The Gap Between Disaster Knowledge, Policy and Practice (Sunday, 8 June 2014, 15:45 – 17:30)

Modernity, Epistemology, Economy and Ecology: Understanding the Complexity of ‘The Gap’
Roberto E. BARRIOS (USA)

The Gap between Knowledge, Policy, and Practice that Result in Natural Hazard Events Becoming Disasters: a View from Looking at Four Groups of Stakeholders
Stephen BENDER (USA)

Bridging the Chasm: Illustrating Issues and Delineating Approaches to Bringing Knowledge into the Increasingly Template Policies of International and National and NGO Disaster Aid

Is International Advocacy Impeding Accomplishments in National Disaster Risk Management?

Policymakers, Researchers and Locals: Some Issues in Translating Disaster
Peter RUDIAK-GOULD (Canada)


Modernity, Epistemology, Economy, and Ecology: Understanding the Complexity of ‘The Gap’

Roberto E. BARRIOS
Southern Illinois University Carbondale

Disasters are engendered through human practices that enhance the destructive capacities of geophysical phenomena, promote environmental degradation, and inequitably distribute the impacts of catastrophic events along the lines of social distinction (e.g. gender, class, race, ethnicity) in an affected community or society. This understanding of disasters is the product of four decades of rigorous research on the part of social and environmental scientists, research that has illustrated not only what human practices lead to elevated conditions of vulnerability, but also the alternative practices that mitigate catastrophes before they occur. Given that disasters are engendered at the intersection of society and environment, the overwhelming majority of disasters are, in theory, preventable. Nevertheless, the frequency and magnitude of some disasters – especially hydrometerologically precipitated ones – is increasing worldwide. This paper draws on 15 years of disaster research in various settings in Latin and North America to explore the gap between disaster knowledge, policy and practice. Specifically, the presentation reviews the cases of Hurricane Katrina in Southeastern Louisiana, the Mississippi River Floods of 2011 in Southern Illinois, and landslide vulnerability in Teziutlan, Puebla, Mexico, and Bogotá, Colombia. Drawing on these case studies, the presentation makes the argument that disaster prevention knowledge is often at odds with the ways people in “modern” societies perceive and engage their environments, define what social wellbeing is, and conceptualise development within capitalist and developmentalist notions of progress. The nature of the gap, this presentation argues, is an epistemological one; that is: from what worldview do social actors engage their environments, define their identities, and envision “progress?” The presentation posits that, to address the gap of disaster knowledge, policy and practice requires a profound act of critical reflection on the ways people around the globe conceptualise development, society, and social wellbeing in the context of globalisation and late capitalism, and the practices they engage in to achieve “development.”

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The Gap between Knowledge, Policy, and Practice that Result in Natural Hazard Events Becoming Disasters: A View from Looking at Four Groups of Stakeholders

Stephen Bender
Organization of American States – Retired

Sovereign states, MDBs, NGOs and the international development community define, shape and operate in the fields of disaster risk reduction, disaster risk management, climate change adaptation and mitigation, emergency management, humanitarian assistance and post-disaster relief, recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction. These groups know who is vulnerable and why, what can be done about it, and who pays and who benefits from their policies, and how their policies in the context of this knowledge affect practice. The issues of power, prestige, funding, and independence often cause discontinuities between knowledge to policy to practice, and often cause discontinuities – sometimes deliberately.

