Disasters have always been a result of human interaction with nature, technology and other living entities. Sometimes unpredictable and sudden, sometimes slow and lingering, various types of disasters continually affect the way in which we live our daily lives. Human beings as innovative creatures have sought new ways in which to curb the devastating effects of disasters. However, for years human conduct regarding disasters has been reactive in nature. Communities, sometimes aware of the risks that they face, would wait in anticipation of a disastrous event and then activate plans and procedures. Human social and economic development has further contributed to creating vulnerability and thus weakening the ability of humans to cope with disasters and their effects.
Disasters impede human development. Gains in development are inextricably linked to the level of exposure to disaster risk within any given community. In the same light, the level of disaster risk prevalent in a community is linked to the developmental choices exerted by that community (UNDP, 2004). The link between disasters and development is well researched and documented. The fact that disasters impact on development (e.g. a school being washed away in a flood) and development increases or decreases the risk of disasters (e.g. Introducing earthquake-resistant building techniques) is widely accepted. Yet, every year Africa suffers disaster losses which set back development and leave our communities living in a perpetual state of risk. Africa has come a long way since the global arena emphasised the need for multi-stakeholder disaster risk reduction rather than continuing the unsustainable cycle of disaster management. The 2000s saw a number of declarations, policies, strategies, plans and programmes developed. Yet very little real implementation of the above is evident on the African continent, despite a number of inter-regional and high-level discussions and forms of collaboration.
The following module will introduce you to the field of disaster risk reduction. The first part of the module will focus on defining the basic, but most important, terms in relation to disaster studies. The different elements of disaster risk management will enjoy attention, and how these different elements contribute to our understanding and better management of risk and disasters will be explained. Different types of hazards, vulnerability domains and risks will also be discussed. This module also provides a more theoretical look at the evolution of the study of disasters and in doing so emphasis will be placed on the transdisciplinary nature of disaster risk reduction. After the theoretical foundation for the understanding of disaster risk management has been laid, the emphasis will shift towards an understanding of how disaster risk management functions as an integrated approach within the context of sustainable development. The last part of this module will provide you with insight into some of the cross-cutting issues such as climate change and adaptation, disaster risk governance and gender and disaster risk issues.