What determines a disaster?

Whether a hazard becomes a disaster or not depends ultimately on people’s vulnerability (Cutter 2006), that is, their ability to prevent, mitigate, cope with, and recover from the impact of a disruptive event.

The determinants of vulnerability include people’s demographic, social and economic characteristics, and their relationship with the natural and manmade environment.

Risk is a product of the interaction between human decisions and ecosystem. Understanding risk entails analyzing historic processes of human evolution and environmental change (Holzmann 2000). It entails, for example, identifying how the construction of Mexico City over a drained lakebed resulted in an urban center highly vulnerable to seismic risk. Alternatively, how inefficient decisions in terms of land use puts up informal settlements on steep hills that led to deforestation with the consequent increase of the impact of hurricanes, such as Mitch in Central America; or high-end residences built at the skirts of mountains in California that become highly vulnerable to forest wildfires (Smith, There’s No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster 2006). Lastly, it entails understanding how migration combined with lack of planning burden the infrastructure and capacity to respond of fast-growing cities, like Mumbai and Lagos, and create belts of poverty in the form of slums vulnerable to a mounting number of individual and covariant risks (Hoppe 2006).


4 thoughts on “What determines a disaster?

    • There you go:
      Cutter, Susan L., et al. “The long road home: Race, class, and recovery from Hurricane Katrina.” Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development 48.2 (2006): 8-20.

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