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Recent disaster statistics reflect an alarming trend of increasing losses from natural disasters. Typically, the insurance industry, scientific experts, and thus the media, refer to such “external” factors as population increase, the potential for damage in hazard-prone areas, and land use and climate change as the primary causes of this trend. Although these factors increase vulnerability to natural disasters, we argue that “internal” factors such as disaster-related science and policy are also responsible for the inability to stem or reverse the upward trend in disaster damage. The paradox of concurrent increases in economic loss and disaster-related research raises questions about the approaches and tools used in hazard assessment and disaster management. This in turn raises the possibility that progress is being blocked by fundamental conceptual barriers, in addition to profound changes in environmental and social processes, neither of which are adequately being addressed. We conclude with some thought-provoking suggestions for addressing problems in disaster management.
Disasters associated with mountain hazards have had considerable impact throughout the world, especially in least favored regions such as Asia and Latin America—as illustrated by the case of Puebla Province in the Sierra Norte, Mexico, devastated by an extreme precipitation event in October 1999. The effect of disasters on mountain areas depends on the spatial and temporal distribution of hazards, as well as the degree of vulnerability faced by the population. Given the nature of the planet, it is rather difficult to control hazards in terms of actual processes. The key to reducing disasters and their impacts is thus to focus on decreasing vulnerability and promoting prevention. The latter can be achieved to some extent by incorporating local knowledge and initiatives into the framework of public policy and decision-making.
Climate change scenarios predict impacts in Bolivia that include longer dry seasons and more frequent storms. Can the local population cope with these changes? How resilient are the social systems and local ecosystems? A case study prepared by Intercooperation (IC) for “Vulnerable Communities and Adaptation,” an IC/IISD/IUCN/SEI project on Climate Change, investigated how Swiss development cooperation has helped reduce vulnerability to climate change in a community in the Altiplano of Bolivia. Regardless of considerations of climate change during planning and implementation of the project, one collateral benefit has been improvement in the resilience profile of the Khuluyo community.
Debris flows represent a widespread threat to villages and small towns in the Swiss Alps. For many centuries people “managed” such risks by trying to avoid hazardous areas. However, major debris flow and flood events in the last 25 years have revealed that the degree of freedom to engage in this type of risk management has substantially decreased. This became especially evident during the 1999 disasters in a number of places in Switzerland. The winter of that year was unusually wet. In February heavy snowfall triggered destructive avalanches. In May high temperatures caused heavy snowmelt, with excessive rainfall contributing more water to the already saturated soils. Landslides, debris flows and floods were triggered in many locations, including Sörenberg. Hazard prevention and disaster management have a long tradition in Switzerland, although an integrated approach to risk management is rather new. Only in recent years have methods and tools been developed to assess hazards, define protection goals, and implement disaster reduction measures. The case of Sörenberg serves as an example of how today's approaches to disaster reduction are implemented at the local level.
The tourist industry in the European Alps has always been greatly threatened by natural disasters. As far as tourism is concerned, the so-called “indirect” effects of these disasters have proven to be more important than the direct damages. The former consist mainly of loss of earnings, which can result for example from the closure of access roads or the decommissioning of cable cars and ski lifts. In fact, it is the combination of a drop in the number of overnight stays with the absence of day trippers over several days which makes the outcome of a natural disaster an extraordinary event for the tourist industry. As long as natural disasters remain relatively rare occurrences, tourist resorts in the Alps can generally cope with them. Should the frequency of these events increase substantially as a result of global warming, however, tourism and the entire Alpine economy could face serious problems in the future.
This paper examines various ways in which mountains can be defined for Southern Africa (Lesotho, South Africa and Swaziland), and South Africa in particular, by using harmonized topographic, vegetation and cultural digital data within a Geographic Information System (GIS). A particular topographic model is finally selected. This definition is then applied to the South African national context to identify the socioeconomic characteristics of its mountainous areas, in particular with regard to poverty indicators. These areas are identified as having distinctive characteristics when compared with metropolitan areas and, more importantly, with non-mountain rural areas. This observation has important political implications, as mountains currently have a very low visibility in regional and social policy.
The Kangchenjunga Conservation Area (KCA, Nepal) was the subject of a comparative study on land use/land cover change, using the maps and air photographs available for 2 different years (1978/79 and 1992). Digitized land use maps for 1978 (LUM78) and topographical maps for 1992 (TOPO92) were first interpreted using a Geographic Information System (GIS); this was followed by comparative interpretation of black and white air photographs from the same years. Lelep, Sekhathum–Amjilesa, Syajunma and Ramsyampati were the 4 areas selected for analysis.
