As a result of repeated experiences with devastating earthquakes, storms, floods, and wildfires, places like Tokyo, Mexico City, San Francisco and Los Angeles are already identified with catastrophe in both scientific literature and popular culture. Similar prospects face less obvious urban candidates like Dhaka, Miami, London, Lima Seoul, and Sydney.
This collaborative study of environmental risks in ten of the world’s major cities was led by the International Geographical Union’s Study Group on the Disaster Vulnerability of Mega-cities. Geographers, planners, and other experts examine the hazard experiences of case study cities and analyse their future risks. The authors conclude that the natural disaster potential of the biggest cities is expanding at a pace which far exceeds the rate of urbanization.
New amalgams of hazard are being created in metropolitan areas with overlapping natural, technological, biological, and social risks, exposing more people and places to environmental hazards. Safety gaps are widening among differentially vulnerable populations and neighbourhoods at risk. Public policies and hazard response measures are increasingly being tested beyond their capacities, with tragic consequences.
In addition to tracing hazard trends and arguing in support of management reforms that can be implemented quickly, Crucibles of Hazard directs attention to long-term issues of safety and security that must be resolved to sustain urban areas. Opportunities for such innovative policy- making include: capitalizing on the role of hazards as agents of urban diversification; broadening the scope for employing hazard-based contingency planning models in other urban governance contexts; and mobilizing hazard myths and metaphors as unifying sources of inspiration for diverse and sometimes fractious metropolitan constituencies.
James K. Mitchell chaired the US National Academy of Science Ad Hoc Committee on the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, and is founding editor of the journal Global Environmental Change. He is currently Professor of geography at Rutgers University.