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Keywords: Environmental Management
Master (Environmental Management)
Pow Choon Piew
2015/2016 EnvM
Issue Date: 14-Jul-2016
Abstract: Often revered as the ‘Water Towers of Asia’, the Himalayas feed seven major rivers of the East; the ecosystem services thus emanating from the Indian Himalayas alone amount to 943 billion per year or 1/3rd of the country’s total GDP. Rampant urbanization is a fairly new phenomenon in this region which is why the emerging vulnerabilities are unfamiliar and difficult to deal with. Historically, natural resources have acted as a buffer against adverse events but today the carrying capacity of ecosystems has diminished and natural hazards have been transformed into large scale disasters with massive loss to life and property. Socio-economic, political and environmental factors are the most obvious determinants of this new emerging growth reality. However, this research goes a step further by bringing the psychological dimension into the forefront and investigating the role of perceptions in guiding people’s behavior throughout the disaster process. It adopts a bottom-up approach in trying to understand why people occupy hazard prone areas and how their cognitive limitations, traditions and culture diminish their ability to make rational choices. In the latter half it tries to draw parallels between the response mechanisms of people and aid agencies in a disaster situation. This research begins by exploring the concepts of risk and vulnerability and how their scope has continuously widened to include unconventional but nevertheless crucial determinants of disaster vulnerability. It goes on to analyze the ways in which people experience risk and understand their own vulnerability to disasters. The Theory of Bounded Rationality is elaborated upon – it challenges rational human behavior and argues that cognitive limitations drive the decision maker to proceed by trial-and-error in order to reach a ‘satisfactory’ rather than an ‘optimum’ level of achievement. A working model of disaster management should therefore seek to uncover, explain, predict and improve such behavioral patterns. Next, the research discusses the methodology employed for data collection viz. walk-over survey, focus group discussions and semi-structured interviews. It also provides a comprehensive overview of the study area in the context on the 2013 Kedarnath tragedy. The data analysis reveals some interesting trends. Firstly, people’s decision to settle in hazard prone areas is guided by some of the obvious ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors. However, certain cognitive limitations also assist them in making this decision. For instance, there is a misguided belief that occurrence of floods just two years back somehow immunizes them from something similar for a long time in future. Secondly, cultures and traditions have a supporting as well as an impeding role to play in peoples’ response to disaster. Even though tradition drives people to engage in conservation activities, when faced with an actual disaster they often attribute it to fate and decide to do little about it. Thirdly, there are substantial discrepancies in the needs and priorities of people and the way development agencies seek to address them. They treat the communities as beneficiaries of aid rather than creative actors in the disaster management process. A disconnect amongst the agencies themselves leads to isolated response scenarios that create an environment of apathy and mistrust among communities. To conclude, the research offers some recommendations which can streamline the disaster mitigation process by not only addressing physical vulnerabilities but also recognizing the crucial role of community involvement. Some future areas of research are also proposed that can go a long way in addressing the rapidly evolving vulnerabilities in a disaster inflicted region.
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