When “Nature” Strikes: A Sociology of Climate Change and Disaster Vulnerabilities in Asia

in Nature and Culture
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Home to 60 percent of the world's population, Asia accounts for 85 percent of those killed and affected globally by disaster events in 2011. Using an integrated sociological framework comprised of the pressure and release (PAR) model and the double-risk society hypothesis, and drawing on data obtained from the Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT), PreventionWeb, and the IPCC special report on extreme events, this article offers a sociological understanding of disaster development and recovery in Asia. The particular focus is on seven Asian countries, namely, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Rather than treating disasters entirely as “natural” events caused by “violent forces of nature”, we emphasize various ways in which social systems create disaster vulnerability. We argue that existing disaster mitigation and adaptation strategies in Asia that focus almost entirely on the natural and technological aspects of hazards have serious limitations, as they ignore the root causes of disaster vulnerabilities, such as limited access to power and resources. This article therefore recommends a holistic approach to disaster management and mitigation that takes into consideration the various larger social, political, and economic conditions and contexts.