How Are Natural Disasters Socially Constructed?

1358 words 6 pages
With reference to various examples, discuss how ‘natural’ disasters are socially constructed.

While natural disasters such as floods, drought and hurricanes are commonly thought to occur due to environmental forces such as weather, climate and tectonic movements; a deeper investigation into the ‘disaster’ displays other contributing forces. Human factors have a large, if not equal, contribution to the occurrance and outcome of such disasters (Pelling, 2001). As Pelling (2001) argues, there is both a physical and human dimension to ‘natural disasters’. The extent to which the natural occurrence of a physical process, such as a flood or earthquake, impacts on society is constructed by that society, creating a ‘disaster’ as measured by a
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They are highly exposed, sensitive to floods and have a low resilience capacity. The inequality of power in this situation has constructed vulnerable social groups resulting in the occurrence of natural disasters.

Society’s actions and decision making have created modern day disasters triggered by natural events, due to poor planning resulting in large scale death and damage. With educated planning we could avoid the disastrous consequences of many natural processes by refusing to settle in known danger spots. However, society’s choice of location and design has allowed the construction of what we term “natural” disasters, despite the anthropogenic causes behind their disastrous affects (Pelling, 2001). Mike Davis (1995) explains how Los Angeles has socially constructed the “natural” disasters there by settling the city in a high risk area known for hazardous storms, fires, floods, drought and earthquakes. Despite historic evidence of environmental risks and recent research warning of massive earthquakes and a mega-drought, Los Angeles’ “market-driven urbanization has transgressed environmental common-sense” (Davis, 1995, p. 223). The city is located centrally to many known, natural hazards; and due to the high density population and urbanisation the effects of any one of these natural processes would easily create disaster. One must also


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