Disaster by Choice | Ilan Kelman

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

Introduction

Embark on a journey through ‘Disaster by Choice: How Our Actions Turn Natural Hazards Into Catastrophes’ by Ilan Kelman, which delves into how human actions contribute to disasters caused by natural phenomena. This book summary acquaints you with the key message: human choices can prevent disasters. Moreover, it comprises critical case studies such as Haiti’s recurring hazards, Australia’s wildfires, and contrasting vulnerability levels within rich countries. Get ready to explore how different communities prepare and tackle natural hazards, and understand the importance of resilience, communication, and informed decision-making in reducing vulnerability.

Nature Doesn’t Cause Disasters, People Do

The book argues that disasters are not natural but the result of human choices. While humans cannot prevent natural phenomena, they can prevent them from turning into disasters by implementing measures to mitigate losses. The case of Haiti is presented as an example, where historical forces and poor choices led to the turning of natural hazards into devastating disasters. The author advocates for a course of action that involves preparing for and avoiding disasters through proper infrastructure, poverty relief, and early-warning systems. The main message is that human choices cause disasters, so human choices can prevent them.

Protecting Lives and Property

The need to assess vulnerabilities and address them in disaster management is crucial regardless of the hazard or location. Vulnerabilities to disasters within rich countries range widely and may include lack of resources, flimsy housing, or cultural taboos. The emphasis in mitigating these vulnerabilities is on assessing, addressing, and increasing one’s options to reduce these risks.

Disasters are not limited to geographical location but can strike anywhere, causing loss of life and property damage. Australians learned this in February 2009 when wildfires killed 173 people and more than a million animals. Poor choices in building materials and management of forests through controlled burns led to the disaster. Learning from such catastrophic events is critical in disaster management.

Assessing vulnerabilities and addressing them is key to mitigating the impact of disasters. This is illustrated by the 2016 fire around Boulder, Colorado. Ember-resistant homes constructed by Wildfire Partners survived the fire while neighboring homes burnt, emphasizing the need for maintaining clean gutters, adequate insurance coverage, yard management, and evacuation plans.

In flood zones, different approaches could be taken in disaster management. Some choose not to rebuild after floods, some build on stilts, and others use materials that can accommodate flooding. Whichever approach is taken, an emergency plan must be put in place before the disaster strikes.

Mexico City earthquake preparations differ from hurricane resilience efforts on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. The rich in Hilton Head can afford solid homes, maintain insurance and evacuate as needed. However, flimsy housing and poverty put millions at risk in Mexico City, making them vulnerable to disasters. The poor may live on a fault line or at the base of a volcano, increasing their vulnerability.

Vulnerabilities range widely within rich countries, and gender roles can also impact on disaster management. In some cultures, disasters kill twice as many women as men. Taboos on types of clothing or learning how to swim can make women and girls more vulnerable in some countries. In the West, cultural expectations put males at greater risk.

It’s essential to assess vulnerabilities and take steps to address them in disaster management. Lives are lost and property destroyed every day due to poor choices, inadequate management, and lack of resources. Disaster management requires increasing options to mitigate risks, and emergency planning to protect lives and property.

Tackling Vulnerability

Creating Equitable Protection Against Disasters

When natural disasters strike, vulnerable communities suffer the most. Governments can help by funding emergency preparedness, constructing homes and buildings that are resilient to high winds and earthquakes, and instituting building codes that prioritize safety. Cities can also play a role by designing efficient evacuation routes and building parks in floodplains that can absorb excess water.

However, vulnerability often extends beyond wealth or poverty. People may have spiritual or cultural ties to a location, even if it puts them at risk. The story of the indigenous Aeta in the Philippines illustrates how the impacts of temporary displacement can be just as damaging as living in high-risk areas. This highlights why simple solutions that disregard complex societal factors are unrealistic.

It is imperative to provide equal protection to all members of society. Communication is a key factor in achieving this. In 1985, the lack of sufficient communication between authorities, scientists, and members of the public resulted in over 23,000 casualties from a volcanic eruption in Colombia. This disaster could have been mitigated with more awareness.

Preventing deaths from disasters is crucial, and the impacts of not doing so are incalculable. Every individual deserves human dignity and protection in emergencies.

Vulnerable Communities: The Unseen Consequences

Some governments neglect reducing vulnerabilities, affecting the poor, unwelcome migrants, and rival groups. Host countries may assign African refugees cold places above the Arctic Circle. Winter weather is a disaster for them, unlike native Norwegians. Meanwhile, Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh occupy coastal, flood-prone land, fleeing persecution in Malaysia.

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