World Disasters Report 2014 – Focus on Culture and Risk

Learning about multiple rationalities and risk reduction

man prepares medicine

All over the world, communities live exposed to hazards and disasters. And each community has its own cultural heritage to protect.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) released its World Disasters Report 2014 – Focus on Culture and Risk on October 16. These reports, which focus on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), are a good resource for members of the heritage protection community, especially their information and insights regarding Type 1 — rare and potentially catastrophic — risks.

2014 World Disasters ReportThe 2014 Report, with its emphasis on culture and risk, is of particular interest to our field. As the IFRC notes, culture has a huge effect on the work of heritage communities:

“When Hurricane Katrina struck the US in 2005, politicians and some of those affected believed it was God’s punishment for sin in New Orleans. Some Japanese blamed the gods for the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. In West Africa, where the Mount Cameroon volcano erupts every few years, a chief reflected many people’s beliefs in saying: ‘When the mountain god gets angry it causes eruptions.’ Around the world, people’s response to risk is based partly on culture.

Why do people deal with risk in these ways? And why do the organizations that set out to prepare for disasters ignore people’s ‘risk culture’?”

The report comprises seven chapters and an appendix of disaster data covering the previous year. The first chapter provides an overview of the report contents. The second chapter considers the effects of a society’s religions and beliefs on attitudes to risk, while chapters three and four examine the culture of DRR organizations. Chapters five and six begin to bridge these cultural differences by considering the values of traditional, and hence culturally appropriate, approaches to shelter and housing and to health and medicine, respectively. The final chapter encourages an acceptance of and ability to work with different senses of rationality seeking a better alignment between DRR organization’s behaviors and the way societies they work within think and act.

Embracing multiple rationalities is critical to the successful application of risk-based approaches to cultural property protection as well as to social safety, well-being and development. Following along the learning curve with our risk managing partners in the DRR field will benefit us all.

Visit the IFRC’s website to download a copy of the 2014 Report.