This article considers how corruption affects the management of disaster mitigation, relief, and recovery. Corruption is a very serious and pervasive issue that affects all countries and many operations related to disasters, yet it has not been studied to the degree that it merits. This is because it is difficult to define, hard to measure and difficult to separate from other issues, such as excessive political influence and economic mismanagement. Not all corruption is illegal, and not all of that which is against the law is vigorously pursued by law enforcement. In essence, corruption subverts public resources for private gain, to the damage of the body politic and people at large. It is often associated with political violence and authoritarianism and is a highly exploitative phenomenon. Corruption knows no boundaries of social class or economic status. It tends to be greatest where there are strong juxtapositions of extreme wealth and poverty.
Corruption is intimately bound up with the armaments trade. The relationship between arms supply and humanitarian assistance and support for democracy is complex and difficult to decipher. So is the relationship between disasters and organized crime. In both cases, disasters are seen as opportunities for corruption and potentially massive gains, achieved amid the fear, suffering, and disruption of the aftermath. In humanitarian emergencies, black markets can thrive, which, although they support people by providing basic incomes, do nothing to reduce disaster risk. In counties in which the informal sector is very large, there are few, and perhaps insufficient, controls on corruption in business and economic affairs.
Corruption is a major factor in weakening efforts to bring the problem of disasters under control. The solution is to reduce its impact by ensuring that transactions connected with disasters are transparent, ethically justifiable, and in line with what the affected population wants and needs. In this respect, the phenomenon is bound up with fundamental human rights. Denial or restriction of such rights can reduce a person’s access to information and freedom to act in favor of disaster reduction. Corruption can exacerbate such situations. Yet disasters often reveal the effects of corruption, for example, in the collapse of buildings that were not built to established safety codes.
Maria Papathoma-Köhle and Dale Dominey-Howes
The second priority of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 stresses that, to efficiently manage risk posed by natural hazards, disaster risk governance should be strengthened for all phases of the disaster cycle. Disaster management should be based on adequate strategies and plans, guidance, and inter-sector coordination and communication, as well as the participation and inclusion of all relevant stakeholders—including the general public. Natural hazards that occur with limited-notice or no-notice (LNN) challenge these efforts.
Different types of natural hazards present different challenges to societies in the Global North and the Global South in terms of detection, monitoring, and early warning (and then response and recovery). For example, some natural hazards occur suddenly with little or no warning (e.g., earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis, snow avalanches, flash floods, etc.) whereas others are slow onset (e.g., drought and desertification). Natural hazards such as hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, and floods may unfold at a pace that affords decision-makers and emergency managers enough time to affect warnings and to undertake preparedness and mitigative activities. Others do not. Detection and monitoring technologies (e.g., seismometers, stream gauges, meteorological forecasting equipment) and early warning systems (e.g., The Australian Tsunami Warning System) have been developed for a number of natural hazard types. However, their reliability and effectiveness vary with the phenomenon and its location. For example, tsunamis generated by submarine landslides occur without notice, generally rendering tsunami-warning systems inadequate.
Where warnings are unreliable or mis-timed, there are serious implications for risk governance processes and practices. To assist in the management of LNN events, we suggest emphasis should be given to the preparedness and mitigation phases of the disaster cycle, and in particular, to efforts to engage and educate the public. Risk and vulnerability assessment is also of paramount importance. The identification of especially vulnerable groups, appropriate land use planning, and the introduction and enforcement of building codes and reinforcement regulations, can all help to reduce casualties and damage to the built environment caused by unexpected events. Moreover, emergency plans have to adapt accordingly as they may differ from the evacuation plans for events with a longer lead-time. Risk transfer mechanisms, such as insurance, and public-private partnerships should be strengthened, and redevelopment should consider relocation and reinforcement of new buildings. Finally, participation by relevant stakeholders is a key concept for the management of LNN events as it is also a central component for efficient risk governance. All relevant stakeholders should be identified and included in decisions and their implementation, supported by good communication before, during, and after natural hazard events.
The implications for risk governance of a number of natural hazards are presented and illustrated with examples from different countries from the Global North and the Global South.