Disaster Justice: The Geography of Human Capability
50 Pages Posted: 31 Jan 2013
Date Written: August 14, 2012
“Social vulnerability,” the part of a community’s susceptibility to harm that can be attributed to demographic characteristics, should become a more prominent concern in disaster policy. The failure to address a community’s social vulnerability to hazard not only results in higher losses in total, but also losses that are distributed unfairly and impinge on personal freedom. This article is about setting the foundation for more legal analysis of what I call “Disaster Justice.” Part I investigates the social meaning and geographic patterns of disaster. It shows how social scientists – in particular geographer Susan Cutter and her colleagues – have come to think of disaster as a social phenomenon, where demographic characteristics like class and race can influence a community’s hazard-risk index as much as its location. Part II investigates the social and political meaning of injustice, drawing from the work of political theorist Judith Shklar and economist Amartya Sen, to show that social resilience in times of disaster is not only a factor in public safety, but a significant aspect of personal freedom. Applying these insights, Part III sets forth some general principles for developing new policies and using old ones to strengthen social resilience in the future. In this Part, I offer two concrete policy initiatives that can set us on a course for progress: a federal executive order on disaster justice and a nationally consistent disaster-justice mapping tool.
Keywords: environmental law, disaster preparation, discrimination, land use, risk management, administrative law, social justice
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