How Understanding What People Fear Most Can Help Prevent Disasters

How Understanding What People Fear Most Can Help Prevent Disasters An immediate threat. Shutterstock.

It’s been more than four years since a magnitude 7.8 earthquake devastated Nepalese cities, claiming thousands of lives. Since then, there have been thousands of aftershocks. Yet when I spoke with residents of Bharatpur – Nepal’s fourth largest city – as part of my ongoing research, beginning in 2014, I was surprised to discover they were more concerned about wild animal attacks than the prospect of another high-magnitude quake.

Understanding what people worry about is crucial to preparing for natural hazards such as earthquakes and mitigating their effects. To prevent disasters, local people, municipal authorities and national governments all need to pull in the same direction – especially when budgets are low for disaster planning. But if residents feel that their everyday fears are ignored by those in power, they may disengage, leaving authorities unable to influence their behaviour in a time of crisis.

Throughout my research into the way cities are governed, I have investigated what people worry about, how they cope, how they raise their concerns and what role local authorities play in addressing them. I have consistently found that people tend not to worry about things they cannot prevent or control. And so far, local and national governments haven’t done a good job of recognising this.

A world of worries

Residents of Bharatpur (which has a population of 300,000) did not worry about earthquakes. The fact is, their everyday experiences and relationships are difficult and filled with tension – so they’re more concerned with immediate dangers and changes than with the indistinct threat of a natural hazard.

For example, the residents I spoke to were worried about wild animals – specifically tigers and rhinos – attacking people in the forest as they gathered firewood for their homes. This is a real threat: when I visited Bharatpur in 2017, I discovered that earlier in the year there had been a deadly tiger attack in broad daylight on the same dirt road where I had interviewed participants for my PhD research in 2014/15.

Residents also worried about changes to municipal boundaries that will affect their access to government services. Administrative changes in the city have led to a reallocation of funding from rapidly urbanising areas to the rural parts of the city, which lack the most basic infrastructure (electricity and paved roads).

How Understanding What People Fear Most Can Help Prevent Disasters The fast-growing city of Bharatpur. Hanna Ruszczyk, Author provided

What’s more, the local authority is raising taxes in 2019, which leaves those with very little money struggling to pay for services that were free before, on top of feeding their families and paying for school uniforms.

Yet policy makers and government officials at all levels ignore or discount residents’ fears about wild animal attacks, reallocation of municipal funding and the prospect of increasing taxes, when deciding what risks to address in their cities. Local authorities are more focused on paving roads throughout the city – a visible improvement which shows they are “doing something” – rather than addressing the full continuum of urban risk.

It’s important to note that there is nothing natural about disasters. Natural hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions happen frequently around the world. But disasters only occur when people are left exposed and vulnerable to natural hazards – which should be mitigated through safer building, better planning and preparation.

By ignoring residents’ everyday fears, governments risk losing their trust, which could increase the risk of disaster as residents disengage from government initiatives aimed at mitigating natural hazards.

Listen and learn

In a new paper, due to be published as part of the 2019 United Nations’ global assessment report for disaster risk reduction, I explain why it’s crucial to listen and include the views of residents and local authorities when national governments, donors and United Nations agencies think about how to manage risk in cities.

Local authorities are on the front line and are increasingly responsible for managing the full range of urban risks and hazards – from the economic precarity that forces young Nepali men to work abroad, to environmental degradation including lack of sewage treatment and rapid urbanisation which leads to fertile agricultural land being built on. And the list continues.

Recognising this wider range of risks is important for global conversations taking place between national governments and United Nations organisations. How these leaders define risk can decide how governments act on an international, national and even municipal level.

What’s more, if local people’s perceptions of risk are not included in national policy decisions, this shapes and actually limits what risks are actually managed locally. This leads to people’s worries being left ignored and unaddressed – and they become disenchanted and disengaged.

According to the United Nations, we are now living in an urban world, so we should all make the effort to better understand the complexity of challenges facing cities, and the continuum of risks in Nepal and all the other fast-urbanising places in the world. This includes listening to cities’ residents.The Conversation

About The Author

Hanna Ruszczyk, Assistant Professor, Durham University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

InnerSelf Market

Amazon

LATEST VIDEOS

The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
by Super User
The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…

LATEST ARTICLES

green energy2 3
Four Green Hydrogen Opportunities for the Midwest
by Christian Tae
To avert a climate crisis, the Midwest, like the rest of the country, will need to fully decarbonize its economy by…
ug83qrfw
Major Barrier to Demand Response Needs to End
by John Moore, On Earth
If federal regulators do the right thing, electricity customers across the Midwest may soon be able to earn money while…
trees to plant for climate2
Plant These Trees To Improve City Life
by Mike Williams-Rice
A new study establishes live oaks and American sycamores as champions among 17 “super trees” that will help make cities…
north sea sea bed
Why We Must Understand Seabed Geology To Harness The Winds
by Natasha Barlow, Associate Professor of Quaternary Environmental Change, University of Leeds
For any country blessed with easy access to the shallow and windy North Sea, offshore wind will be key to meeting net…
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
by Bart Johnson, Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Oregon
A wildfire burning in hot, dry mountain forest swept through the Gold Rush town of Greenville, California, on Aug. 4,…
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
by Alvin Lin
At the Leader’s Climate Summit in April, Xi Jinping pledged that China will “strictly control coal-fired power…
Blue water surrounded by dead white grass
Map tracks 30 years of extreme snowmelt across US
by Mikayla Mace-Arizona
A new map of extreme snowmelt events over the last 30 years clarifies the processes that drive rapid melting.
A plane drops red fire retardant on to a forest fire as firefighters parked along a road look up into the orange sky
Model predicts 10-year burst of wildfire, then gradual decline
by Hannah Hickey-U. Washington
A look at the long-term future of wildfires predicts an initial roughly decade-long burst of wildfire activity,…

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.