Original Research

Disasters in ‘development’ contexts: Contradictions and options for a preventive approach

Kenneth Hewitt
Jàmbá: Journal of Disaster Risk Studies | Vol 5, No 2 | a91 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/jamba.v5i2.91 | © 2013 Kenneth Hewitt | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 03 April 2013 | Published: 31 May 2013

About the author(s)

Kenneth Hewitt, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, Cold Regions Research Centre, Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada


The relations of development and disaster offer a starting point for an overview of disaster risk reduction (DRR) in African contexts. A social vulnerability approach is adopted with its goal of improving conditions for persons and places most at risk. However, this approach faces serious contradictions in both the disasters and development scenes. Disaster events and losses have grown exponentially in recent decades. So have advances in disaster-related knowledge and the institutions and material resources devoted to disaster management. Evidently, the latter have not reduced disaster incidence or over all losses. Similar contradictions appear in development. By some measures, in most developing countries the economy has grown much faster than population. Yet, indebtedness, unemployment and insecurity seem worse in many countries. Poverty, the avowed target, remains huge in urban, peri-urban and rural areas singled out by disaster losses. Problems also arise from separate treatment of development and disaster. Climate change and the global financial crises challenge some of the most basic assumptions. The promise of ‘developed nations’, built around massive use of fossil fuels, puts global and African economic growth on a collision course with environmental calamity. The 2008 financial crisis has undermined the safety of global majorities, as well as reliance on development assistance. The case for alternatives in development and DRR is reinforced, including the vulnerability-reducing responses highlighted in the Hyogo framework for action. However, this is being undermined by a return to a civil defence-type approach, an increasingly militarised, and for-profit, focus on emergency management.


safety; growth; disaster risk reduction (DRR); disaster prevention; Hyogo Framework for Action; developing countries (DCs); global financial crisis; climate change


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