Timothy Sim and Jun Lei Yu
China is a vast country frequently impacted by multiple natural hazards. All natural disasters have been reported in China, except volcanic eruptions. Almost every region in China is threatened by at least one type of natural hazard, and the rural areas are most vulnerable, with fewer resources and less developed disaster protective measures as well as lower levels of preparedness.
In the first 30 years since its establishment in 1949, the Chinese government, hindered by resource constraints, encouraged local communities to be responsible for disaster response. As the country’s economy grew exponentially, after it opened its doors to the world in the late 1970s, China’s natural hazard governance (NHG) system quickly became more top-down, with the government leading the way for planning, coordinating, directing, and allocating resources for natural disasters.
The development of China’s NHG is linked to the evolution of its ideologies, legislation system, and organizational structures for disaster management. Ancient China’s disaster management was undergirded by the ideology that one accepted one’s fate passively in the event of a disaster. In contemporary China, three ideologies guide the NHG: (a) passive disaster relief characterized by “help oneself by engaging in production”; (b) active disaster management characterized by “emergency management”; and (c) optimized disaster risk governance characterized by “multiple stakeholders working together.” Meanwhile, the NHG legislation and systems have become more open, transparent, and integrated one over time.
Evidenced by the unprecedented growth of social organizations and private companies that engaged in disaster-related activities during and after the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, discussions on integrating bottom-up capacities with the top-down system have increased recently. The Chinese government started purchasing services from social organizations and engaging them in building disaster model communities (officially known as “Comprehensive Disaster Reduction Demonstration Communities”) in recent years. These are, potentially, two specific ways for social organizations to contribute to China’s NHG system development.
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.
The earthquakes that occurred in Mexico in September 1985 represent a breaking point in the public policies associated with disasters.
As a result of these events and their fatal human and material consequences, the federal government created mechanisms to institutionalize disaster response, reinforced the monitoring and generation of knowledge about natural hazards, and, furthermore, developed financial mechanisms to handle the rehabilitation and reconstruction post-disaster. In the scientific field, the earthquakes of 1985 also gave a strong impetus to academic research in some disciplines of natural science that were being conducted in the main universities of the country.
Over the years, and with the occurrence of new disasters, both public policies and the focus of research have achieved significant progress in some areas that have even earned excellent reputations internationally, including, among others, the creation of financial mechanisms to face high levels of material damage in intensive disasters and the development of anti-seismic materials and construction techniques.
Less remarkable progress exists in the design of policies to address the “roots” of risk and, consequently, in stopping the growing trend of disaster occurrences and the accumulation of damages and losses. Issues such as the marginalization of millions of people, the chaotic growth of cities, the informality in land occupation, as well as severe levels of environmental degradation throughout the country have been systematically ignored despite the existence of a broad knowledge and evidence that can feed the design of public policies for risk integral attention.
The profile that disaster risk management has acquired in Mexico is not exclusive. It is a response to an international dynamic where the predominance of “technocratic” solutions to disasters and the “physicalist” approach in the generation of knowledge seems to be returning. Currently, principles such as the social dimension of risk and disasters; the questioning of the economic growth models based on inequality; and the need for protection of natural resources as a public good are overwhelmed by the world of the insurance that has gained ground in protecting the interests of government and big business but not those of the millions of people who live in risky conditions. Not even the evidence on global warming, which can increase the intensity of some hazards and their impact on millions of people, has been able to contain the surge of the international financial sector and the design of selective and short-sighted mitigation mechanisms.