Thursday, April 22, 2010

Social Vulerability

Disclosure! I have never attended even once the Natural Hazards summer session at Boulder. Sometime I will. In the 2007 session for which a write up exists the following panel writeup discusses social vulnerability and disasters. As Haiti looms larger and larger IMO and is likely to scar permanently President Obama's leadership image I am posting an extract from the write up of that session. I believe it is Dr. Shirley Laska, PhD who also seems to be a researcher without parallel on this issue. The full writeup is available from me or the NHC in Boulder. As the son of a social worker once President of NASW and first non-dean to be so I feel a deep interest in this research and its initial conclusions.

Here is the partial summary:

Social Vulnerability: The Nexus of Disaster Management
Moderator: Koko Warner, United Nations University/Institute for Environment and Human Security
Recorder: Valeriah Hwacha
Discussants: Sálvano Briceño, United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction; Maureen Fordham, University of Northumbria; Tony Oliver‐Smith, University of Florida
The session built upon the growing recognition and continuing need to improve understanding of social vulnerability as a critical element for reducing disaster risk. Noting the complex social‐economic contexts and power relations that influence disaster vulnerability, the panelists were asked to consider the implications of including or excluding social vulnerability, and to suggest approaches for implementing an informed and relevant disaster risk reduction agenda.
Tony Oliver‐Smith explained that the 1970’s causation models failed to demonstrate adequately the social‐political dynamics that underpin people’s susceptibility to disaster. More recent models, such as the Pressure and Release Model, which identify where vulnerabilities exist, offer greater practical relevance for disaster risk reduction. Disaster vulnerability is intricately interwoven with other risk reduction activities, (e.g., construction of levees and floodways). Segmenting social vulnerability from other types of vulnerability (e.g., environmental or economic) could undermine the reality that all forms of vulnerability are social. Oliver‐Smith cautioned that social vulnerability, like sustainable development, could become a buzz word. There is a quagmire associated with implementing programs intended to address pre‐existing social, economic, or environmental conditions without reproducing the systems that created vulnerability in the first place or compromising the existing adaptive capacity of communities. Programs need to be appropriately targeted at the household or political level to ensure that they achieve the intended objectives.
Vulnerability is a complex, interlocking issue that includes the individual, the locality/community, and higher levels of government. Using disaster statistics from major disasters such as the Indian Ocean Tsunami (2004), Hurricane Katrina (2005), and the 1995 Chicago heat‐wave, Maureen Fordham illustrated how the socially‐constructed positions of respective groups (e.g., women and men; girls and boys; and racial minorities) influence vulnerabilities and capacities for disaster resilience. Her message signalled the importance of getting beyond generalized media headlines to capture the particular circumstances that make people vulnerable. Men and boys face socially constructed stereotypes, which could place them at risk (e.g., pressure to participate in search and rescue efforts). Their circumstances, however, are typically better than those of women and girls who are excluded from participating in disaster management initiatives and decision‐making because they are perceived as passive or needy, and even invisible. She provided successful examples of gender‐based disaster risk reduction models being applied in El Salvador where women are being trained as managers and organizers and are actively participating in nutrition and shelter management programs. Initiatives which show women and girls in leadership roles should be mainstreamed into the professional emergency management culture