Disaster by Choice | Ilan Kelman

Summary of: Disaster by Choice: How Our Actions Turn Natural Hazards Into Catastrophes
By: Ilan Kelman

Introduction

Welcome to the fascinating world of ‘Disaster by Choice: How Our Actions Turn Natural Hazards Into Catastrophes’ by Ilan Kelman. In this summary, we will explore the intriguing notion that human choices are the key factors in turning natural hazards into disasters. You will discover striking examples from around the world, such as Haiti, Australia, and the United States, showcasing how different societies unwittingly exacerbate vulnerabilities which lead to catastrophes. This summary will also shed light on various measures that individuals, governments, and communities can implement to prevent or reduce the impact of disasters.

Disasters vs. Human Choices

The book’s main message is that nature doesn’t generate disasters, it’s our choices that make them happen. Earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural phenomena can be coped with and prevented from turning into disasters through measures that exist, but are often not implemented by individuals, society, and governments. The author examines Haiti as an example of how disasters are the result of a culmination of historical forces and poor choices. For instance, after the 2010 Haitian earthquake, the rebuilding efforts failed to prepare for the next catastrophe. Instead of focusing on recovery, the funds should have gone towards better preparing for and avoiding future disasters by investing in better infrastructure, hospitals, police, shelters, and more. Haiti’s history of subjugation, financial penalties, and poor choices have created a society of extreme inequality and constant environmental degradation that contributes to natural events becoming disasters. The book is a reminder that human choices cause disasters, but they can also prevent them.

Mitigating the Impact of Disasters

Disasters can strike at any time. However, the vulnerability of communities can be reduced through a combination of individual and government efforts. This summary explores the impact of disasters and ways to mitigate them.

Disasters affect everyone, regardless of social class or geographical location, with categories ranging from natural ones such as wildfires, floods, and earthquakes, to man-made ones such as terrorist attacks. It is crucial to evaluate potential vulnerabilities and find approaches to help manage disasters better. Instead of helplessly waiting for an emergency, communities can take steps to reduce their housing vulnerability. By building fire-resistant homes and maintaining them, measures greatly reduce the impact of wildfires.

In flood zones, occupants can adopt the use of materials that can withstand flooding, or they can move towards building homes on stilts. In some instances, individuals opt not to rebuild altogether. Regardless of the approach, an emergency plan must be established to help mitigate the effects of potential disasters. One must examine the impact of disasters on various population groups. Although Chicago survived a heatwave in 1995, a lack of resources led to the unnecessary loss of thousands of lives.

Gender-based disparities are also a real concern in disaster occurrences, with women often being disproportionately affected due to cultural, social and economic factors. Conversely, men might be at a higher risk in western societies compared to other gender groups. Indeed, poverty often reinforces a lack of resources that hinders individuals from reducing their vulnerabilities.

In conclusion, evaluating potential vulnerabilities and finding ways to mitigate them is crucial for protecting the lives and properties of individuals and communities who may face the hazards of various forms of disasters.

Building Resilience in Vulnerable Cities

Efficient evacuation routes, green spaces, emergency response preparedness, and sound communications are essential in designing and implementing strategies to protect vulnerable populations in at-risk cities. However, solutions must be complex and adaptable to meet everyone’s needs, accounting for cultural and spiritual ties to place and the economic and mental health disadvantages of displacement. Balancing cost and protection is a challenge, but denying protections based on preferences is unacceptable. The incalculable costs of disaster deaths necessitate effective communication between scientists, authorities, and the public to avoid preventable tragedies. Ultimately, societies must recognize and prioritize the fundamental human dignities and protections that all citizens deserve, regardless of their location or economic status.

Vulnerabilities of Displaced People

Governments’ inaction results in displacement adversity, making vulnerable groups pay the price. Displaced persons’ relocation is often to hostile environments where they can’t thrive. Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Malaysia had to settle on Bangladesh’s flood plains, making them vulnerable to natural disasters. In Norway, African refugees find themselves in cold regions with harsh weather conditions, ordinary to native Norwegians but devastating to the refugees. Governments’ neglect to address vulnerabilities leaves displaced individuals exposed to risk.

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