The disaster trap

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Authors

Eli Lazarus 

Abstract

The long, open-ended period of recovery from a disaster event is the phase of a disaster that the interdisciplinary field of disaster studies struggles to understand. In the process of rebuilding, places do not simply reset – they transform, often in ways that confound any reduction of disaster risk, instead making people and settings more vulnerable to future hazard events. Reducing disaster risk is regarded as a global priority, but policies intended to reduce disaster risk have been largely ineffective. This obduracy represents a grand challenge in disaster studies. Here, I propose that the correlated trends of runaway economic costs of disaster events, growing social inequity, environmental degradation, and resistance to policy intervention in disaster settings are hallmark indicators of a system trap – a dynamic in which self-reinforcing feedbacks drive a system toward an undesirable and seemingly inescapable state, with negative consequences that tend to amplify each other over time. I offer that these trends in disaster settings are the collective expression of an especially powerful and distinct kind of system trap, which here I term the "disaster trap" – a new theoretical concept to help explain and address runaway disaster risk. I suggest that disaster traps are likely strongest in tourism-dominated coastal settings with high exposure to tropical cyclones and colonial histories of racial capitalism. Formalising a linkage between gilded and safe-development traps matters because their effects likely compound each other nonlinearly, such that disaster risk only increases and disaster-risk reduction becomes increasingly difficult to achieve. Addressing traps requires understanding them as dynamic systems, described as fundamentally and completely as possible – their components, mechanisms, drivers, and structure – in order to reveal when and where interventions into disaster systems might be most effective at reducing disaster risk.

DOI

https://doi.org/10.31223/X5232T

Subjects

Geography, Human Geography, Nature and Society Relations, Physical and Environmental Geography

Keywords

disasters, tropical cyclones, coupled systems, social traps, gilded trap, safe development, coastal environments

Dates

Published: 2021-05-05 02:18

Last Updated: 2021-05-05 06:18

License

CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

Additional Metadata

Conflict of interest statement:
None

Data Availability (Reason not available):
N/A

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