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Anyone who has been through airport security in the US before and after 11 September 2001 knows how it has transformed politically, socially and technologically. Other countries, especially the UK, have fallen suit using similar scanning and surveillance technologies in large international airports such as Heathrow. But the majority of passengers are ‘low risk’ meaning that they are unlikely to commit an act of terrorism either at the airport or when airborne. Yet they are still often times forced to submit to procedures that are built upon the premise that they could be a terrorist or if not a terrorist then a potential threat or disruption to airport security, if not national security. This is problematic for a number of reasons, especially considering the resources invested into securing airports from potentially anyone distracts from the ‘real terrorists’, whoever they may be. In response to this conundrum, the TSA in the US is piloting ‘risk-based’ approaches to enhance airport security. While avoiding the obvious non-culprits such as children, people over 75 and those serving in the armed forces, the TSA plans to depend more on techniques that monitor behaviour and implement ways to ‘pre-check’ passengers such as biometric verification and behaviour monitoring techniques. Read more
Dave Petley and Brett Cherry review the harrowing landslide event that took place in South Wales — the Aberfan Disaster — including its aftermath. While this disaster, the largest of its kind in UK history, took place decades ago, many lessons have been learned from it then and in recent years, but in some cases still need to be learned in parts of the world vulnerable to landslides caused by the build-up of mining debris.
The story of the Aberfan disaster is seared into the memories of a generation of people in South Wales, and it remains a tragedy of huge proportions. Today, 45 years on from the disaster, there is much to learn from the events leading up to, and that occurred on, the day. In this post, we seek to explain the events that occurred in Aberfan on 21st October 1966, to review why the disaster occurred, and to examine the aftermath. Finally, we briefly examine the legacy that this disaster has left in many spheres of life. Read more
A World Risk Index was released earlier this month by the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security in Bonn, Germany. It uses four indicators to define countries at risk to natural disasters namely exposure, susceptibility, coping capacities and adaptive capacities. It gives a ‘risk score’ for 173 countries around the world by combining their exposure to physical hazards with their vulnerability, including susceptibility along with coping and adaptive capacities. It focuses on countries’ exposure to sudden hazards such as earthquakes, floods and storms, but also hazards that occur slowly over a long period of time such as drought and sea level rise that is becoming more frequent due to climate change.
According to the World Risk Index, the risk of disaster is highest for the Pacific island of Vanuatu, which was given a score of 32 percent. The country with the lowest risk score is Qatar at .02 percent. The UK came in at 138 mostly due to its ‘Lack of coping capacity’ (47.55 percent), but also ‘Lack of adaptive capacities (30.25 percent) and ‘Vulnerability’ (31.11 percent). Japan appears to be the only developed country with an index of around 10 percent or more, making its risk index one of the highest (World Rank: 35) of all the countries analysed. Read more
A few months ago I featured the UK Government’s response to the Ashdown report, which sought to review the ways that Britain provides assistance to both slow onset and sudden crises, including both social (e.g. conflict) and hazard related (e.g. earthquake) events. Today, DfID (the UK Government department responsible for foreign aid) released its new policy statement on this topic, providing details of both priorities and modes of operation.
Overall, I think that this is a very positive development, and there is much to cheer in the document. The thrust is set out in the Foreword by the Secretary of State, Andrew Mitchell, who notes that
Lord Ashdown’s report was clear: we will achieve far more in the long run if we pull together and collectively channel our efforts through a coordinated international system. Governments across the globe must share the burden of helping those in humanitarian need. We will work first and foremost through the UN, lending our full support to its Emergency Relief Coordinator, Baroness Amos, as she strives to help the UN-led humanitarian system to reach its full potential.
I am not entirely sure how this squares with the Government’s announcement in March this year that ‘The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) has not performed its international co-ordination role well. The UK will still be a member of UNISDR as it is part of the UN Secretariat, but DFID will no longer provide additional voluntary funding. This funding averaged £0.9m between 2002 and 2010’ (see a detailed discussion here). But presumably this indicates that alternative mechanisms will be found (the same document was complimentary about UNDP and GFDRR). The new policy document does talk about the need to improve UN leadership and coordination; it will be interesting to see how this might be achieved. Read more
This is the screencast of IHRR’s Public Lecture given by Prof Paul Slovic at Durham University. Paul describes how people fail to act when confronted with mass murder and genocide and often focus on individuals rather than large groups of people when providing aid or other forms of support. He argues that deliberative, humanitarian thinking and action is needed to address some of the biggest atrocities the world has ever faced.
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