Reasons for Disaster Related Losses
Disasters are inevitable in all communities due to the variety of natural and man- made phenomena that are a hazard to human life. Response to disaster and the implementation of appropriate mitigation measures can be challenging, particularly where there are no ready measures to be taken in case a disaster. In most communities, disaster preparedness is viewed as an abstract concept, in which participation is limited to a few individuals. Accordingly, disasters cause a lot of damage when they occur, which calls for the need to understand the inevitability of disasters and to take appropriate measures towards improvement. In most cases, a combination of factors results in the escalation of disaster effects. These factors can be classified into political, economic and political factors. Each class of factors results in adverse outcomes in disaster situations because of various reasons.
Political Reasons for Extreme Losses in Disaster Situations
The political environment greatly influences the outcomes of any decision making process. Political systems determine the governance structures in a country, as well as the national expenses. Where a strong and stable political environment exists, citizens are more likely to be prepared for disaster management. On the contrary, an unstable political environment results in limited preparation for disaster management. Political instability therefore, is one of the reasons for adverse losses during disasters. This is because political instability results in various outcomes which impair the capability of communities and stakeholders in managing disaster situations. For this reason, a disaster which could have been easily addressed can escalate to magnitudes that result in unimaginable losses. For instance, the humanitarian community in most countries is tasked with planning and executing various disaster management practices. However, outcomes of political instability such as strikes, can be detrimental to the collective ability of humanitarian communities to plan, implement and monitor progress towards effective disaster preparedness or response (DACCA, 2013). Without sufficient preparedness, disaster escalation is inevitable. Similarly, political instability also limits accessibility to finances and human resources for the implementation of disaster management programs, resulting in more adverse effects that expected.
According to DACCA (2013), most of the humanitarian action in different countries is funded by international bodies. Where there is political unrest, the funds provided for specific activities are likely to be channeled to other uses. In this way, the financial strength of such nations is constrained during political instability. Some NGOs are unable to use their organizational resources such as vehicles during escalated disaster situations due to political unrest. It is in such situations that , the ability of humanitarian groups to support local partners is limited. Visits to disaster areas are limited or postponed while losses, particularly of human life, are incurred.
Besides political instability, corruption can be another political reason for incurrence of huge losses during disaster situations. Corruption affects several practices in governance. Where corruption rates are high, political games are prevalent and are the causes of various strains in stakeholder relations. Corruption drives underperformance of various entities, which limits their capacity to respond to disaster situations (Alexander, 2017). Additionally, corruption hampers effective distribution of national and community resources. This implies that resources that are meant to be used for implementing disaster management activities may be directed to other projects leaving behind projects that enhance disaster preparedness. In such an environment, disasters can be difficult to mitigate, resulting in huge financial and social losses. Public sector corruption in particular, is a commonly blamed candidate for the wastage of national resources that would have been directed to disaster preparedness and mitigation measures.
Where corruption is in significant severity, disaster situations are seen as opportunities for plunder. This is particularly more pronounced where the public sector corruption is more intense. The intricate connection between organized crimes such as arms trade and disaster is also clearly seen in situations where corruption is rampant. In most cases, disasters in such environments are seen as opportunities for personal gain amidst the fear and tribulations to which the masses affected are subjected. Where humanitarian emergencies occur in corruption rampant environments, black markets, which do nothing to abate the disaster, thrive (Alexander, 2017). While the black markets help some of the individuals in the community to obtain basic income, they exacerbate the losses that result from disasters. In communities with significant populations of the informal sector corruption is more rampant in business and the general economy. It is this corruption that results in massive losses during disasters.
Economic Reasons for Massive Losses during Disasters
Besides the political factors, economic factors can also affect the degree of loss in disaster situations. Economic factors include various national and community characteristics including the gross domestic product (GDP), and the disposable income in the country can influence the level of preparedness for disaster management. Disaster preparedness entails various practices and inputs. Financially, disaster management can be a cost intensive exercise, particularly where the probable damage is of high impact. Alexander (2017), reports that disaster preparedness provides a platform for the design of a realistic and coordinated plan for the management of disasters without effort duplication. Preparedness also enhances the overall efficiency of humanitarian and national societies managing disaster situations. Moreover, effective disaster preparedness is one in which the community is involved in entirely at both the household level and the general community level. It also covers a wide range of activities including logistics planning, healthcare preparation and livelihood development post mitigation. Each of these requires resources, which can only be accessed with the necessary financial resources.
This means that for disaster planning to be effective, there has to be engagement of the communities through training, practice of response to disaster situations, and provision of requisite resources such as first aid kits, disaster transportation solutions and medications in strategic places for disaster management. To effectively plan for disaster management, there is imperative need to embed the planned disaster mitigation activities with risk reduction measures which can result in maximum saving of lives, livelihoods and properties, and through which the affected communities can go back to normalcy within a short period after the disaster (DACCA, 2013). Where there is no disaster preparedness, huge losses cannot prevented when disasters happen. Lack of disaster preparedness in some cases, is a result of economic deprivations within the community, which limit access to finances and to other resources required for the implementation of effective disaster mitigation. In this way, preventable losses are incurred during disasters just because of inadequate disaster preparedness.
National infrastructure network is also commonly identified as one of the indicators of economic development. Economically developed countries have extensive transport and communication infrastructure, which is one of the reasons for easier disaster mitigation. For instance, in developed countries, a disaster such as a wildfire can easily be managed over a shorter period of time with the right infrastructure. Inadequate communication infrastructure prevents effective distribution of information, which results in low disaster response rates. Moreover, in cases where communities in disaster areas are capable of responding to disasters in a timely manner, their capacity to help can be hindered due to lack of resources such as medications, which need to be transported to the disaster areas. In this way, poor transport infrastructure contributes to poor disaster mitigating capacity and subsequently high losses during disaster situations. Inadequate infrastructure affects both the poor and the wealthy communities in terms of loss control in that in wealthier communities, the absolute loss is of a higher magnitude compared to losses incurred by poor communities in infrastructure limited areas.
