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close this bookDisaster Management Ethics (Department of Humanitarian Affairs/United Nations Disaster Relief Office - United Nations Development Programme , 1997, 70 p.)
close this folderTOPIC 3 Disaster response and its relationship to on-going participatory development
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe dilemmas
View the documentApproaches to addressing these dilemmas
View the documentClosing
View the documentResponse by Tony Beck
View the documentResponse by Solomon Gidada
View the documentResponse by Arthur E. Dewey

Response by Tony Beck


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Assuming that disaster affected populations are likely to become victims of dependency syndrome is not a positive conceptualization.

Mary Anderson’s paper raises several important issues, particularly the effects that disaster intervention can have on local markets and the need for disaster relief officials to confront the long-term consequences of the programs they are running. There are, however, a number of points that require clarification or further thought.

1. The central ethical question that is posed by the paper is: “To what extent does the disaster-response community have a moral responsibility to address the longer-term implications of its immediate, life-saving actions?” The paper proceeds to assume that this moral responsibility exists. However, the question of responsibility is a complex one, and some disaster officials might question whether such moral responsibility exists A case needs to be made as to why moral responsibility exists, after which a practical approach might be to give examples of situations where moral responsibility exists and where it does not. Also, the description of disaster response as a “heroic act - which is satisfying for the giver of assistance” may not appear as a realistic ethical characterization to many working in the disaster field!

2. The conceptual point that there is a continuum between disaster relief and longer-term development work, rather than an absolute break between the two, can be clarified. Much disaster relief work, for example the supply of housing or clean water, or the provision of relief food work, overlaps with development projects. Similarly, many of the failures of disaster responses it catalogues are also failures in longer-term development programs, for example the failure to really get local people involved in development. If this point is made more clearly, then there will be a greater understanding of the connections between relief and development, and subsequently a better sense of where moral responsibility of disaster response might lie.

3. In its penultimate section, the paper provides some prescriptions for the disaster response community to alter its operations. These prescriptions have been made before but are rarely acted on. It might be useful to consider the ethical (rather than practical) reasons why such prescriptions have been largely ignored to date.

4. The problem of “dependency syndrome” of affected populations may imply a negative view of the so-called “victims” of famine and their abilities. A positive conceptualization of the abilities of disaster affected populations is crucial if disaster officials are to rebuild their communities over the long-term, and therefore take part in long-term participatory development projects. Assuming that disaster affected populations are likely to become victims of dependency syndrome is not a positive conceptualization.

5. The author argues that disaster responses may lead to greater inequality. This raises a complex ethical question related to the connections between relief and development. If inequality among the affected population is likely to lead to future disasters, should the initial disaster response be designed to reduce inequality?

Q. Do you think the disaster response community has a moral responsibility to address the long-term implications of its emergency efforts? Specify ethical reasons in your response.

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Q. What ethical reasons might justify a continued focus on traditional disaster management practices?

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