Environmental Hazards and Disasters: Contexts, Perspectives and Management

By Bimal K. Paul


334 pages | Softcover

1st edition | November 2011

ISBN 0-470-66001-5

Asked to explain a natural disaster, most people trained in physical sciences will probably describe how plate tectonics cause earthquakes or how climate change affects floods or droughts. However such definitions neglect the most important factor that distinguishes a natural event from a disaster: the human component and how an event can impact society. An earthquake in an uninhabited desert, even if interesting for the geologist, will have little repercussion on humans. An earthquake in a densely populated area can disrupt not only the local infrastructure and economy, but in our globalized world cause also repercussions on a worldwide scale. A small community with limited resources (like Haiti in 2010) will be affected stronger by an event than a large and rich society, which can more easily replace lost goods or workforce. It becomes clear from these considerations that to understand environmental hazards and risk it is necessary to consider not only the physical forces behind a natural event, but also how humans perceive, react to and try to mitigate the effects of such an event.

Textbooks that approach disasters from such an interdisciplinary approach are still rare or accessible only to experts on the subject.

"Environmental Hazards and Disasters" tries to close this gap by providing an intermediate level text based on the teaching experience of the author Dr. Bimal K. Paul (Kansas State University).

The book is subdivided in 8 independent main chapters with further subdivision discussing specific concepts. This structure allows an easy "navigation" and the reader can skip directly to a specific topic of interest.

The first two chapters provide a general introduction in the classification of disasters and a historic overview on disaster research, including modern applications of Geographic Information Systems. The following chapters 3 to 7 introduce and discuss a broad array of specific concepts of disaster research, from environmental terrorism to risk communication, from mitigation measures to problems of disaster relief. The author succeeds to convey this apparently "dry theory material" by showing the application of the theory with examples and scenarios of recent disaster from all over the world. He also convincingly describes the problems of managing disasters based on his experience or investigation of specific events, like Hurricane Katrina in 2005 or historic floods in Bangladesh. Every chapter ends with an exhaustive list of published studies and provides references for further research; maybe online sources are a bit underrepresented - considering also that the book addresses today students, even more familiar using internet than the reviewer.

The eighth chapter stands apart and discuss two interesting topics in greater detail: disasters and gender vulnerability (woman are generally more vulnerable to a disaster, mostly due sociological factors) and - as sort of summary of the entire book - the possible effects of climate change on Bangladesh (the native country of the author) and the actions that should be undertaken by both the local government and global politics.

The text is accompanied only by few black and white images (diagrams, maps) and photos, which feel almost unrelated to the text due the quite random objects showed (for example wind turbines in the chapter of climate change) and general captions. The limited use of illustrations or maps diminishes the accessibility and the understanding of some of the discussed statistic or geospatial data. Especially the written description of geographical information (for example sea-level rise and population density along coasts) results in longer paragraphs that could be easily replaced by more "readable" geographic maps.

The book was written for students attending hazard courses, however students and professionals in related sciences (like Geography, Geology, Engineering, Sociology, Economy, Politics, Journalism and Psychology), who wish to obtain a fast overview and summary on the complex relationship of hazards and society, or refresh their knowledge, will profit from consulting it.

DISCLAIMER: This review is based on a copy of "Environmental Hazards and Disasters" kindly provided by the publisher, however I have no affiliation with the publisher or author; the review reflects my personal opinion on the discussed book.

Image Copyright Wiley-Blackwell, used here under Fair Use conditions for review purpose.