This chapter is concerned with assessing the current state of knowledge about disasters and development. It begins by reviewing global patterns in disaster risk and development and introduces the concept of sustainable development as a vision for creating disaster-resilient places. Next, the major institutional obstacles to the advancement of disaster resiliency are discussed. The committee then offers a definition of success in terms of disaster resiliency and reviews influences on achievement of this goal premised on theories of governance and social capital. Next, collaborative international research efforts are reviewed that can potentially offer robust opportunities for comparative analyses of these influences on disaster resiliency. Finally, the committee develops research-based recommendations that offer guidance for confronting the challenges posed by disasters to development and outlines future research needs.


Understanding global patterns of disaster risk entails a review of key concepts of development that address the vulnerability of human communities. Use of these concepts to model relationships between risk and development requires reliable data across disaster events and cultures. Although there are significant limitations in data, preliminary studies have begun to explore the links between disaster risk and development at various spatial scales.

Concepts of Risk and Vulnerability

The relationship between disaster risk and development is complex and multifaceted. Risk refers to potential for loss of life and property damage. As noted in Chapter 1, disaster risks are products of the disaster event and the degree of vulnerability of human communities that sustain losses from the event. The destructive power of the disaster event is influenced by several physical characteristics (e.g., magnitude and scope of impact, length of forewarning) as well as the degree of exposure to impacts. The physical force of a disaster, however, is insufficient to explain risk. Areas that experience equivalent levels of physical force of a given disaster event have widely varying levels of risk. Vulnerability is the concept that explains why, with the equivalent force of disaster, people and property are at different levels of risk.

Vulnerability consists of various social, economic, and natural and built environmental indicators of societal development that represent the capability of a human community to cope with a disaster event (Kasperson et al., 2001). Sen (1981) has demonstrated that given equivalent availability of food, food crises may occur in some areas but not others due to unequal vulnerabilities in human communities. The difference is rooted in social and

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