Emerging societally-based mega-issues

In this section you will investigate some of the emerging mega-issues that have influenced emergency and disaster management.

For the purposes of this course a mega-issue should be regarded as a widespread phenomenon of a natural, technological or sociological nature that is of great significance to people, the environment or society and is likely to result in major disasters and emergencies.

One important reason for investigating emerging mega issues in emergency and disaster management is to introduce the public policy context of emergency management and, specifically, to introduce the idea that understanding and providing for intervention into emergencies and disasters needs to involve much more than dealing with the emergencies and disasters themselves.

Let’s briefly consider a number of different headline mega-issues, many of them relating to climate change, that have gained increased attention in various parts of the world, even as far back as 10 to 15 years ago.

The following have been reported in The Guardian, a mainstream UK broadsheet newspaper. It is well known for its interest in social and environmental issues and has an easily accessible online presence.


Earthquakes

As reported in 2006 by Ian Traynor, in Turkey, there Is a major earthquake fault that runs through the north of the country, including Istanbul. Over recent years, there have been a number of severe earthquakes in this area, but not yet in Istanbul. Given the geology of the area, it would appear to be a case of not if, but when, a major earthquake strikes Istanbul, and, given the size of the population of the city (approximately 15 million) the consequences of such an earthquake are likely to be severe.

‘A disaster waiting to happen – Why a huge earthquake near Istanbul seems inevitable’.


Droughts

Another headline mega-issue could refer to repeated, lengthy droughts in various parts of the world. For example, in the article below John Vidal writes about the serious drought in Australia in 2006. In fact, there are many places around the world where the traditional forms of agriculture are very marginal. Prolonged droughts can easily bring these to an end for many years, if not permanently, with resulting significant consequences, for the livelihoods of local communities.

Australia: ‘Australia suffers worst drought in 1,000 Years’.


Flooding

The opposite headline mega-issue to drought would, of course, be flooding, something that affects tens of thousand of locations around the world. In the article below from 2007, Steven Morris and Alok Jha refer to the very serious floods that struck Gloucester, England in 2007, where connections were made between the flooding, suspected long-term climate change and the prospect of repeated flooding of a similar scale, in the future.

‘Climate Warning Raises Long-Term Fears’.


Exploitation of the developing world

In this article from 2006 John Vidal explores the effect of cash crops, crops grown purely for financial profit, rather than for use by the grower, on the water supplies in Kenya. It is not just rivers in Kenya however, but rivers in many other less economically developed countries (LEDCs) that intensively grow ‘cash crops’ for export to more economically developed countries (MEDC’s).

‘How your supermarket flowers empty Kenya’s rivers’

While it is very nice, in a country such as the UK, to be able to visit your local supermarket in the middle of winter and buy a lovely bunch of flowers for your ‘significant other’, and at a very reasonable price, there can be many significant consequences of extensive monocultures in less economically developed countries (LEDCs). For example, gluts through overproduction, or crop failure, possibly as a result of disease, may have dire consequences for the livelihoods of families and whole communities in areas dominated by the production of a particular commodity.


Water shortages

In this article from 2007 Richard Wachman discusses another aspect of the relationship between climate change and water, namely the increasing disparity between the distribution of populations and the availability of water. Particularly between different countries who have access to the means and the political will to contest the ownership of water.

‘Water becomes the new oil as the world runs dry’


Urban dependence

In this article from 2008 Deyan Sudjic refers to densely populated major cities, and megalopolises, in which the vast majority of the population do not live directly ‘off the land’. Rather, they are highly dependent on a range of different types of critical infrastructure: for electricity, heating, water, food, financial exchange, information and communication, transportation and healthcare, for earning a livelihood. In fact, for almost all aspects of their day-to-day lives.

‘Cities on the edge of chaos’.

In our globalised world, many of the infrastructures and systems that supply the relevant goods and services cross national, and even continental boundaries. This degree of inter-connectivity can be a source of resilience, however, it can also be a source of vulnerability to disaster, as past power and banking systems failures and outbreaks of animal disease and human epidemics have demonstrated.

Your task

If it is not sufficient to view emergencies and disasters as one-off events, then what further approaches are needed, and what steps should be taken?

How can societies and governments determine and put into effect the policies and measures that are required?

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This article is from the free online course:

Emergencies and Disasters: Trends and Issues

Coventry University