Natural Disasters and Development: In a Globalizing World

By Mark Pelling | Go to book overview

3

Changes in capitalism and global shifts in the distribution of hazard and vulnerability

Ben Wisner

Introduction

'Risk society' and its others: are you feeling lucky today?

Economic and, to some extent, political globalization have been accompanied with a lot of theory. Post-modernism can be interpreted as theorizing struggle by individuals, small self-identified groups and localities to maintain their autonomy in the face of huge, rapidly shifting tidal waves of capital. In the wake of these waves are pulled millions of international labour migrants - many of them illegal. Their enclaved communities are often abused by mainstream cultures. At best they are ignored, be they Turks or Mozambicans in Germany, Algerians in France, Salvadorans, Mexicans or Cambodians in Southern California.

The critique of modernism has attempted to understand changes in society at the macro level. Such is the work of Ulrich Beck, whose Risk Society (1992) remains a major reference point. He is primarily concerned with technological hazards and the perception of these by affluent Europeans. This is the domain of nuclear power, dioxin and mad cow disease. But what of the 'other' world? In February 2001 the European Union's minister of agriculture announced steps to prevent the spread of mad cow disease totalling US$1 billion a year. That same month the government of El Salvador announced that it would cost at least US$1 billion to rebuild infrastructure (roads, bridges, schools, hospitals) destroyed by the earthquakes of January and February 2001.

Beck writes about a small portion of humanity. Most of humanity is more afraid of warlords than terrorists. Many more lives are shattered by AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria than by the human form of mad cow disease. The risks of crossing the US-Mexican border, where 475 people succumbed to heat, cold, drowning, and exhaustion in 2000, are not the risks of brain cancer from cell phone use by more than 100 million nervous Norteamericanos. A photo in a recent newspaper showed a couple sunbathing on a beach in Spain where the body of an unsuccessful migrant had washed up.

There are truly global threats, of course, such as climate change and biodiversity erosion. In addition, there are a number of transboundary

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