More on Vulnerability and Disaster

Blaikie, Piers, Terry Cannon, Ian David, and Ben Wisner. At Risk: Natural Hazards, People’s Vulnerability and Disasters. East Sussex: Psychology Press, 2004. 

This week I read At Risk: Natural Hazards, People’s Vulnerability and Disasters by Piers Blaikie, Terry Cannon, Ian David, and Ben Wisner.

The premise of this work was that disasters caused by natural hazards are not as great of a threat to humanity as the types of risks experiences by a large number of the world’s population on a day-to-day basis. The authors state:

The crucial point about understanding why disasters happen is that it is not only natural events that cause them. They are also the product of social, political and economic environments (as distinct from the natural environment), because of these structures the lives of different groups of people. There is a danger in treating disasters as something peculiar, as events that deserve their own special focus. It is to risk separating ‘natural’ disasters from the social frameworks that influence how hazards affect people, thereby putting too much emphasis on the natural hazards themselves, and not nearly enough on the surround social environment.1

The authors go into discussion of the definition of vulnerability, the most common types of vulnerability, conventional views on disaster, and the intricate relationship between the natural and the social. While the authors make a point to say that technological catastrophes are not specifically included within the book, their analysis of risk and the reciprocal relationship between the human and the natural in disaster situations offers a great lens through which to consider my own project. As I discover more about the vulnerability in Saltville, Virginia in 1924, perhaps the definitions and descriptions of vulnerability and social structures in this book will enlighten my work, or perhaps I will find that Saltville does not fit the mold that the authors offer. Regardless, the second edition of this book appears to go one step beyond Steinberg’s Acts of God to consider an international perspective, and will certainly prove just as useful to my analysis of vulnerability and disaster.

1 Blaikie et all, At Risk, 4

4 thoughts on “More on Vulnerability and Disaster”

  1. Hi Carmen,

    I like the quote you pulled out of the book. I think it would be helpful to interrogate the idea of “natural disasters,” since the element that makes something a “disaster,” at least in terms of how it effects people, always has something to do with human intervention, even if it’s just people deciding to build homes in a certain area. So, the Saltville Disaster has been classified as a “technological disaster,” but what makes this disaster and its effects different from a “natural disaster?” Are these necessary distinctions to make?

    Interesting things to think about…

    Claire

  2. Claire,

    I definitely will have to interrogate these differing definitions of disaster and choose one (or create my own working definition) for my own purposes. Certainly the disaster I focus on was technological in nature, but what makes a technological disaster different from an “unnatural” one?

    I believe my particular case study is a little clear cut in that it would not be considered by most to be a natural event (though heavy precipitation may have acted as the trigger). However, in other events, the line between the unnatural and natural is much more blurred, and I do not know yet what the defining line or quota of human action is required to make the switch from one to the other. I intend to keep looking into these scholarly discussions.

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