Ilan Kelman, University College London – Preventing Disasters

Disasters seem to be becoming more and more common, so what can be done?

Ilan Kelman, professor of disasters and health at University College London, examines some options.

Ilan Kelman is Professor of Disasters and Health at University College London, England and a Professor II at the University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway. His overall research interest is linking disasters and health, integrating climate change into both.

Preventing Disasters

How can we prevent disasters? Some buildings stand up in an earthquake or tornado and some collapse. Some people manage during a drought or flood, and others are devastated. So it is not the earthquake, tornado, flood, or drought that is the disaster. They are only hazards. Some people and infrastructure can deal with hazards and some cannot.

                The lack of coping for a hazard is called vulnerability. It could be poorly constructed buildings, breaking planning regulations, not receiving or understanding warnings, being unable to evacuate due to illness or mobility restrictions, criticizing corruption or military spending and being arrested or murdered for doing so, poverty demanding life on marginal land, fearing assault in an emergency shelter, and many others making it difficult to deal with a hazard even when knowing exactly what to do. Preventing disasters means reducing all these vulnerabilities so that everyone can deal with hazards.

Creating or reducing vulnerability is a political process, decision-making in that people choose or are forced into living conditions which mean that they cannot deal with hazards. This vulnerability causes disasters.

Since the disaster does not come from the environment or the hazard, it does not come from nature. We prefer to avoid the term ‘natural disaster’, because disasters are not natural. They are human-caused. Society can prevent disasters by identifying and reducing vulnerability.

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