Social Reasons for Massive Disaster Losses
As previously explained, disaster preparedness requires the engagement of communities in preparation measures, collection of needful resources and actual implementation of planned disaster responses. To be able to engage in effective disaster response activities, communities need the competency and capability to implement measures that would prevent losses in specific cases. For instance, in a case such as the Bhopal case described by Dhara and Dhara (1995), the incurred losses were preventable and could have been avoided by practicing the appropriate standard operating procedures, engaging in work place risk assessment and hazard analysis procedures, and putting in place active measures to avoid exposure to safety hazards in the work place. In many such incidences, lack of knowledge and awareness is one of the major social factors that prevents the implementation of certain practices that can prevent or reduce the escalation of disaster losses. The human costs of disaster, which are described as the number of people who lose their lives, the number of people in dire need of urgent assistance and the number of people who lose certain physical abilities permanently, can increase significantly as a result of lack of awareness. In a disaster such as an unexpected fire, many lives can be lost even in the presence of firefighting equipment due to lack of knowledge on how to operate them. Lack of awareness is also described as lack of social capital in that it reflects the inability of those who are supposed to help in disaster situations to handle them.
Another social reason for high losses in disaster situations is socio-economic inequality. Inequality is in most cases the result of adverse poverty situations, which limit access to disaster mitigation resources. The geography of inequality is diverse and occurs across all scales, both within and across countries. Within countries, there is a stratification of poverty across and within communities. While poverty is not the precursor to all disasters, research has shown that the poor are more vulnerable to disaster situations due to their exposure (Prevention Web, 2015). They are more likely to live within proximity to hazards, hence the likelihood of being affected by most disasters. Moreover, they are less likely to invest in risk reducing measures, making it more difficult for them to respond to disaster situations more wholesomely. Since the poor use their scarce resources to create buffers against disaster losses, poverty can be considered as a cause as well as a consequence of disaster. To the poor, disasters can cause increased poverty, life loss, loss of livelihoods, food insecurity, displacement, injury and damage, which are all indications of increased loss during disaster (Prevention Web, 2015). Poor rural areas have even worse disaster impacts as they are highly exposed to weather related disasters, have low density of capital production and declining populations. For the poor urban population, loss of housing can escalate to other significant losses in livelihoods and possessed properties.
Solutions to Disaster Management Issues
While there is no single solution to disaster management concerns that are frequently occurring, various measures can be taken by disaster management organizations and humanitarian organizations tasked with disaster response. These organizations can drive improvement towards better loss prevention during disasters. To be able to achieve this more effectively, it is recommended that communities at significant risk of disasters should adopt disaster mitigation measures and enforce them. Identification of potential hazards can help in planning for effective disaster mitigation, and preparing people towards better disaster response. According to DACCA (2013), many mitigation measures are outlined in theory for several types of disasters. However, communities need to be informed of vulnerability to specific types of disasters, the available responses to those specific disasters and resources required for the implementation of those disasters mitigation measures. There is need to create awareness of disaster vulnerability and thus create the intention to learn about disaster prevention and mitigation among communities. The objective would be to create a sense of responsibility and awareness of disaster mitigation responses within the community. If such education measures can be carried out across all community populations, each community would have a few individuals capable of responding to disaster situations with positive outcomes in loss prevention. Moreover, such people would know the requirements for disaster mitigation and would be more likely to contribute to such situations.
Secondly, collecting and sharing data on the mitigation measures for natural disasters can also help in providing a solution towards disaster losses. Most of the natural disasters that occur across the world affect people adversely due to lack of prior information about such disasters. A disaster such as the Mount Pinatubo eruptions in the Philippines show signs early enough before happening (de Guzman, n.d.). An understanding of what these signs are in risk prone areas can help locals to identify impending danger, Take specific actions to protect their lives and their properties and probably move to safer areas. For unprecedented hazards, this may be difficult to plan and implement. However, with sufficient information about such natural disasters including a database if their signs and the potential impacts, various preparations can be made to safeguard the populations against attack.
Disasters destabilize various operations where they occur. Besides causing economic losses, they result in extensive social unrest and pains. With insufficient disaster preparedness and mitigation resources, great losses can be incurred. While disasters invariably cause losses, there are certain conditions that result in the escalation of losses in disaster situations. For instance, there are political factors such as corruption and political instability; economic factors such as inadequate infrastructure and lack of disaster preparedness; and social factors such as poverty and lack of awareness and education, all contribute to loss escalation in disaster situations. These factors act by limiting resource availability, limiting resource utilization, or promoting resource misuse among the elite in the society. The specific ways in which they result in the different outcomes depends on the targeted communities.
Alexander, D. (2017). Corruption and the governance of disaster risk. Oxford University Press. Retrieved from oxfordre.com/naturalhazardscience/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199389407.001.0001/acrefore-9780199389407-e-253
DACCA (2013, April 22). Political instability undermines disaster preparedness in Bangladesh. IRIN News. Retrieved from www.irinnews.org/report/97889/political-instability-undermines-disaster-preparedness-bangladesh
De Guzman, E.M. (n.d). Eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in June 1991. Asian Disaster Reduction Center.
Dhara, R. & Dhara, V.R. (1995). Bhopal – A case study of international disaster. International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health.
Prevention Web (2015, Nov 12). Poverty and inequality. Prevention Web. Retrieved from oxfordre.com/naturalhazardscience/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199389407.001.0001/acrefore-9780199389407-e-253