Realising the promise of natural hazards planning:
The papers in this Special Issue explore different aspects of natural hazards planning in Australasia. This concluding paper synthesises from these papers four strategic issues for realising the promise of natural hazards planning in Australasia, namely (i) undertake pre-event planning for sustainability, disaster risk reduction and post-disaster recovery; (ii) mainstream natural hazards planning to address low probability events and climate change in day-to-day land-use planning and management; (iii) focus more attention on the social dimensions of natural hazards; and (iv) increase the emphasis on natural hazards governance.
There has been a paradigm shift in thinking about how to address natural hazards. The preoccupation with the physical peril and response and recovery has shifted to a focus on reducing social vulnerability and adopting measures that promote sustainable hazard mitigation and disaster risk reduction (see Glavovic, this issue). International scholarship, especially in the United States of America (USA), attests to the pivotal role that land-use planning can play in translating this rhetoric into reality (see e.g., Burby, 1998; Godschalk et al., 1998; Mileti, 1999). The promise of natural hazards planning can be realised by enabling communities to understand the risks they face and make decisions that promote community safety and sustainability. In summary, sustainable hazard mitigation avoids locating people and critical infrastructure in high risk areas; retains the hazard mitigating qualities of healthy ecosystems; designs resilient buildings and infrastructure; and enables communities to work together proactively to improve awareness, understanding, preparedness and take practical steps to reduce hazard exposure and vulnerability. Countries in Australasia have institutionalised a variety of policies, laws and practices to realise this promise. But, despite these efforts, the promise of natural hazards planning is far from realised (ALGA, 2006; Campbell, this issue; Glavovic et al., this issue). Notwithstanding the aforementioned paradigm shift in thinking, deep-rooted societal values and prevailing practice favour property development interests over community safety and sustainability. Consequently, hazard risks are usually created by those seeking private sector profit while the costs are borne by the individuals, small businesses and governments that make up at-risk communities (Handmer, 2008; Puszkin-Chevlin, 2006/7). The papers in this Special Issue explore different aspects of natural hazards planning in Australasia. This concluding paper synthesises from these papers strategic challenges and opportunities for realising the promise of natural hazards planning.
There is a diversity of cultures and environmental, social, economic, political and governance characteristics within and between countries in Australasia. Notwithstanding this diversity, the papers in this Special Issue highlight four strategic issues that need to be addressed to realise the promise of natural hazards planning in this region, namely:
1. Pre-event planning for sustainability, disaster risk reduction and post-disaster recovery
The paper by Smith (this issue) focuses particular attention on this issue and distils the following lessons from USA experience based on a review of literature, personal experience and case study analysis:
These lessons are generally applicable in Australasia. In different ways, each of the papers in this Special Issue highlights the imperative to undertake proactive pre-event planning to build sustainable, hazard-resilient communities. Many of these lessons have been integrated into recommendations for pre-event recovery planning in New Zealand (see e.g., Becker et al., 2006, 2008). Nonetheless, more focused attention on this issue is needed in New Zealand because ‘reduction’ is the least well developed of the ‘4Rs’ of comprehensive emergency management. This presents an opportunity to more effective align land-use planning and emergency management provisions under existing legislation (Glavovic et al., this issue). The benefits of meaningful community participation in pre-event planning have been demonstrated in the Northland region of New Zealand (Mitchell, et al., this issue). Disaster risk reduction through pre-event planning measures needs to be more effectively incorporated into national and local planning processes in Pacific Island Countries (PICs) (Campbell, this issue) and Australia (ALGA, 2006). Such pre-event planning ought to include, among other things, pre-event social assessments and social impact assessments (Cottrell & King, this issue).
2. Mainstream natural hazards planning to address low probability events and climate change in day-to-day land-use planning and management
International scholarship underscores the difficulties experienced in mainstreaming natural hazards planning and, in particular, the challenge to prioritise and plan for low probability and slow onset hazard risks in day-to-day planning and management processes (see Glavovic, this issue). Becker et al. (this issue) elaborate on these difficulties in the context of planning for volcanic risks in New Zealand, which are a significant peril for many rural and urban communities. Case studies in the USA, Japan and New Zealand indicate that limited application of natural hazards planning principles to reduce volcanic risk is in part due to the sporadic nature of volcanic activity and uncertainty about the timing, magnitude and impact of events. Obviously, little can be done to change the nature of volcanism. But much more can be done to integrate information about volcanic risks and vulnerability into land-use planning processes. Policy statements and plans need to focus more explicit attention on volcanic risks while national guidance may help to provide a common framework for appropriate measures to be taken to avoid or at least mitigate impacts from different volcanic hazards. Specific examples include avoiding new development in high volcanic risk areas; restricting development or permitting only low density development in already developed hazard areas; using volcanic hazard-specific criteria for assessing development proposals; siting, and where necessary, relocating critical infrastructure away from high volcanic risk areas; using urban design measures to mitigate volcanic impacts (e.g., design roof pitch and guttering to mitigate volcanic ashfall); and developing pre-event recovery plans for potential volcanic events. More generally, planners in localities prone to low probability events, such as volcanic risks, need to work with the full range of stakeholders to improve awareness about these risks and integrate hazard-specific risk reduction and mitigation measures into policies and land-use plans.
