Cover Image
close this bookDisasters and Development (Department of Humanitarian Affairs/United Nations Disaster Relief Office - United Nations Development Programme , 1994, 55 p.)
close this folderPART 2 - Understanding and exploiting disaster/development linkages
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe impact of disasters on development programs
View the documentLoss of resources
View the documentShifting resources
View the documentImpact on investment climate
View the documentImpact on the non-formal sector
View the documentCASE STUDY
View the documentDevelopment programs can increase vulnerability
View the documentCASE STUDY
View the documentDevelopment programs can decrease vulnerability
View the documentCASE STUDY
View the documentDisasters as opportunities for development initiatives
View the documentCASE STUDY
View the documentSUMMARY

Development programs can increase vulnerability

Underdevelopment predisposes a population to the adverse consequences of natural and other hazards. At the same time, however, the development process, itself, may increase vulnerability to disasters. This section reviews the variety of forces which shape this relationship between vulnerability and the character of development activity.

There is a clearly established linkage between poverty, marginalization, over-population and vulnerability. To a large extent, vulnerability derives from poverty. Poor people are more likely to live in vulnerable areas, for example, on slopes vulnerable to landslides; in flood-prone areas; on marginal agricultural land. Poorer countries, generally, are more likely to have a dangerous building stock, often as a result of inadequate resources to enforce appropriate building codes in addition to a lack of public awareness and education.

Lack of access to education and information often has wider implications for vulnerability - people may be simply unaware of the options open to them for vulnerability reduction. Poor people have far fewer assets to invest in resources which may reduce their vulnerability and may be unwilling to make any significant investment without clear and obvious benefits. Poor people are less likely to be in a position to organize collectively to reduce risks, partially because poorer groups usually have a higher proportion of women, young children, elderly people, the sick and disabled. Furthermore, after a disaster, the effects of malnutrition and chronic illness put people at additional risk.

Development can heighten vulnerability

Although in aggregate terms development will usually contribute to a reduction in vulnerability to natural disasters, development activity within an area may substantially increase certain types of vulnerability. For example:

Urban development often leads to an influx of relatively low-income groups, with large-scale settlement on marginal land or in high density, poor quality housing. Buildings may be sited on earthquake faults, in flash-flood zones, or on slopes prone to landslides.

Marine and coastal zone development leads to population concentrations, exposed to possible storm-surge, high winds, flash-flood, and landslide risks. Tourist development can increase potential vulnerability substantially when low lying beach areas are targets for infrastructure and capital investments. Tsunamis and tropical storms can quickly destroy these improvements as well as placing tourists and workers at substantial risk to death and injury.

Transport construction and poorly managed forestry programs will often lead to deforestation and increased risks of landslides.

Water resource management projects, including dams and irrigation schemes, also potentially increase risks to large populations, either by displacement to more hazardous areas, by increased risks of severe flooding or by risks from dam failure.

Investment in poorly controlled hazardous industries may lead to concentrations of population around the plant, increases in air and water pollution, and exposure to hazards from both chronic and catastrophic release of toxic materials.

Livestock development projects can lead to severe loss of vegetation cover and conditions of near-desertification around points such as wells.

Agricultural projects promoting cash crops may reduce production of staple foods.

Each of these examples illustrates the importance of including risk assessment as part of program planning and evaluation, and highlights the critical importance of training and education in these areas.

Mitigation is most effective as part of a medium - to long-term development program which incorporates hazard-reduction measures into regular investment projects.

Q. Identify a development program from your personal experience that has increased the vulnerability of the population and describe how and why vulnerability was increased.