Unit 2c. Averting Disasters


Figure 2.c.1

After the Indonesian tsunami



The goal of this lab is to explore the ecological and societal impacts of large-scale disasters that have historically occurred, and will undoubtedly take place in the future.


One Week Prior to Discussion

In the week prior to this discourse, students should be broken up into two groups to facilitate using the jigsaw puzzle technique. The jigsaw method allows a class to cover a large amount of material, in depth, in a short amount of time. Each group will be assigned one of the following four readings from the WorldWatch Institute.


Before Coming to Class

  • Group 1 should read Averting Unnatural Disasters Chapter 7, 2001 p. 123-142. This article examines the ecological and societal vulnerability of different regions of the world and the politics and psychology of disaster preparedness and response. Moreover, the article investigates how resilient different societies are to natural disasters once they have occurred. 
  • Group 2 should read Turning Disasters into Peacemaking Opportunities Chapter 7 (2006 State of the World), p. 115-133. This article examines the impact of the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, the connection between disasters and conflict, as well as humanitarian and environmental peacemaking.


In Class - The Jigsaw Puzzle Technique

The jigsaw puzzle method will then be used in class to explore issues related to natural disasters. Students should come to class having read the article assigned to their group. For the first ~10 minutes of class, students that read the same article should get together and distill the most important themes, concepts and problems in their paper. Once this has been accomplished, mixed groups should be assembled. Make sure that each mixed group has at least one reader from each of the assigned papers.


The mixed groups should then discuss the two papers and come to general conclusions about natural disasters based on information provided in the articles. Half of the mixed groups should develop a pre-disaster plan for three types of natural disasters that might occur in the region. The rest of the mixed groups should develop post-disaster plans for three types of disasters that might occur in the area. Students should incorporate economic, social, and environmental issues in their plans. Students should also try and relate some of the concepts discussed in the articles to their disaster preparedness plans.


Once the disaster preparedness plans have been created, one pre- and post-disaster plan group should then get together and share their plans. In the last part of class, students in mixed groups, or the class as a whole, should discuss some of the following questions.






Figure 2.c.2

A man searches through the rubble after the 2004 tsunami


Figure 2.c.4

A Sri Lankan child after the 2004 tsunami


Figure 2.c.5

An injured child after the 2004 tsunami




Figure 2.c.6

Cost of weather and flood catastrophes from 1960 to 1997



As a class or in small groups discuss the following questions:


Question 2.c.1

Since 1960, the losses due to great weather and flood catastrophes have increased dramatically (see Figure 2.b.6). What are some potential causes of this increase in losses?


Question 2.c.2

When disasters strike, humans generally respond with a genuine outpouring of aid to feed, clothe, and house those in distress. However, disaster prevention and long-term reconstruction efforts rarely elicit the same level of empathy and support. What types of strategies should governments and societies implement to increase support for disaster prevention and preparedness?


Question 2.c.3

On December 26, 2004 a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck near the Indonesian island of Sumatra that caused a tsunami, which killed more than 280,000 people. The outpouring of aid for this disaster was unprecedented with $1.2 billion given in aid in the 30 days after the event. Yet each year, malaria infects 200-500 million people and kills more than a million people worldwide with much less aid money dedicated to this slow silent killer. Is it appropriate to spend huge sums of money on natural disasters like the 2004 tsunami? Should we be doing more to counteract the persistent silent diseases that affect millions around the world instead?


Question 2.c.4

Around the world, growing numbers or disasters are being caused by ecologically destructive behavior and unsustainable development. The pressures of poverty, population growth, and social inequality have forced people to relocate to vulnerable areas. What types of measures can be implemented to avert this destructive behavior, which often results in widespread damage and loss of life when disasters strike?


Question 2.c.5

The magnitude of a disaster often depends on the proportion of income and resources the people, region, or country has access to. How can we protect the people that are most vulnerable to disasters, which are disproportionately poor people, women, children and minorities?


Question 2.c.6

Migration towards coastlines and cities has increased our vulnerability to hazards and disasters. Should laws be implemented that prohibit colonization and construction in the most vulnerable areas? What other options could be employed to prevent damage and loss of life?


Question 2.c.7

Scientists predict that climate change will increase erratic and extreme weather events. What policies and prevention measures can be implemented to counteract some of the expected future disasters due to extreme weather?


Question 2.c.8

Do you think that men and women respond to disasters in different ways?






Figure 2.c.7

Child receives bread aid after an Earthquake in Turkey













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