Disasters Without Borders: The International Politics of Natural Disasters

February 28, 2013

Author: John Hannigan
Edition: First
Publisher: Polity Press
Pages: 256
Price: £55.00 and £16.99
ISBN: 9780745650685 and 0692

The impression that the world is suffering from increasingly extreme natural events with severe social and political consequences makes untenable the tendency of international relations to sidestep this category of global disturbance.

One of his key concerns is to wrest the concept of vulnerability to natural disasters from the hands of seismologists and volcanologists, who have seen it as a physical or technical matter

John Hannigan’s worthy attempt to “view disaster events through the lens of international politics” and to map the “global policy field” in this area is therefore a significant contribution to the literature.

Hannigan effectively explores the actors and agendas involved in political and humanitarian responses to natural disasters, including the debate on the extent to which efforts aimed at reducing the risks of disaster should be subsumed under climate change adaptation. One of his key concerns is to wrest the concept of vulnerability to natural disasters from the hands of seismologists and volcanologists, who have predominantly seen it as a physical or technical matter, in order to demonstrate its sociopolitical dimensions. As the histories of Guatemala and Nicaragua demonstrate, it is a mistake to view natural disasters as events beyond the realm of politics, a point reinforced by the recent example of Haiti.

However, the book is less successful in other regards, not least in exploring the place of humanitarian responses to natural disasters in relation to the history of humanitarian action more generally, where the treatment of the former tends to become subsumed within an account of the latter.

A similar problem affects the discussion of the “CNN effect” in the chapter on media representations of natural disasters, which tends to focus on foreign policymaking, where most of this literature is situated, rather than crafting an account relating to disaster assistance. Some detailed case studies might have demonstrated the book’s central arguments more forcefully.

Finally, despite the subtitle and express intention of the book quoted above, the formal international relations approach to these issues is siloed in a chapter on “game-playing”.

Who is it for?
A useful text for students of environmental politics, disaster management and related subjects.

Presentation:
A coherent if slightly uneven overview of key debates.

Would you recommend it?
It is a good overview of the subject.

 

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