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International Studies: Global Disasters

Natural disasters traditionally have been reasoned to be an effect of environmental conditions like volcanoes, cyclones, earthquakes, droughts, etc. They have considered human contribution in the disasters as passive agents. However in the early 1980s there had been radical critique from social geographers on environmental lines, who argued that humans are also, largely, are responsible in the advent of disorders. They argue, “Sociologists…are concerned almost exclusively with the structures, functions and activities of formal organizations and the impact of disasters upon them and generally accord the environment a minor role.” (Bankoff, p. 50) According to them disaster is defined as something framed by human behavior at a specific moment.

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Another definition of disaster, which has become widespread, is the view that disaster is an integral part of the environment and the human system. Here they emphasize on town, community, region, etc. and such other developments which make them vulnerable to the eminent natural disasters. Thus, the argument rests on the belief that disasters are embedded in the daily human conditions, which establishes a link between society, culture and environment.

So far, the definitions of disaster as provided by the geographers, anthropologists and other social scientists is that related to the environment. However, Anthony Oliver-Smith has associated with another belief of disaster where it is associated with a wide array of contemporary problems (Oliver-Smith). His contention is that disaster so far has been treated by different fields by concentrating on their own area as in case of organizational behavior (sociology), place (geography), and policy assessment (political science). Therefore, it would be wrong while theorizing disaster to consider only on particular aspect as it removes the multidimensionality out of the process.

It is believed that disasters are caused due to the vulnerability in human society, which results in disasters. They are natural, physical, economic, social, political, technological, ideological, cultural, educational, ecological, and institutional vulnerability. These have been embedded in a value chain where the ideologies of political and economic systems affect the allocation and distribution of resources, and believe that these ideologies being the root cause of disasters. Thus, the vulnerability theorists believe that disasters are caused due to society and not of nature.

The Green Revolutionists have argued that the western world has relentlessly furthered the limits of the environment in order to gain economic profit. This according them has disturbed the natural balance of the ecology resulting in disasters. Therefore, it can be said that the main cause for disaster is not natural; often man made causes bring disaster.

“One of the first goals of authorities after any disaster is to deny its predictability.”

Authorities’ ideas are mainly rooted in the traditional view of disaster where they blindly give the reason for the disaster to natural causes unforeseen or unpredictable by them. It is similar to the guilty feeling of the survivors of a disaster where they are unable to associate with a world where his/her neighbor died and he survived. (Erikson, In the Wake of Flood)He blames it to the hand of God. Similar is the situation with the authorities.

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For instance consider the case of Grassy Narrow in 1979 (Erikson, A New Species of Trouble: Explorations in Disaster, Trauma, and Community). The plant emitted waste methyl mercury into the river. This infected the fishes and those who consumed the water. As this mercury could not be traced in the human tissue and affects the most vulnerable parts of human body, it caused a danger to the health of the residents in the area. When the blood and hair samples were tested pathologically, there were no specific instance of poisoning could be found, thus making the result inconclusive. This clearly indicates that the authorities were fast enough to blame the reason on some other reason other than human caused reason of the disaster that had affected the region and for which it was not in a position to predict it earlier. Though the mercury was initially emitted by the paper mill, when it reached Grassy Narrow it was absorbed in the environment and so the blame obviously fell on nature.

As most disasters are reason to be caused by natural causes, it becomes easy for authorities to put the blame on nature, which off course, cannot be predicted. For instance, the case of a typhoon, when a typhoon occurs, it is difficult to understand what the real cause of it was. However, the authorities invariably blame it on natural cycle, which is above its control.

This avoidance of the reason of a disaster on the part of the authorities is related to the political aspects of risk. In the pre-industrial society, the causes of natural disasters were invariably assigned to supernatural forces. In the industrial era, the blame shifted to the wider societal forces.

Now if we consider the case of Bangladesh, a country situated in the Asian subcontinent, which is open to repeated natural disasters like flood (Bankoff). Now the people living in the area are accustomed to the situation and set their crop cycles in tune with the timing of the floods. This reduces the vulnerability of the area. However, the authorities fail to make a dam or reservoir to prevent the flood in the first place. The reason is again blamed on natural causes. However, this is preventive disaster as its advent is moreover cyclic and can be predicted.

Clearly, the authorities have a tendency of blaming the reason for a disaster on unpredictable reasons even if they are refutable.

Works Cited

Bankoff, G. Cultures of Disaster: Society and Natural Hazard in the Philippines.

Erikson, K. A New Species of Trouble: Explorations in Disaster, Trauma, and Community.

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Erikson, K. In the Wake of Flood.

Oliver-Smith, A. Theorizing Disaster: Nature, Culture, and Power.

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StudyCorgi. "International Studies: Global Disasters." November 10, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "International Studies: Global Disasters." November 10, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'International Studies: Global Disasters'. 10 November.

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