For information only - not an official document
28 October 2014
Disaster risk and recovery projects fail if we ignore how people really relate to risk, warns new Red Cross Red Crescent Report
VIENNA, 28 October (UN Information Service) - After the tsunami in 2004 many people in Aceh, Indonesia, believed that it was a form of divine retribution or punishment for allowing tourism or drilling for oil. The 2014 edition of the World Disasters Report, presented in Vienna today, explores the question on how culture could become a central consideration in disaster risk reduction efforts, and analyzes the influence on culture of disasters and risks. The Event at the Vienna International Centre was organized by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the Embassy of Norway in Vienna and the Austrian Red Cross.
The report tries to answer the question of what should be done when people blame a flood on an angry goddess, as it was the case when the Koshi River in India flooded huge regions in 2008, while people in Indonesia blamed the mountain god when Mount Merapi erupted in 2010. Similar beliefs were widespread even in the United States during Hurricane Katrina, when some believed it showed God's displeasure with some of the behaviours of the people who live in or visit New Orleans.
More recently, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa demonstrates that all efforts to stop the deadly disease will be in vain if we do not address misperceptions and cultural beliefs through effective social mobilization and behavioural change.
People's own priorities often include the need to live in high risk environments, because that is where they can gain their livelihoods. Hundreds of millions of people live in dangerous places, including the sides of volcanoes, earthquake fault zones and coasts exposed to storms and tsunamis that provide valuable livelihood opportunities.
Disaster risk reduction approaches must recognize why people are living with risks and how their behaviour and attitudes related to culture affect their exposure and sensitivity to hazards. To reduce these risks it is essential to focus on how livelihoods can be made more robust, safer and where necessary, be replaced. Reconciling local health beliefs or everyday practices with public health interventions is also vital. People's perceptions of health risks involve local traditions, beliefs and social practices. Sometimes these do not coincide with the expectations of public health interventions, and it is important to understand the cultural difference that may affect success.
To prepare the most effective responses to these changes, it is necessary to recognize the underlying causes of risk. This cannot be done without considering the central role played by culture. Future investment must be channelled towards a more culturally sensitive, human-based approach to disaster risk reduction, as part of the discussions in framing a new post-2015 development agenda.
The mandate of UNODC, whether on drugs, crime or terrorism, has a strong connection to the notion of risk. People risk their health and lives by engaging in drug use, drug trafficking or unsafe migration practices. The reasons for such risk-taking might be very similar to those explained in the report as it relates to disasters. As has been seen in the past, places hit by natural disasters are breeding grounds for crime, violence and corruption. Speaking at the event, the Deputy Executive Directorof UNODC, Aldo Lale Demoz said: "We need to do more in helping those who have already been victims of disaster to protect themselves from violence, including violence against women and children and organised crime groups trying to exploit them".
The World Disasters Report, which has been published annually since 1993, brings together the latest trends, facts and analysis of contemporary catastrophes and their effect on vulnerable populations worldwide. A live streaming of the event was broadcasted on http://www.redcross.at/livestream
More information on the World Disasters Report can be found on http://www.ifrc.org/publications-and-reports/world-disasters-report/world-disasters-report-2014/
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