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Bridging the Chasm: Illustrating Issues and Delineating Approaches to Brining Knowledge into the Increasingly Template Policies of International and National and NGO Disaster Aid

Susanna Hoffman Consulting

Over the last decades a tremendous increase in all sorts of disasters has occurred worldwide. They are coupled with the fact that more and more people are living in hazardous zones. Almost every region of the globe is undergoing urbanisation, coastalisation, westernisation, and the first effects of global warming on top of the usual sort of cataclysms, and the concomitant effects and costs on human communities, already enormous, are exploding. As researchers have developed their insight into the fabric from which natural and technological calamities are woven, both theoretical and methodological knowledge on the whole of disaster scenarios has arisen with implications for the three planes that interface in catastrophe: environmental, biological and socio-cultural. Developmental and comparative perspectives have further resulted in the development of a comprehensive and effective toolbox encompassing how disasters are the result of long complex processes; how their cultural, historical, and social phylogenies are manifold within them; and how the driving forces in their creation and solution derive from comprehending, broaching and incorporating overarching societal aspects with local knowledge. Highlighted has also been the need for including ethnographic field work to elucidate how particular disasters are constructed, what recovery entails, and what the elements, often enshrouded, are that lead to people’s vulnerability. Yet little of the understandings have bridged the disjunction that occurs between what researches with either academic or practitioner knowledge and the policies and practices of agencies mandated to deal with the issues. This paper details a set of both historic and present situations that expose the critical problems and occasionally dire consequences that have resulted from the breach between knowledge, policy and practice and offers directions in how the gap can be closed.

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Is International Advocacy Impeding Accomplishment in National Disaster Risk Management?

University of Pittsburgh

After nearly 25 years of explicit international advocacy for greater risk awareness and comprehensive strategies for disaster and risk management within countries’ development commitments, the results have been modest. Despite routine expressions of need by governments that focus on limited financial or technical resources, or insufficient institutional arrangements, informed observation rather suggests that there may be cross-purposes at work. They can exist between the expressed desires of international “platforms and frameworks” and the political commitment or practical requirements through which countries pursue nationally relevant disaster risk reduction in practice. Has emphasis been misplaced internationally on “the consequences of risk,” (i.e. disasters) instead of seriously investing in minimising the “drivers of risk?” Expressions of “top-down” or supply-driven expectations are too easily invoked as possible causes for the evident gaps between experiential knowledge, policies and practices in the specialised expressions of disaster and risk management. By drawing on cases of enhanced strategies for improved disaster risk management and the processes adopted by countries over several years, the paper will suggest wider circumstances that have influenced the alteration of previous emergency management driven primarily by disaster events. The paper will consider the relative effectiveness of nationally specific conditions such as distinctive national social or cultural contexts, varying management expectations, the leading roles of responsible parties and the differentiated uses of information and applicable time periods, which can shape risk management capabilities. Conclusions will highlight the possibilities for locating necessary purpose, resources and commitments within the body of societies themselves, instead of them being advocated from repetitive and prescriptive international blueprints that may be more self-serving than supportive.

There is little doubt that the world of disaster risks has changed significantly in the past 25 years, and many countries have themselves grown accordingly, but have the collective assumptions of international disaster and development institutions kept pace with the resulting requirements or sensibilities of more competent professional environments? Might it be timely to reallocate the considerable existing resources within international domains for greater disaster risk management effectiveness within countries and communities?

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Policymakers, Researchers and Locals: Some Issues in Translating Disaster

Applied Social Scientist, Climate Change Specialist; Senior Affiliate, Pacific Resources for Education and Learning (PREL); Assistant Professor (Status-Only) in Anthropology, University of Toronto; Postdoctoral Associate in Anthropology, Oxford University

Successful disaster risk reduction requires productive dialogue not only between policy-makers and locals, but also between policy-makers and disaster researchers, and between disaster researchers and locals. In this triangle of translation, the opportunities for miscommunication are rife. In this presentation, I comment on the dilemmas of communication that underlie these translational pitfalls: metaphrasis versus paraphrasis, universalism versus particularism, holism versus atomism, alarmism versus mollification. Ultimately I query whether the difficulties in fact reflect honest failures of communication, or whether they in fact reflect strategic refusals to candidly communicate, or indeed an all-too-successful communication of difference between parties with widely divergent incentives and agendas, manifesting as a conflict between status quo bias and action bias, and between point solutions and systemic change.

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