|A 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.)|
3.1 There are many types of hazards, each with its own specific characteristics, time-frames, and types of human disruptions and needs thereby created. Yet, there are also many characteristics common to most, if not all hazards. Some hazards are geographically defined; others can occur with random spatial distribution. There are hazards which give clearly identifiable early-warnings of their onset, while others arrive catastrophically. Areas with recurrent hazards, or where the risk of a hazards is well established, will usually generate at least some measures of preparedness to mitigate the impact of the hazards when they do occur, while catastrophic hazards all too often occur within an unprepared environment. This in turn clearly affects the type and magnitude of needs created by the hazards and the nature of the most appropriate response mechanisms. It is also important to emphasize that identical hazards can have quite diverse impacts at different spatial locations; some populations are obviously much more vulnerable to hazards than others - one has only to compare the impact of a hurricane on the coast of South Carolina with that of a cyclone (of equivalent strength) in the Bay of Bengal to appreciate the extent to which vulnerability can vary from place to place.
3.2 It is sometimes suggested that this diversity of hazards, and their concomitant impacts upon populations and types of responses they engender, makes any general theory of disasters difficult to attain and makes impossible the development of a set of uniform disaster management strategies. Such a view stems primarily from the traditional pre-occupation with hazards as the cause of disasters. On the other hand, if we begin to see disasters more as a consequence of natural or man-made hazards rather than as the cause, and in so doing address the issues which make some societies more susceptible to disasters than others, then the development of a cogent set of disaster theory becomes a realistic and valuable undertaking.
3.3 There is clearly a need to develop a multi-dimensional framework for disaster studies which has the capacity to cut across the many diverse hazards and which can be used as a basic typology and/or check-list for identifying levels of vulnerability of populations to hazards, the severity and/or frequency of impacts of a hazard, the type of needs created by an event, and the responses required for reconstruction and/or rehabilitation. Such a framework can be developed. The variables for such a framework must:
· differentiate between characteristics which are specific to particular hazard vis-a-vis those that are common to most, if not all disaster events,
· include the social, economic and political characteristics of a society which create diverse levels of vulnerability to hazards; and
· differentiate between the social, economic and psychological impacts which hazards have at different levels within a society and between different societies.
If developed, such a framework for disaster studies could provide a standard set of criteria which can be used for defining, and perhaps even measuring, the nature and magnitude of any specific disaster event.
3.4 As a first step in the development of a disaster research framework it is useful to identify the characteristics and disaster management needs common to each of the principal hazards. It is suggested here that the following hazards be considered for this research agenda:
· earthquakes and tsunamies - characterized by their limited predictability, the suddenness of their occurrence, and their potential devastating impacts over wide areas. Reconstruction usually takes place at the same site. They often create severe and lasting traumatization among affected individuals;
· volcanic eruptions - usually give at least some warning, albeit usually short, and direct impacts are normally localized. They may result in the physical relocation of affected populations. The indirect impacts from dust spewed into the upper atmosphere can have global impacts;
· landslides and mudslides - sudden and highly localized; risk-prone areas are usually readily identifiable. Danger to residential areas can be mitigated by planning/zoning, albeit the poorest and most marginalized populations often have few alternatives other than to reside in high-risk areas;
· tropical storms and tornadoes - vulnerable areas are easily identified since recurrence rates are high. Impacts are regional as well as localized. Several days warning is usually possible for tropical storms if early-warning systems are in place; tornadoes, however, are much more capricious in occurrence;
· floods and storm surges - high-risk areas are generally known and structural preventative measures are often in place. Frequently there is a problem of distinguishing between "normal" floods, which may be beneficial, and periodic "extreme" floods, which are destructive. Storm surges and flash-floods give less or no warning and hence can lead to high mortality;
· forest and brush fires - often man-made and thus partially preventable. They usually occur in areas of low population density and hence direct human impact is relatively low, albeit economic costs can be very high;
· drought - high-risk areas are identifiable and a considerable degree of early warning is normally possible. Droughts are usually a recurrent hazard and are frequently cyclical in nature with long-term impacts on both affected areas and beyond. There is limited scope for prevention, but impacts can be mitigated;
· pest infestation - localized and generally controllable if not preventable, but often at costs too high to be borne by local populations. Infestations may be brought on by agricultural practises;
· famine and food shortage - either a product of sustained drought or pest infestation or may be caused by political events or economic policies. Early warning is usually possible, albeit not always heeded;
· environmental degradation - ranges from local to global in scale. It may require internationally "imposed" solutions in the future and is closely linked with increasing population pressure or is precipitated by "normal" pursuits of economic development;
· epidemics - usually localized and in most cases containable with existing medical technology. AIDS is adding a new dimension to this hazard;
· war and civil strife - widespread and in many cases long-term. Frequently they cause large-scale population displacement, increasingly of a permanent nature. Generally they require massive reconstruction and rehabilitation costs; and
· industrial and technological accidents/failures - sudden and without warning and normally impacting upon an unprepared population. Usually localized, they nonetheless can have national or even international impacts. The full extent of impacts upon population and environment may take many years to be realized.
3.5 Fundamental to any framework for disaster studies is a set of questions which focus upon who is affected and how were they affected by a hazard. Indeed, such a set of questions, if inclusive of the points spelled out below, can essentially be seen as a comprehensive definition of disasters. It is suggested here that the following elements must be included in this set of questions:
· how many people are affected?
· what proportion of society is affected by the hazard?
