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close this bookA Research Agenda for Disaster and Emergency Management (Department of Humanitarian Affairs/United Nations Disaster Relief Office - Disaster Management Training Programme - United Nations Development Programme , 76 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1 Introduction
View the document2 Status of Research on Emergencies and Disasters in the Developing World
View the document3 Defining Disasters and Creating a Framework for Disaster Research
View the document4 Vulnerability and Risk Assessment
View the document5 Perception of Risk and Hazards
View the document6 Preparedness
View the document7 Mitigation
View the document8 Relief
View the document9 Recovery, Reconstruction and Development
View the document10 Displaced Persons
View the document11 Gender Issues and Children9
View the document12 Conclusions
View the documentAppendices
View the documentBibliography

2 Status of Research on Emergencies and Disasters in the Developing World

2.1 To date, most academic research on disasters and emergencies has concentrated on the developed world, albeit a number of institutions have also taken a developing world focus, and a few have even developed a specialization in developing world disasters. In contrast, indigenous institutions specializing in disaster research within the developing world remain few and far between, although encouraging signs began to emerge during the late-1980s; the need to develop a better understanding of the causes and consequences of disasters is being increasingly addressed by institutions in a few developing countries. In soliciting inputs for this research agenda, a number of these developing world institutions (as well as several individual developing world researchers) were approached and responses were received from most of them. Their inputs are included in the discussions which follow.

2.2 Within established institutions in the developed world, much of the contemporary disaster and natural hazard research continues to focus upon processes and the physical dimensions of disasters rather than upon their human, societal, economic, political and psychological causes and consequences. The traditional thrusts of focussing research upon specific disaster agents, such as earthquakes, landslides, tropical storms, etc., remain deeply ingrained in the research community, as does a bias towards identifying technological solutions; hazards, whether natural or man-made, continue to be researched primarily as causes of disasters for which technological solutions need to be implemented. However, an alternate approach to researching disasters is gradually gaining momentum. This approach cuts across disaster agents by arguing that the thrust of research must focus upon the current highly variable societal/political/economic structures prevailing throughout the world and which produce conditions of high vulnerability to disasters in some regions and resilience to disasters elsewhere. Consequently, it is strongly argued here that for research to have meaningful inputs into the development of effective disaster management strategies it must identify and focus upon those characteristics within any given society that cause natural or man-made hazards to result in disasters.

2.3 While this research agenda will certainly not imply that physical process and hazard oriented research is no longer warrented, it will emphasize and promote the need for greater inputs into disaster research by social scientists, and especially by social scientists in the developing world. Disasters must be recognized more widely as a consequence rather than as a cause of loss in functionality of an affected population. Therefore, the factors which cause a breakdown in a population's functionality, and thereby render it highly vulnerable to the impacts of a natural or man-made hazard, should become the prime raison d'etre of future research and the concomitant development of more effective means of disaster management.

2.4 The traditional bias towards hazard research vis-a-vis social science research was graphically illustrated at the "Hazards 91" conference in Perugia, Italy, where, out of some 20 working sessions, only three focussed specifically on the socio-economic and human dimensions of natural hazards and disasters. Clearly, physical scientists remain very much the dominant force in disaster research and few appear ready to adopt an integrative and interactive multi-disciplinary approach to the study of disasters. For another example of this bias, we can cite the structure of the national committee formed in Canada to promote Canadian initiatives for the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction; it is chaired by a physicist and does not contain any social scientists with extensive experience in disaster management. Notwithstanding this pattern, however, several noteworthy institutions are currently undertaking valuable research on the human dimensions of disasters, ranging in emphasis from non-structural means of preparing for and mitigating the impacts of disasters to issues relating to recovery (both economic and psychological) and to post-disaster reconstruction and development. Some of the most comprehensive social science research to date has been concerned with the impacts and consequences of conflict-induced disasters producing refugees and displaced persons. It is encouraging to note that much of this "refugee" research can be readily adapted and applied to broader disaster and emergency situations.

2.5 It is not the intent here to provide a comprehensive listing of either developed or developing world institutions or of individuals specializing in disaster research and/or management, nor to identify or evaluate the nature of their respective activities - such a review is clearly beyond the scope of this agenda since it would require a substantial research undertaking. Indeed, the generation of such a detailed inventory would constitute a valuable short-term research activity in itself since it would provide UNDP/UNDRO with a comprehensive international listing of existing human resources, experiences, and ongoing research activities in the field of disasters and emergencies. A list of all institutions solicited for inputs into this study is provided in Appendix 1. It needs to be emphasized that this list of institutions and individuals is by no means a comprehensive one.

2.6 It is also necessary to distinguish between institutions engaged purely in disaster management and training vis-a-vis those with clearly defined research mandates. For example, one of the foremost and long-established disaster management institutions in the developing world is the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC) at the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok. Relatively well funded, ADPC runs regular disaster management training courses and seminars for participants drawn from throughout Asia and beyond, as well as provides consulting services on disaster management to regional governments. However, despite its well-placed location, ADPC's research activities are not nearly as comprehensive as they might be due to limitations placed by its mandate, priorities set by its director, and limited funding for pure research made available by donors. Of the research undertaken by ADCP, most has focused upon structural or engineering issues, such as earthquake resistant housing, rather than socio-economic or human problems of disaster preparation or response.

2.7 Access to funding and the acceptance by donors and national governments of the need to promote socio-economic oriented disaster research within the developing world, and undertaken by indigenous researchers, remains a major constraint to the evolution of meaningful research initiatives in many disaster-prone areas. For example, while a recent project to establish a disaster research and training program at Dhaka University had funding of over a half million dollars committed by CIDA, the project died because Bangladeshi authorities, over a period of two years, were unwilling to assign the project a sufficiently priority to clear it through the convoluted bureaucracy. Indeed, it was repeatedly suggested by some of the authorities that funds of such magnitude should be allocated for implementing technological solutions to the country's perennial disasters rather than for developing socio-economic research capacity.

2.8 All to often, government agencies responsible for disaster management in developing countries, or for determining research priorities on disaster-related issues, are staffed by engineers or other physical scientists. As such, they tend to continue favouring process-oriented research or that which emphasizes structural prevention or mitigation measures. Few appear to have any great sensitivity to the human and socio-economic dimensions of society which render it, or parts of it, vulnerable to disasters and emergencies; even fewer are aware of the psychological consequences and needs created by such events. It is hoped that UNDP/UNDRO's Disaster Management Training Program will heighten awareness and sensitivities among such authorities to the many critical research needs in these areas.

2.9 Therefore, given the traditional emphasis on process/hazard oriented research, and the fact that many of the decision makers required to manage disaster events come from physical science or engineering backgrounds, there is clearly a need for a greater involvement of social scientists in all aspects of disaster management in the developing world. In some cases, expertise is already in place; in other cases it needs to be created. It is thus recommended that a project to enumerate and appraise the current developing world institutional and individual capacity and experience in disaster research and training be implemented. Such a project should place special emphasis on identifying the human resources in this field which are already in place in developing countries, b) the extent to which these resources can be shared by other regions currently lacking an indigenous resource, and c) the prospects for developing disaster management related curriculum and research capacity in existing institutions of higher education in selected disaster-prone countries.