Monday, December 05, 2011

Local solutions to natural disasters

Oliver Rubin and Tine Rossing, "National and Local Vulnerability to Climate-Related Disasters in Latin America: The Role of Social Asset-Based Adaptation." Bulletin of Latin American Research 31, 3 (January 2012): 19-35.


The Latin American region is particularly prone to climate-related natural hazards. However, this article argues that natural hazards are only partly to blame for the region's vulnerability to natural disasters with quantitative evidence suggesting instead that income per capita and inequality are main determinants of natural disaster mortality in Latin America. Locally, the region's poor are particularly susceptible to climate-related natural hazards. As a result of their limited access to capital, adaptation based on social assets constitutes an effective coping strategy. Evidence from Bolivia and Belize illustrates the importance of social assets in protecting the most vulnerable against natural disasters.

Of course, the poor get hit the hardest by natural disasters, but the focus on explicitly local solutions seems really useful.  In my Latin American politics course, I always try to show the interaction between the local, national, and international levels. This article reminds us that national solutions aren't necessarily the most effective. There is a lot of capacity (and not just in economic terms) at the local level as long as attention is paid to the idiosyncrasies of local actors. Local solutions in one place may not work elsewhere, which just makes it all the more challenging.

However, since most disasters have local impacts, and since adaptive capacity depends heavily on local dynamics, it seems appropriate to also focus attention to the livelihood strategies of poor communities. On a local level, vulnerability is closely related with community assets, most notably social memory and the capacity for self-organisation, which are not easily captured by national indicators.


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