The Best of Intentions?

Managing Disasters and Constructions of Risk and Vulnerability in Asia

In: Asian Journal of Social Science
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  • 1 Durham University
  • 2 National University of Singapore

Drawing on research on landslide risk reduction in Nepal and the impacts of the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 in southern Thailand, this paper considers how risk, in the context of natural hazards, is produced by processes of social and economic transformation; understood and experienced by vulnerable groups; and framed by governments and experts. In so doing, we propose an agenda for more effective disaster risk management. We open the discussion by exploring the spatiality of risk, vulnerability and opportunity in the two research contexts, in particular, why people live in hazardous places and the processes that explain the intersection of human settlement and livelihoods on the one hand, and risk on the other. The paper then turns to consider the way that “risk”—and the framing and prioritisation of risk(s) by governments, experts and by vulnerable groups themselves—plays a role in setting the disaster risk management agenda. Underpinning this is the hidden question of what evidence is used—and valued—in the identification and delineation of risk. In order to understand disaster vulnerability, we argue that it is necessary to look beyond the immediate “hazardscape” to understand the wider risk context both spatially and structurally. Effective disaster risk management requires not only an appreciation of the different framings and understandings of risk, but a true integration of knowledge and expertise.