There is on-going vulnerability of nations and communities to the impacts of disasters which has led to increased national and regional commitments to disaster risk reduction and disaster management (SOPAC, 2005). The aim of this paper is to make a justification of the assertion that disaster management is a security concern. This will be done by looking at the terms disaster, disaster management, and security and finally the paper will examine the link between disaster management and security.
To begin with, according to section 2(1) of the International Disaster Response Law, disaster is defined as the “serious disruption of the functionality of society, which poses a significant, widespread threat to human life, health, property or the environment, whether arising from accident, nature, or human activity, whether developing suddenly or as a result of long term processes, but excluding armed conflict” (MRCS & IFRC, 2005). A disaster occurs when a hazard impacts on vulnerable people who are unable to reduce the potential negative consequences of risk. While oftentimes disasters are caused by nature, they sometimes are induced by human activity.
Examples of disasters include naturally occurring incidents caused by either rapid or slow onset events such as floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, landslides, volcanic activity, and wildfires (Constantine, 1995). In addition, there are manmade disasters occurring in or close to human settlements which, result from human activities such as nuclear power plant disasters and environmental degradation. Further, disasters also occur from pandemic emergencies.
This is an outcome of the spread of an infectious disease across a large area. It may be an unusual or unexpected increase in the number of cases of an infectious disease among a population, of a disease already existing in an area or the appearance of a significant number of cases resulting from that disease in an area free from the disease. Examples include Ebola, Cholera and Avian Flu (WPCT).
Secondly, disaster management is the way of helping people to deal with their human, economic, material or environmental conditions of a disaster. It is the process of organising and managing resources and responsibilities in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from the effects of disasters in order to reduce the impacts and the risk of disasters (Elliot, 2014).
Preparing for disasters refers to measures that are put in place to prepare for and reduce the impacts of a disaster. In this regard, the concept of disaster preparedness may also include engaging in activities that are aimed at preventing or avoiding potential negative impact by taking actions in advance to provide protection from the occurrence of disasters (Burton et al., 1993). Reducing the impact of disasters on the affected population works as an effective cushioning mechanism and can also help to save lives and livelihoods.
In addition, disaster management involves effective disaster response during or immediately after the occurrence of disasters aimed at saving lives, ensuring the people’s safety, minimising health impacts, and meeting the basic needs of the victims. Some of the activities during this stage of disaster management include rescuing victims from immediate danger, emergency health care, provision of shelter, food and water supplies, recovery of the dead and restoration of essential services (IFRC).
Also, vital to disaster management is the stage whose focus is to help victims beyond provisions of emergency relief. This is based on the understanding that victims who suffer a lot during disasters are often vulnerable for some longer periods after the initial incidents. Examples of activities undertaken during this stage include rebuilding infrastructure like dwelling houses, hospitals, roads, schools; health care and rehabilitation of victims; and formulating mechanisms to avoid or mitigate future disasters (Ibid).
Further, the concept security means different things to different individuals and groups. Traditionally, security was characterised by highlighting on state security with the ultimate goal being the protection of national borders form external aggression (Luciani, 1989). However, the evolution of the concept shows that it wears a human face. In this regard, achieving human security should aim at “addressing critical and pervasive threats to the vital core of human lives, the freedom to live in dignity, and the freedom from fear (Commission on Human Security, 2003).
Furthermore, during and after disasters, security concerns are far more important as disasters affect both human and material resources. In this case, people-centred disaster management helps to resolve a number of security problems. Firstly, natural disasters such as floods have demonstrated enough evidence that they pose serious threat to human security.
Floods result in the loss of lives through drowning, direct injury, associated diseases and famine (Wijkman & Timberlake, 1993). In view of this, putting in place mechanisms for disaster preparedness for example, early flood warning systems for people living in flood prone areas during continued heavy rains would be of paramount importance.
During a flood, the evacuation of people to safer environments saves lives. However, such a response to disaster may also become a security risk to the victims due to evacuation centres not having enough space and lack of sanitary facilities, posing a serious threat of infectious diseases. Based on this, stepping up efforts for disaster preparedness and response to avoid humanitarian emergencies due to floods is a definite human security concern.
Secondly, in addition to humanitarian relief, preservation of law and order during disasters is essentially of great importance in order to return normalcy and stability for the communities facing a disaster. In this context, security agents are needed among the first instruments rather than the last resort to mitigate the effects of a disaster (Constantine, 1995).
For example, considering the severity and unpredictability of disasters such as high magnitude earthquakes, fire, and heavy storms, human and material vulnerability increases (Biswas, & Choudhuri, 2012). Therefore, the safety and security of victims, relief workers, equipment, and other relief goods in response and recovery to disasters is a security concern. After disasters, there is often looting of relief supplies before getting to designated destination (Constantine, 1995).
Further, discrimination in the distribution and diversion of relief supplies and can also trigger tensions among victims and this may eventually threaten security in relocation camps. This creates potential vulnerability to sexual exploitation, abuse, theft and violence (OUNHCHR, 2005). In other cases, security concerns are increased by the scarcity of resources such as water and food triggered by drought conditions. Population displacements and resettlements may sometimes lead to conflict for resources among the victims, and even between victims and the host people.
Further, disasters that destroy crops lead to food insecurity and in turn disrupt the peoples’ livelihoods. The impact of disaster on agricultural production tends to destroy human lives and the economic infrastructure among populations whose economy is agriculture driven. The long term shortage of water, prolonged flood conditions and the increase in the outbreaks of plant and animal pests and diseases result in poor yields that lead to food self- insufficiency (FAO, 2002).
Widespread food shortages give rise to food prices and this affects the capacity of the victims to purchase food. In the end, the affected populations at the risk of severe malnutrition, which among others, cause a lifelong damage to child development (UNDP, 2004).
To conclude, disasters cause serious dysfunctional of communities which suffer from human, economic, environmental and material losses. Whether natural or manmade, it is a well known fact that disasters have far reaching negative consequences on well-being of the affected populations. While the traditional understanding of security looks at it from a military defence perspective, the evolved understanding of security emphasises the protection of individuals from fear and want. In this context, disaster management focuses on addressing the actual threats that people struggle with following a disaster, which based on the broader understanding of security, is security concern.