More focused attention also needs to be given to planning for slow onset hazards, especially hazard risks that are likely to be aggravated by climate change. To a large extent, disaster risk reduction and climate change scholarship have been carried out as distinct and parallel discourses. There is a compelling need for more effective integration because climate change and hydro-meteorological hazards are tightly coupled; and climate change impacts have potentially profound implications for hazard risks in Australasia (IPCC, 2007). Building resilience to climate change requires improved understanding about exposure and sensitivity to climate change and adaptive capacity. Based on work in southeast Queensland, Australia, Smith et al. (this issue) advocate a participatory and transformative research and planning approach to understand regional climate change vulnerability and facilitate adaptation through: (i) assessing past adaptation options; (ii) conceptualising climate change systems as perceived by various sectors (based on regional climate change projections); (iii) identifying key adaptive capacity attributes; (iv) analysing adaptive capacity; and (v) designing strategies to enhance adaptive capacity. Their recommended approach is likely to be applicable in PICs, especially given the imperative to understand changing patterns of community resilience and vulnerability (see Campbell, this issue), and in New Zealand to complement government provisions to support local authorities in preparing for climate change (see Glavovic et al., this issue). Glavovic et al. (this issue) point out that more focused, priority attention is needed to ensure national consistency in how local authorities and communities build resilience and adaptive capacity. Consideration needs to be given to developing a New Zealand national policy statement on climate change adaptation. There is also a need for comparative case study research about communities that are taking steps to prepare for climate change to better understand how to mainstream such measures; and to further develop, monitor and review guidance about integrating climate change adaptation into local planning processes.
3. The social dimensions of natural hazards
Scholars have clearly demonstrated the need to understand disaster risk as a function of physical peril and social vulnerability (see Glavovic, this issue). Increasing attention is being focused on the social dimensions of hazards in Australasia, but this aspect of disaster research is less well developed than that found in the earth science and engineering disciplines. The papers in this Special Issue underscore the pivotal importance of understanding and addressing the social dimensions of natural hazards. Cottrell & King (this issue) focus attention on the imperative to understand the social characteristics of at-risk communities. They point out that post-disaster social assessments are valuable for understanding and addressing disaster impacts. But there is a compelling need to undertake pre-event social assessments to better understand community characteristics, including vulnerabilities and coping capacity to anticipate, respond to and recover from events. Social assessments need to be carried out at all stages of the emergency management process, including pre-event planning, immediate response and recovery. Iterative social assessment and social impact assessment facilitates deeper understanding about changing community characteristics and thus can help to ensure that up-to-date information can be used in decisions to reduce vulnerability, build resilience and facilitate post-disaster recovery.
The paper by Campbell (this issue) on the changing nature of resilience in PICs underscores the importance of understanding and addressing the social dimension of hazards. Clearly, historical, cultural and socio-political factors play a crucial role in shaping hazard-vulnerability and resilience in these countries. Paradoxically, the historical resilience of Pacific Island communities has been eroded in modern times. Campbell (this issue) highlights three important trends. Firstly, PICs have become dependent on international disaster relief through reactive post-disaster response efforts. Paradoxically, this well intentioned endeavour has helped to create self-perpetuating dependency; and eroded indigenous coping mechanisms and community resilience. Secondly, rapid urban growth has led to the expansion of squatter settlements that are vulnerable to an array of natural hazards. More attention needs to be focused on the nexus between urban planning and development and disaster risk reduction. This is a complex subject with intricate interconnections between urban and rural livelihoods. There are, however, no simple solutions for reducing urban disaster risk in PICs. Thirdly, disaster risk management institutional arrangements at the regional level have been developed. But more attention needs to be focused on strengthening national and local disaster risk reduction efforts.
More effective community involvement in natural hazards planning is vital for building sustainable, hazard-resilient communities. Consistent with international experience, Mitchell et al. (this issue) highlight the central importance and benefits of involving local communities in natural hazards planning processes. Their case study of community response planning in the Northland region of New Zealand reveals the importance of designing natural hazards planning processes that promote community ownership of the plan. They need to be tailored to meet the needs and concerns of particular communities and responsive and flexible to changing circumstances. They should provide equal opportunity for contributions from diverse community members to create a ‘level playing field.’ Such plans should be community-driven and -led; and used to build community trust. They need to be kept simple, focused on priority community concerns and based on local examples. Community plans should be sustained over time through effective institutionalisation of the planning process.
4. Increase the emphasis on natural hazards governance
Natural hazards impact a wide range of stakeholders and institutions, including the government (or the State), civil society and the private sector. Increasing attention is being focused on how all stakeholders can contribute to and become more effectively involved in building sustainable, hazard-resilient communities. Among other things, the many different parties who have a stake in natural hazards planning need to learn to work together more effectively. This challenge transcends traditional emergency management practice and needs to be framed as a natural hazards governance challenge. Glavovic et al. (this issue) highlight three pivotal aspects of cooperative hazards governance that have general applicability in Australasia:
In conclusion, building sustainable, hazard-resilient communities is a compelling goal for all countries in Australasia. Land-use planning can play a pivotal role in building such communities. But there are deep-rooted obstacles that need to be overcome to reduce disaster risk and promote sustainable hazard mitigation. Four strategic imperatives need to be addressed. First, pre-event planning for sustainability, disaster risk reduction and post-disaster recovery is essential. Second, low probability events and climate change impacts need to be taken into account in day-to-day land-use planning and management by mainstreaming natural hazards planning. Third, more focused attention needs to be given to the social dimensions of natural hazards. Finally, realising the promise of natural hazards planning requires that past preoccupation with response and recovery needs to be shifted towards proactive governance of natural hazards, involving all key stakeholders from government, the private sector and civil society, to promote community safety, resilience and sustainability.
The support of the Earthquake Commission to undertake this research is gratefully acknowledged.
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Massey University, New Zealand
4 February, 2010