Volume 19, IRDR Conference Special Issue

Contents page - Volume 19, IRDR Conference Special Issue

Published April 2015
Volume 19, IRDR Conference Special Issue (complete issue)

Contents page - Volume 19, IRDR Conference Special Issue

The importance of theory, analysis and practice to integrated disaster research: Introduction to the IRDR Conference Special Issue

Thomas J. Huggins & David M. Johnston

Keywords: disaster risk, analysis, theory, practice, social dimensions, integrated research

The Second Integrated Research on Disaster Risk Conference was held in Beijing, China, on the 7th to 9th of June, 2014. This event gathered a diverse international combination of researchers, policy makers, practitioners, funders and disaster risk reduction agencies, to discuss the applied integration of disaster risk research. The current special issue consists of papers with an explicitly social focus which were presented at this conference. These papers are discussed in terms of vital elements for integrated disaster risk science, namely: analysis, theory and links to practice. The special issue papers include a landmark case study of community-led disaster recovery, amongst indigenous Maori affected by the earthquakes of 2011 and 2012 in Canterbury, New Zealand. Another paper takes an international approach, to analysing the use of the term ‘disaster’ in English speaking contexts. A paper on vulnerability and response to disasters provides a detailed account of needs for disaster risk reduction in low-income countries, such as Ghana. Vulnerabilities are also explored in a paper about the challenges faced by people with disabilities during an earthquake. The special issue concludes with a thought-provoking paper on concepts of modernity, which takes an expansive and historical view of the disaster risk domain. In sum, special issue authors have produced relatively unique combinations of disaster risk analysis, theory and links to practice. This special issue therefore represents an important illustration of integrated disaster risk research.

Community-led disaster risk management: A Māori response to Ōtautahi (Christchurch) earthquakes

Christine M. Kenney, Suzanne R. Pjibbs, Douglas Paton, John Reid & David M. Johnston

Keywords: Integrated, Risk, Governance, Indigenous, Management

Since September 2010, a series of earthquakes have caused widespread social, financial and environmental devastation in Christchurch, New Zealand. Anecdotal evidence suggests that local Maori responded effectively to facilitate community recovery and resilience. Cultural technologies that are protective in times of adversity have previously been noted in Maori communities, but rarely documented. An ongoing research project conducted in partnership with the local Christchurch Iwi (tribe) Ngai Tahu, has been identifying, and documenting the ways Maori cultural factors have facilitated disaster risk reduction and management in response to the earthquakes. A qualitative research methodology ( Te Whakamaramatanga), based on Ngai Tahu values, and practices has shaped the community-based participatory research design. Maori research participants were recruited purposively and through self-selection. At the time of writing, the researchers had conducted semi-structured interviews with 43 Maori research participants. Culturally relevant (dialogical and narrative) interviewing approaches have been used to gather research information and facilitate trusting relationships between researchers and local Maori communities. Community engagement has been fostered, as well as a capture of Maori understandings and practices associated with risk reduction and mitigation, disaster preparedness, response and recovery. Data analysis draws on social and risk theories as well as indigenous epistemological concepts. Initial data analysis suggests that within the New Zealand context, Civil Defence and Emergency Management policies and disaster risk reduction practices may be enhanced by the respectful integration of pertinent Maori knowledge and strategies. Ngai Tahu has a statutory governance role in the Christchurch rebuild as stipulated in the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority Act (2011) and relational links with the New Zealand government and local authorities. Accordingly, information arising from data analysis, tribal knowledge, and Maori emergency management practices documented during this project is shaping development of contextualised risk reduction and disaster management strategies at urban and regional levels. Upon project conclusion, research results and recommendations will be disseminated to Iwi (tribes) and key stakeholders, to facilitate Maori disaster management capability, and disaster preparedness, risk reduction, and recovery planning throughout New Zealand. The researchers anticipate that lessons learned from this research may have relevance for other small island states and/or countries with indigenous populations that have similar value systems and bodies of traditional knowledge.

Defining disaster: The need for harmonisation of terminology

Lidia Mayner & Paul Arbon

Keywords: text analysis, disaster, terminology, definitions, glossary

There is a need to harmonise the definitions for disaster terms from a wide range of glossaries and other sources, to build a more unitary foundation for further research, policy and practice. As a first step in a wider programme of research, we present an analysis of the term disaster. Definitions for disaster were obtained from glossaries found in books, reports and internet sites. One of these sources was the National Library of Medicine (NLM), USA which contained 62 disaster related glossaries. A total of 110 glossaries were found containing disaster terminology however, only 52 identified contained definitions for the word disaster. Leximancer software was used to analyse consensus between the different definitions identified, by mapping the connectivity of words and associated concepts. 128 different disaster definitions were identified and included in the analysis, which detected main themes of: disruption; ability; widespread; event; outside; damage; property; and overwhelm. Hence the most consistent definition for disaster appeared to be ‘the widespread disruption and damage to a community that exceeds its ability to cope and overwhelms its resources'. This paper reports on only one term, namely disaster, for which there seems to be little consensus throughout the research and wider community. A number of other limitations are outlined, which are being considered for the ongoing analysis of over 100 disaster-related terms.

