Hazards, Risk and Urbanisation

Authored by: Mark Pelling

The Routledge Handbook of Hazards and Disaster Risk Reduction

Print publication date:  December  2011
Online publication date:  March  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415590655
eBook ISBN: 9780203844236
Adobe ISBN: 9781136918698


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Humanity seems to be drawn towards an urban model of living. Throughout history civilisations have urbanised, with urban settlements prospering best when they meet three basic preconditions. First, they provide security for their citizens from external threats – from armed conflict to natural hazards. Second, they generate a mechanism for the sustainable extraction and concentrated use of social and ecological surplus – the basis for food and water security which under globalisation can involve chains of exchange that extend the reach of the city, and its dependencies, over large distances. Third, they are maintained through a social contract that balances legitimacy and power – not to be confused with equity and justice. Meeting these preconditions allows cities to offer security to citizens within political regimes that are environmentally sustainable and socially just. Of course, this is an ideal vision and cities rarely, if ever, live up to these standards. However, in coming close urban centres can offer stability to their citizens and surrounding political economy. This characteristic was illustrated well by Drèze and Sen (1989), who identified the advantages of urban centres that, in the midst of drought and famine in the Indian countryside, provided security to residents through the management of food stocks. In this case urban centres gained security through enhanced administrative capacity. This is only one facet of governance that lies at the root of determining who is at risk in cities.

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