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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.

Download (Right-click link and choose ‘Save Link As’)

Policing terrorism at the University of Nottingham has been the subject of huge controversy, especially its filming of students suspected of being involved in terrorist activities.  It started in May 2008 when Nottingham student Rizwaan Sabir downloaded a copy of an al-Qaeda training manual for his PhD proposal and sought the support of staff member Hicham Yezza, who worked at Nottingham’s school of modern languages.  Both were arrested by counter-terrorist Met officers.  Freedom of Information Act documents posted on the website Unileaks reveal that they were mentioned in a report by the Home Office, Islamist Terrorist Plots in Great Britain: Uncovering the Global Network. Read more

A few months back, a statement was issued by the Federal Aviation Administration FAA in the US about chemical oxygen generators being disabled or removed from lavatories because they posed a ‘security vulnerability’ and could potentially be used to start a fire.  The problem of course is that if you happen to be in the lavatory of an American commercial aircraft thousands of metres above ground, and there is a loss of cabin pressure, it could lead to hypoxia — when the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply — causing injury or death.

While loss of cabin pressure itself seems a rarity nowadays, this recent regulation shows that risks posed by terrorism can transform how we view other risks, such as health.  And while releasing information about eliminating this security risk definitely seems reasonable, will other airlines outside the US have to follow suit since the risk has been made available publicly?  Where do the boundaries lie between security, risk and national law?  When does making something secure create new risks while preventing others?  Obviously, preventing the possibility of terrorist attacks through various means has priority, as these risks can lead to disasters resulting in the loss of many lives and tremendous damage. Read more

In this podcast from Tipping Points, Financial Crisis in the Banking Centre: Past and Present, I spoke with Prof Ranald Michie and Dr Folarin Akinbami about the effects of laws on banking in the US and UK.

The repeal of the Glass–Steagall Act in the US in particular has resulted in large controversy amongst economists and other financial researchers.  Does the separation of commercial from investment banking help prevent financial crises from occurring?  Interestingly, the Glass–Steagall Act was passed in the US during the Great Depression in response to bankers engaging in risky financial behaviour with depositers’ money, it was repealed not long before the recent financial crisis.  But this doesn’t seem to have any direct connection with banking in the UK, although the influence of legislation in England cannot be denied as it allowed  London to become one of the financial centres of the world.  The bigger question is what short and long-term effects does government legislation have on banking and can it provoke or prevent a crisis? Read more

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) recently published a report on the effects of climate change on urbanisation. The report says there could be as many as 200 million people displaced by 2050 if global carbon emissions do not decrease and if environmentally sustainable urban development is not pursued. Read more

Pakistan is still in an extremely vulnerable situation even six months after flooding first occurred affecting over 18 million people in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan regions.  Oxfam recently released a report on the current state of Pakistan that I highlight here:

…although Pakistan’s floods are the biggest emergency of recent times with more than 18 million people affected, the funding for the response has been woefully slow. The UN appeal for $2bn to rebuild Pakistan remains only 56 percent funded. (AlertNet)

In the wake of recent severe flooding in Brazil, Sri Lanka and the Philippines which have resulted in hundreds of deaths, the general news media seem unable to comprehend the full scale of these disasters and how they affect people’s lives.  In some ways the media increase the gap between those affected and those who are simply unfamiliar with experiencing disasters of this sort by not revealing the context of these situations.  The fact that just over half of the budget recommended by the UN appeal has been met is news indeed that so much more can be done in assisting communities with the tragedies they face now and to help them to prepare for what challenges may lie ahead in the future. Read more

Hazard Risk Resilience Magazine Issue 2 Out Now!

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