Looking beyond eruptions for an explanation of volcanic disasters: vulnerability in volcanic environments
AuthorsDibben, Christopher J.L.
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Abstract'Natural' disasters have traditionally been viewed as the result of an extreme physical environment. A radical backlash against this dominant view, in the nineteen seventies and eighties, moved the debate to the opposite extreme and in doing so replaced physical with social determinism. Vulnerability analysis is proposed as a methodology that bridges these extremes. It takes into account individual decision making, social milieu and physical hazard when describing human habitation in areas of volcanic activity. It is argued that vulnerability should be defined in terms of universal human needs in order to avoid it simply being a measure of the chance of death and injury or losing its meaning in the uncertainty of cultural relativism. Once vulnerability is identified it is important to explore why it has come to exist. A contextual theory of vulnerability change is presented. Vulnerability to volcanic activity was explored in the area around Mt. Etna in Sicily (Italy) and Furnas volcano San Miguel in the Azores (Portugal) using a case study methodology. This included: collecting data through interviews (semistructured and structured) and field surveying, utilising census and other secondary data sources, and examining historical documents and texts. The volcanic hazard on Mt. Etna is related to regular (4-7 years) effusive lava flows which threaten property and land rather than people. Living in a European state, it is likely that a victim of Mt. Etna will have their basic needs provided for in the long-term and therefore they are not vulnerable. In contrast the irregular explosive eruptions of Furnas, last eruption 1630, not only damage property and land but also endanger lives. The limited ability of individuals to protect themselves in the event of an eruption and organisations to aid them in this means that, in spite of state insurance, many around Furnas are vulnerable. The production of vulnerability around Etna and Furnas is strongly related to the socio-economic nature of the region and wider European and global contexts. Opportunities and constraints that exist across socio-physical space encourage behaviour and forms of life which, in tum, produce various levels of vulnerability. Individuals seem to cognitively diminish their perceptions of this threat within a context of social representations of low risk. They, and society as a whole, rarely seem to engage directly with the risk itself.
CitationDibben, C.J.L. (1999) 'Looking beyond eruptions for an explanation of volcanic disasters: vulnerability in volcanic environments'. PhD thesis. University of Luton.
PublisherUniversity of Bedfordshire
TypeThesis or dissertation
DescriptionA thesis submitted to the Centre for Volcanic Studies, University of Luton, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
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