· what is the social status of the affected population? Are all social strata equally affected or are victims concentrated in any specific social strata?
· what is the duration of the impacts of a hazard upon an affected population Is it only short-term, is it longer-term, or is it permanent?
· how rapidly were the affected populations drawn into the crisis caused by a hazard? Did they have time to undertake any mitigating actions?
· how predictable was the event? Was there any warning of the impending event?
· how familiar or unfamiliar was the population with the event and the resultant disruption?
· how severely is the population affected? Can they recover on their own or within their community, or do they require substantial external assistance? and,
· is the hazard a recurrent one or is it a unique event?
Such a set of questions would clearly help determine the impacts which hazards have, as well as the degree to which a population may or may not have been prepared for a disaster.
3.6 Critical to any framework for disaster studies is the spatial and societal levels at which the natural or man-made hazards are manifest and at which, therefore, they must be managed. Six spatial and societal levels are suggested, namely:
· global - few hazards are global in their impacts, although some, such as rising sea-levels, depletion of the ozone layer, or catastrophic nuclear accidents, will clearly have global impacts;
· national - national impacts of hazards are more usually indirect rather than direct, such as the longer-term economic costs of financing recovery, serious disruptions to transport and communications, or the displacement of populations and their consequent need for resettlement elsewhere;
· regional - most disaster events have their most serious impact at the regional level. It is at this level where the human disruptions, both social and economic, are usually most felt and where most disaster management strategies need to be focused;
· community - hazards affect communities and, in the first instance, it is usually at the community level where responses to the needs created by such events originate. Vulnerability to hazards, and the concomitant capacity to respond, varies greatly from community to community;
· family - the family is the ultimate grouping affected by, and required to respond to a hazard. Disasters disrupt families; their numbers can be decimated or their economic foundation destroyed; and,
· individual - hazards impact upon individuals in different degrees. Women may become more marginalized, children more traumatized. Some have the tenacity to quickly rebound from set-backs caused by such events, others may respond with fatalism or dependency.
Impact assessments of the nature and effectiveness with which affected populations respond must, therefore, focus at all these levels.
3.7 A hitherto much neglected area of research on the consequence of hazards is that of the collective stress situations caused by such events, hazards invariably taumatize their victims and, while some may quickly recover, others may require protracted periods of mental health recovery. Clearly, levels of traumatization will vary with hazards; catastrophic events usually create much higher levels of stress and trauma than slow-onset hazards. Moreover, while we usually think of stress and trauma impacting primarily upon individuals, communities may collectively become traumatized, such as in the event of a major industrial accident. Incorporating such psychological dimensions into a disaster framework will help identify a set of needs that are all too often overlooked in disaster management planning.
3.8 It is therefore recommended that as one of the sub-projects of future research sponsored by UNDP/UNDRO, a framework for disaster studies be promoted which incorporates the above listed characteristics. Such a framework will serve as a useful teaching tool for disaster management courses, at all levels, in that it will facilitate comparative evaluations of the diverse nature and consequences of disaster events. It will also serve as a useful check-list for evaluating and monitoring specific disaster situations and the subsequent response thereto.
3.9 Such a framework could also serve another purpose, namely, as a base-line data collection tool used at the time of a disaster occurrence. All too often, critical baseline data are not collected in times of the crises for want of knowing the critical questions that should be addressed. Consequently, accurate information on the scale of a disaster, and the most critical needs generated by the event, often remain unknown for several days. This is also a problem of there being an ill-defined responsibility for collecting and disseminating such critical data in times of disaster. The existence, therefore, of an internationally adopted framework and/or check-list of disasters would, if integrated into a national or regional disaster management structure, help resolve this shortcoming by having in place a dependable, universally comparable and appropriate data gathering instrument.
3.10 One further issue needs to be introduced at this stage. Because disasters have traditionally been seen as events caused by a single agent - an earthquake, a tornado, an industrial accident, etc., specific sets of responses to each hazard have tended to evolve, albeit with varying degrees of effectiveness. The effectiveness of specific response mechanisms has depended upon available resources, extent of preparedness, and the efficiency and foresightedness of the organizational framework (usually the government) within which the response mechanisms are mobilized. However, what happens when there is a complete breakdown of all government and administrative institutions within a society? For example, the current situation prevailing in Somalia is a potent illustration of such a disaster. Protracted internal political conflict, following the longer-term erosion of almost all elements of societal and governmental infrastructure, has created a condition in Somalia where virtually a whole national population is currently in a critical state of vulnerability. Almost all of the basic economic and social structure of society have ceased to exist. Government is in total disarray and factional fighting, anarchy and banditry is widespread; local food production and distribution has ground to a halt; all imports and exports have stopped; there is no electricity; all internal and external communications have ceased; schools have closed; almost all humanitarian and international organizations have withdrawn; and just about everything else that is vital to a nations' basic functioning has been totally disrupted. The whole country is in a disastrous situation; an immediate symptom is acute malnutrition and an impending severe famine. Clearly, several disaster-agents are at work here, while all the basic mechanisms normally required to find and to implement solutions to the problem appear to be no longer in place.
3.11 While this type of disaster is relatively rare, it is not unique to Somalia and may well be manifesting itself in other regions, such as in Liberia or Sudan. It may prove difficult to incorporate such a disaster situation into a general framework and check-list. However, it is important that such a disaster scenario be addressed and better understood because of the complexities and multidimensional nature of any relief, let alone protracted reconstruction and rehabilitation, which such disasters require.