A needs-based approach for exploring vulnerability and response to disaster risk in rural communities in low income countries

David Oscar Yawson, Michael Osei Adu, Frederick Ato Armah, Joseph Kusi, Isaac Gershon Ansah & Canford Chiroro

Keywords: vulnerability, flood risk, disaster response, needs-based approach, northern Ghana, low income countries

Vulnerability assessment and reduction are now central to developing a holistic and integrated approach to disaster risk reduction, including mitigating the effects of a disaster. Pre-existing frameworks for mapping vulnerability and planning response to disasters do not completely fit the realities of rural communities in low income countries where most people informally organize their own livelihoods, resources, space, security and response to disasters according to their needs and capacities. Livelihood activities are undertaken to satisfy needs. Hence, understanding needs of people and communities in this context can help unravel vulnerability and response capacity to disaster risks. This paper therefore applied a needs-based approach to explore and analyze the vulnerability of two rural communities in northern Ghana to flood risk. A survey was done, using semi-structured questionnaire, to collect data immediately after the flood in 2007. Based on ranking of needs, the results show that survival and security needs (mainly food, housing, education and reliable income) were dominant before and after the flood. During the flood, however, survival and empathic needs were more important. The results also show the disconnection between institutional frameworks for disaster management and the needs of the communities and, therefore, show a scope for policy and research in disaster management. However, in the context of sustainability, economic needs (dominated by income) were slightly greater than environmental needs (dominated by drainage, water and sanitation and relocation) which, in turn, were higher than social needs (dominated by health and education). Interestingly, most respondents indicated that a reliable source of income was a prerequisite for satisfying social needs in the short term and environmental needs in the long-term. It is concluded that the approach used in this research is simple, intuitive and easy to apply to map vulnerabilities to disaster risk across multiple scales. It is also easy to integrate into policy and management decisions about disaster risk reduction.

Emergency preparedness and perceptions of vulnerability among disabled people following the Christchurch earthquakes: Applying lessons learnt to the Hyogo Framework for Action

Suzanne Phibbs, Gretchen Good, Christina Severinsen, Esther Woodbury & Kerry Williamson

Keywords: disaster, disability, preparedness, vulnerability, risk

Internationally there is limited research on the experiences of people with disabilities during and following a major disaster. The overall aim of this research was to explore how the Christchurch earthquakes impacted upon disabled people. This paper reports on findings from the research relating to emergency preparedness and perceptions of vulnerability among disabled people who were living in Christchurch over the extended period in which the earthquakes occurred. Qualitative inquiry was carried out, involving purposive sampling and face to face interviews with 23 disabled people and four agency representatives living in Christchurch during the earthquakes. The qualitative research was followed by a pilot quantitative survey involving 25 disabled people living in Christchurch during the earthquakes and 10 people who work in the disability sector. Qualitative interview material was analysed using thematic analysis while quantitative data was analysed using descriptive statistics. All findings are related to sections of the Hyogo Framework for Action. The research identified that prior to the September earthquake, disabled people were not prepared for an emergency. Following the earthquake most people took steps to ensure that they were better prepared. However, few disabled people were able to prepare for an emergency without support. Vulnerability was discussed by participants in relation to personal safety, communication, housing, transport and financial hardship. A lack of community preparedness alongside insufficient structures to assist disabled people in the disaster response or recovery phases increased exposure to risk. It was relevant to discuss findings with reference to the Hyogo Framework for Action’s emphasis on vulnerable communities, given that this international document was under review at the time of writing. Our research suggests that disabled people are more likely to be impacted in a civil emergency and are less likely to be prepared. Emergency preparedness management needs to engage with disabled people in the community and have specific policies to assist disabled people prior to and in the event of a disaster.

Environment as trickster: Epistemology and materiality in disaster mitigation

Roberto E. Barrios

Keywords: epistemology, modernity, disasters, material agency, development

Disasters are processes that take form and magnitude at the nexus of human practice and the agency of the material world. Not all human practices create conditions that enhance the disruptive and destructive capacities of geophysical phenomena, but how are we to distinguish which actions mitigate or engender disasters? Most importantly, why do people, institutions, and governments sometimes insist in engaging in human-environment relations that lead to the latter? In this essay, I consider the epistemological dimensions of practice, that is, the ways actions that engender disasters are legitimized as necessary in the context of neoliberal and modernizing approaches to development. I make the argument that these ways of conceptualizing and justifying disaster-engendering actions are rooted in modernist ways of thinking about and engaging the world's materiality. Environments come to be seen as objects at the disposal and service of humanity, without much consideration to the ways material agency manifests in unexpected ways in the moment of practice. Disaster mitigation, I suggest, requires a reconsideration of the ways we think, speak about, and relate to the material world in which the modern epistemological divide between objects and subjects, nature and culture, can be questioned and undone.

All papers are protected under the Creative Commons attribution as per our copyright notice.

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