The initial map interpretation of LUM78 and TOPO92 implied that considerable changes in land use/cover had occurred between 1978/79 and 1992. Forestland was shown to have decreased by 62.5% (23.15 km2), agricultural land to have increased by 35.7% (1.49 km2), and shrubland to have increased by 238.2% (30.16 km2). Grazing land, with an area of 22.57 km2 on the 1978/79 and 1992 imagery, appeared to have disappeared completely by 1992. An interpretation of air photographs for the same period, however, revealed that the actual changes were far smaller than those inferred from the map interpretation: decrease in forest and grazing lands by 14.9% (5.45 km2) and 77.9% (2.75 km2), respectively, and increase in agricultural and shrublands by 4.9% (0.21 km2) and 19.7% (4.41 km2), respectively. The results of a questionnaire survey of the local inhabitants confirmed that no significant changes had occurred. The discrepancies identified highlight the problems inherent in assigning land categories. In particular, distinctions made on the LUM78 material between shrub, grazing land, and barren land were inappropriate. Similarly, forest and shrublands were incorrectly assigned in TOPO92. Caution must be exercised when using such information; verification from other sources is needed.
Soil properties on the Cap de Creus Peninsula, NE Spain depend primarily on scarce agricultural practices and early abandonment. In the study area, 90% of which is mainly covered by Cistus shrubs, 8 environments representing variations in land use/land cover and soil properties at different depths were identified. In each environment variously vegetated areas were selected and sampled. The soils, collected at different depths, were classified as Lithic Xerorthents according to the United States Department of Agriculture system of soil classification (USDA-NRCS 1975). Differences in soil properties were largely found according to the evolution of the plant canopy and the land use history. To identify underlying patterns in soil properties related to environmental evolution, factor analysis was performed and factor scores were used to determine how the factor patterns varied between soil variables, soil depths and selected environments. The three-factor model always accounted for 80% of the total variation in the data at the different soil depths. Organic matter was the more relevant soil property at 0–2 cm depth, whereas active minerals (silt and clay) were found to be the most relevant soil parameters controlling soil dynamics at the other depths investigated. Results showed that vineyards and olive tree soils are poorly developed and present worse conditions for mineral and organic compounds. Analysis of factor scores allowed independent assessment of soils, depth and plant cover and demonstrated that soils present the best physico-chemical characteristics under Erica arborea and meadows. In contrast, soils under Cistus monspeliensis were less nutrient rich and less well structured.
The mountain ecosystems of Sri Lanka are now in crisis, with rapid degradation of the productive resource base and the environment. There are unmistakable symptoms of unsustainability in current production practices and patterns of resource use in tea agroecosystems. The present study was undertaken with the overall objective of examining the sustainability of resource use, with special reference to the land management practices on tea plantations on the Uva highlands of Sri Lanka. Eight different tea plantation units were randomly selected for detailed study, representing a total area of 4548 ha. The information related to the management of the plantations was mainly collected from plantation records.
The findings of the study confirmed that the ecological capital of the plantations is in a critical state. Private management companies have been exercising a strategy aimed at short-term profits by extracting higher yields with the aid of inorganic fertilizers and other agrochemicals. Hence activities such as replanting, infilling and bush management have been neglected. Shortage of skilled labor is a major threat to the future of the tea estates. An inter-estate analysis of the quality of the management of tea plantations indicated that most of the tea estates had become marginal. Long-term management plans need to be formulated and implemented in order to make the tea plantations ecologically and economically sustainable.
Resource conflicts are an inevitable part of Nepalese society. Their causes include hierarchical and patron–client social relations, the incompatibility of formal laws, conflicts of interest, perception and belief, competition over scarce resources, ambiguity over roles and responsibilities, the unwillingness of the state to respond to social, economic, political and technological changes, corruption, and bad governance. The present study analyzes resource conflicts and practices used to resolve them in Nepal. It was conducted in 6 districts of Nepal, representing the mountain, hill and terai regions, using focus groups and informal discussions, semi-structured and key informant interviews, observation, life histories, and a questionnaire survey. It concludes that existing, legally engineered formal conflict resolution systems are administratively complicated, expensive, elitist, heavily influenced by money and power, non-transparent, and inaccessible to the poor, and are therefore hardly adequate to address growing conflicts in Nepal. Likewise, informal systems are also distorted and inherently biased towards those with power. Hence modernization of existing formal conflict resolution systems is urgently needed in Nepal.
Commercial utilization of inland fish resources can constitute an important addition to other economic activities in rural communities. Based on a case study of commercial whitefish fishery in Lake Femund, a mountain lake in southeastern Norway, this article outlines experience gained and indicates some of the general problems related to this type of economic activity. They concern aspects such as resource biology, product development and marketing, economic management, and staff recruitment. An initial hypothesis of the study was that commercial fishery would have a significant impact on the whitefish stock, causing fluctuations in yield and consequent variations in the economy of the fishery. Therefore, the study included an analysis of marketing possibilities for whitefish products, as well as of the social and socioeconomic conditions sustaining whitefish fishery in the local community. Nearly 20 years of data show that commercial fishery in Lake Femund, with a yield of up to 1 kg per ha, has a low to moderate exploitation rate. Thus, fishery itself does not generate fluctuations in the fish population that would influence yields. The major restrictions on the enterprise are related to other aspects, such as problems of economic and technical management of this specialized small-scale industry, difficulties in the recruitment of fishermen to a short-season fishery in a time when the employment pattern in the community is changing from seasonal activities in agriculture to full-time employment in manufacturing and services, and the challenge of developing and marketing competitive products for a niche market.