Rob A. DeLeo
Agenda setting describes the process through which issues are selected for consideration by a decision-making body. Among the myriad of issues policymakers can consider, few are more vexing than natural hazards. By aggregating (or threatening to aggregate) death, destruction, and economic loss, natural hazards represent a serious and persistent threat to public safety. While citizens rightfully expect policymakers to protect them, many of the policy challenges associated natural hazards fail to reach the crowded government agenda. This article reviews the literature on agenda setting and natural hazards, including the strain between preparing for emerging hazards, on the one hand, and responding to existing disasters, on the other hand. It considers the extent to which natural hazards pose distinctive difficulties during the agenda-setting process, focusing specifically on the dynamics of issue identification, problem definition, venue shopping, and interest group mobilization in natural hazard domains. It closes by suggesting a number of future avenues of agenda-setting research.
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.
Natural disasters cause massive social disruptions and can lead to tremendous economic and human losses. Given their uncertain and destructive nature, disasters invariably induce significant governmental responses and typically pose severe financial challenges for jurisdictions across all levels of government. From a public finance perspective, disasters cause governments to incur additional spending on various emergency management activities, and by disrupting normal business activities they also affect tax base robustness and cause revenue losses. The question is: How significant are these fiscal effects and how do they affect hazards governance more generally? Understanding the fiscal implications of natural disasters is essential to evaluating the size of the economic costs of disasters as well as forecasting governments’ financial exposure to future shocks. Furthermore, how disaster costs are shared among different levels of government is another important question concerning the intergovernmental dynamics of disaster management.
In the U.S. federal system, the direct fiscal costs of natural disasters (i.e., increased government expenditures due to disaster shocks) are largely borne by the federal government. It is estimated that Hurricane Katrina cost the federal government approximately $120 billion while Hurricane Sandy cost $60 billion. Even in the years without large-scale disaster events, federal disaster spending is between $2 billion and $6 billion annually. Under the Stafford Act, the federal government plays a critical role in funding disaster-related programs (e.g., direct relief, mitigation grants, and subsidized insurance programs) and redistributing the actual costs of natural hazards, meaning that a considerable portion of the local disaster burden is shifted to all U.S. taxpayers. This raises a set of issues concerning the equity and efficiency of the U.S. disaster policy framework.
Managing disasters involves multiphased activities to mitigate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from disaster shocks. There is a common belief that the federal government inappropriately spends far more on ex post disaster response, relief, and recovery than what it spends on ex ante mitigation and preparedness, often driven by political motivations (e.g., meeting voters’ preferences for postdisaster aid) and the current budget rules. As pointed out by many others, federal disaster relief and assistance distort the subnational incentive to invest in local disaster prevention and mitigation efforts. Furthermore, given the mounting evidence on the cost-effectiveness of disaster mitigation programs in reducing future disaster damages, the current practice of focusing resources on postdisaster assistance means substantial public welfare losses. In recent years there has been a call for the federal government to shift its disaster policy emphasis toward mitigation and preparedness and also to facilitate local efforts on mitigation. To achieve the goal requires a comprehensive reform in government budgeting for emergency management.
In the context of this article, risk governance addresses the ways and means—or institutional framework—to lead and manage the issue of risk related to natural phenomena, events, or hazards, also referred to popularly, although incorrectly, as “natural disasters.” At the present time, risk related to natural phenomena includes a major focus on the issue of climate change with which it is intimately connected, climate change being a major source of risk.
To lead involves mainly defining policies and proposing legislation, hence proposing goals, conducting, promoting, orienting, providing a vision—namely, reducing the loss of lives and livelihoods as part of sustainable development—also, raising awareness and educating on the topic and addressing the ethical perspective that motivates and facilitates engagement by citizens.
To manage involves, among other things, proposing organizational and technical arrangements, as well as regulations allowing the implementation of policies and legislation. Also, it involves monitoring and supervising such implementation to draw further lessons to periodically enhance the policies, legislation, regulations, and organizational and technical arrangements.
UNISDR was established in 2000 to promote and facilitate risk reduction, becoming in a few years one of the main promoters of risk governance in the world and the main global advocate from within the United Nations system. It was an honor to serve as the first director of the UNISDR (2001–2011).
A first lesson to be drawn from this experience was the need to identify, understand, and address the obstacles not allowing the implementation of what seems to be obvious to the scientific community but of difficult implementation by governments, private sector, and civil society; and alternatively, the reasons for shortcomings and weaknesses in risk governance.
A second lesson identified was that risk related to natural phenomena also provides lessons for governance related to other types of risk in society—environmental, financial, health, security, etc., each a separate and specialized topic, sharing, however, common risk governance approaches.
A third lesson was the relevance of understanding leadership and management as essential components in governance. Drawing lessons on one’s own experience is always risky as it involves some subjectivity in the analysis. In the article, the aim has, nonetheless, been at the utmost objectivity on the essential learnings in having conducted the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction—UNISDR—from 2001 to around 2009 when leading and managing was shared with another manager, as I prepared for retirement in 2011.
