Zywina for their kind help and contributions to the preparation of this special issue.
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