At Risk: Natural Hazards, People's Vulnerability, and Disasters

By Ben Wisner; Piers Blaikie et al. | Go to book overview

PREFACE TO THE 1994 EDITION

Long before they met each other, the four authors encountered many of the hazards discussed in this book as they worked and visited in Asia, Africa and Latin America. They shared a dissatisfaction with then prevailing views that disasters were 'natural' in a straightforward way. They shared an admiration for the ability of ordinary people to 'cope' with poverty and even calamities, and this perspective has strongly influenced the book.

The authors brought to this project complementary skills and expertise. Blaikie had written on the socio-economic background to land degradation 1 and poverty in Nepal, 2 and more recently on the AIDS epidemic in Africa. 3 Cannon has incorporated teaching on hazards into his work for many years, and is active in the Famine Commission of the International Geographical Union. He has edited a collection of studies of famine 4 and published extensively on development and environmental problems in China. Davis had spent many years studying shelter following disasters 5 and the growth of disaster vulnerability with rapid urbanisation; 6 he also brought to the project years of practical work in training government officials in disaster mitigation. Wisner had been concerned with rural physical and social planning since the mid-1960s. This took the form of land-use studies, 7 research on drought coping, 8 and work on rural energy 9 and health care delivery. 10 As the project began he was about to draw these themes together in a systematic study of 'basic needs' approaches to development in Africa. 11

This book has taken a long time to complete, with all the complications of multiple authorship, and the added difficulty that the four were for much of the time in three different countries. We met about six times for several days, and progressed from sketched outlines to substantial drafts at each meeting. Much paper and many electrons and floppy disks sailed back and forth among us. A great deal of ideological baggage was stripped away as a consensus view of hazards, vulnerability and disasters emerged. We provided crash courses for each other in areas of our own expertise. The result is a fully co-authored book, although we are aware that some idiosyncrasies of style and variations in point of view may still be visible here and there.

-xvi-

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