Part I of this post was published on the CFES Blog on May 22.
Was this Hazard Event a Natural Disaster?
By now our reader will know that muddling up concepts and stating that the 2015 Gorkha-Nepal Earthquake is a “natural disaster” may have significant implications for those who are most at risk from natural hazards. Time will tell. Highlighting this unfortunate use of the phrase “natural disaster” is really about the use of correct terms by those providing post-event information.
Importantly, post 2015 Gorkha-Nepal earthquake communities will require this information transfer from geoscientist and internationally funded organizations that clearly differentiate catastrophes, disasters, vulnerability, risk and hazards. Earthquake-hit areas have led to a high-risk epidemic situation. Food poisoning, typhoid, flu and malaria may raise the number of fatalities. A wide scale catastrophe may be left in the wake of the 2015 Gorkha-Nepal earthquake and its aftershocks. Nepal’s future might be dependent upon our ability to advocate for specific geoscience research initiatives. Current and future decision makers may utilize hazard risk science, advancing strategic insights that may reduce disaster risk. The idea is to understand natural hazard risk (and it potential consequences), to assist Nepal to overcome its disaster risk; and support initiatives that anticipate challenges - landslides, avalanches, monsoons, lack of access to medical supplies, lack of significant economic support, insurance and land use planning documents - to reduce the short and long term consequences of the 2015 Gorkha-Nepal earthquake.
How can Geoscientists Advocate for Those Who Continue to be Exposed to Hazard Risk?
Earth scientists can ensure that post-event geoscience information will make difference for those who depend on transnational communication to help them get “back to normal” conditions after an earthquake event if they attend to the following points.
First, geoscientists should adopt the disaster risk reduction (DRR) community terminology provided by the main United Nations agency that advocates for disaster risk reduction policies and practices: UNISDR (United Nations Office for Disaster Reduction) rather than assigned Earth science Natural Hazards textbook definitions.
Second, natural hazard scientists frequently encounter the disaster risk management literature. Some recognize the increased need to understand how the UNISDR international disaster risk reduction concepts may be used to assist the disaster risk reduction efforts of authorities, practitioners and the public. Indeed, a few studies have explored how the post-event information is being transmitted, by who and what might be the implications to those facing a high-risk epidemic. As stated elsewhere, natural hazard risk management is undergoing a major paradigm shift, following the global paradigm shift in disaster management that has taken place in the last decade situation (van Zijll de Jong and Reese 2010). It is worth watching this YouTube video developed by the UNISDR who recognizes that “we can’t prevent a hazard from happening”. However, “we can prevent it from becoming a disaster… we can learn about risk”. The key idea to take from this YouTube video is that the geological cycle generates disaster risk: human activities aggravate hazards, shaping human vulnerability, which in turn creates the opportunity for disaster.
Since 2005, this paradigm shift has moved “natural disaster” approaches towards “natural hazard” and “disaster risk management” approaches. The emphasis has shifted on: a) learning about risk; b) learning about natural hazards; and c) developing disaster risk management practices suitable for a local context. The Hyogo Framework of Action (2005-2015) adopted a culture of prevention, understanding that the human activities can alter the magnitude and frequency of natural hazards, which in turn paves the way for a disaster.
This new emphasis links natural hazard risk with people’s livelihoods and their connection to the natural resource base. The growing focus on vulnerability and exposure has shifted the attention towards disaster risk reduction.
Shona is involved in risk based land use planning in Canada (Geological Survey of Canada, Laurentian University, Canada); and natural hazard disaster risk management projects (New Zealand, Samoa, and Australia). She has two decades experience in global environmental change and sustainable development projects Southern Africa).