Additional lessons are identified, including those related to risk governance as it is academically conceived, hence, what risk governance includes and how it has been implemented by different international, regional, national, and local authorities. Secondly, I identify those lessons related to the experience of leading and managing an organization focused on disaster risk at the international level and in the context of the United Nations system.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Natural Hazard Science. Please check back later for the full article.
Natural hazards risk management has developed in conjunction with broader risk management theory and practice. Thus, it reflects a discourse that has characterized this field, particularly in the last decades of the 20th century. Effective implementation of natural hazards risk management strategies requires an understanding of underlying assumptions inherent to specific methodologies, as well as an explication of the process and the challenges embodied in specific approaches to risk mitigation.
Historical thinking on risk, as it has unfolded in the last few hundred years, has been exemplified by a juxtaposition between positivist and post-positivist approaches to risk that dominated the risk discourse in the late 20th century. Evolution of the general concept of risk and the progress of scientific rationality modified the relationship of people to natural hazard disasters. The epistemology, derived from a worldview that champions objective knowledge gained through observation and analysis of the predicable phenomena in the world surrounding us, has greatly contributed to this change of attitude. Notwithstanding its successes, the approach has been challenged by the complexity of natural hazard risk and by the requirement for democratic risk governance. The influence of civic movements and social scientists entering the risk management field led to the current approach, which incorporates values and value judgments into risk management decision making. The discourse that generated those changes can be interpreted as positivist vs. post-positivist, influenced by concepts of sustainability and resilience, and generating some common principles, particularly relevant for policy and planning. Examples from different countries, such as New Zealand, illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of the current theory and practice of natural hazards risk management and help identify challenges for the 21st century.
P. Patrick Leahy
Society expects to have a safe environment in which to live, prosper, and sustain future generations. Generally, when we think of threats to our well-being, we think of human-induced causes such as overexploitation of water resources, contamination, and soil loss, to name just a few. However, natural hazards, which are not easily avoided or controllable (or, in many cases, predictable in the short term), have profound influences on our safety, economic security, social development, and political stability, as well as every individual’s overall well-being.
Natural hazards are all related to the processes that drive our planet. Indeed, the Earth would not be a functioning ecosystem without the dynamic processes that shape our planet’s landscapes over geologic time. Natural hazards (or geohazards, as they are sometimes called) include such events as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides and ground collapse, tsunamis, floods and droughts, geomagnetic storms, and coastal storms.
A key aspect of these natural hazards involves understanding and mitigating their impacts, which require that the geoscientist take a four-pronged approach. It must include a fundamental understanding of the processes that cause the hazard, an assessment of the hazard, monitoring to observe any changes in conditions that can be used to determine the status of a potential hazardous event, and perhaps most important, delivery of information to a broader community to evaluate the need for action.
A fundamental understanding of processes often requires a research effort that typically is the focus of academic and government researchers. Fundamental questions may include: (a) What triggers an earthquake, and why do some events escalate to a great magnitude while most are small-magnitude events?; (b) What processes are responsible for triggering a landslide?; (c) Can we predict the severity of an impending volcanic eruption? (d) Can we predict an impending drought or flood?; (e) Can we determine the height of a storm surge or storm track associated with coastal storm well in advance of landfall so that the impact can be mitigated?
Any effective hazard management system must strive to increase resilience. The only way to gain resiliency is to learn from past events and to decrease risk. To successfully increase resiliency requires having strong hazard identification programs with adequate monitoring and research components and very robust delivery mechanisms that deliver timely, accurate, and appropriate hazard information to a broad audience that will use the information is a wide variety of ways to meet their specific goals.
Recent extreme hydrological events (e.g., in the United States in 2005 or 2012, Pakistan in 2010, and Thailand in 2011) revealed increasing flood risks due to climate and societal change. Consequently, the roles of multiple stakeholders in flood risk management have transformed significantly. A central aspect here is the question of sharing responsibilities among global, national, regional, and local stakeholders in organizing flood risk management of all kinds. This new policy agenda of sharing responsibilities strives to delegate responsibilities and costs from the central government to local authorities, and from public administration to private citizens. The main reasons for this decentralization are that local authorities can deal more efficiently with public administration tasks concerned with risks and emergency management. Resulting locally based strategies for risk reduction are expected to tighten the feedback loops between complex environmental dynamics and human decision-making processes. However, there are a series of consequences to this rescaling process in flood risk management, regarding the development of new governance structures and institutions, like resilience teams or flood action groups in the United Kingdom. Additionally, downscaling to local-level tasks without additional resources is particularly challenging. This development has tightened further with fiscal and administrative cuts around the world resulting from the global economic crisis of 2007–2008, which tightening eventually causes budget restrictions for flood risk management. Managing local risks easily exceeds the technical and budgetary capacities of municipal institutions, and individual citizens struggle to carry the full responsibility of flood protection. To manage community engagement in flood risk management, emphasis should be given to the development of multi-level governance structures, so that multiple stakeholders share fairly the power, resources, and responsibility in disaster planning. If we fail to do so, some consequences would be: (1), “hollowing out” the government, including the downscaling of the responsibility towards local stakeholders; and (2), inability of the government to deal with the new tasks due to lack of resources transferred to local authorities.