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date: 26 April 2017

Natural Hazards and Risk Management

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.