The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog


Natural Catastrophes and Resilience

The increasing interconnection of evolving risks parallels the increasing fragility of systems and will prove to test the resiliency not only of sectors, but also of countries and entire regions. In a recent Workshop on Socio-economic Factors of Natural Catastrophe held last 21 February 2013 and organised by the NTU Institute of Catastrophe Risk Management (ICRM), it was apparent how important the meeting of different disciplines can shed light in understanding catastrophes. There are three key points that I took away from the workshop:

First, the workshop highlighted the importance of systematic categorization and evaluation of threats to assist in the design of resilient systems and inform the costs and benefits of mitigation. Focusing on macro-threats, a ‘threat taxonomy’ is a pragmatic tool to look at geopolitical conflict, political violence, natural, climatic, environmental and technological catastrophes, disease outbreaks, humanitarian crisis and externalities (which include space catastrophes). In addition, history, hypothetical scenarios and understanding exposures are three key elements to understanding system shocks that can be of practical use for both the business and government sectors.

Second, the workshop stressed on the significance of communicating risk that can spur individuals and organisations to focus on more localized data and high risk zones, assess risks and provide impetus for action.

Third, from a social science perspective, natural catastrophes can aggravate conflicts between groups by looking at national and ethnic identities that shape attitudes (such as prejudice) towards natural catastrophes. Policy makers need to be increasingly aware of such intergroup processes that can defy popular notions and theories on the natural tendency to empathize with victims of natural disasters. Policy makers also need to be aware of ‘sociotechnical vulnerability”- “the condition of continuous dissonance and frailty” derived from the interplay between technology and interactions in society.

The workshop and lessons from it were helpful in informing the knowledge structure on building resilience and must be shared and used to designing projects for climate change mitigation and adaptation, from the community to the national level.

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