On 26 April, UNU-ISP held an expert workshop at UNU Headquarters in Tokyo, co-organized with the Human Security Program of the University of Tokyo, to examine the relevance and significance of a human security framework in preparing for, reacting to and understanding the impacts of natural disasters on people. Held just six weeks after the tragic Great Eastern Japan Earthquake of 11 March, the workshop engaged experts from academia, nongovernmental organizations, government and UN agencies to consider the question of how a human security approach can be applied to such natural disasters, and to identify policy recommendations and avenues for further research.
Natural disasters such as the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the Haiti earthquake and Pakistan floods of 2010 have incredibly far-reaching consequences for the safety and well-being of individuals and communities. Yet discussion of human security has tended to focus more on human-made disasters — such as armed conflicts and human rights abuses — than on the immense human suffering caused by natural disasters. At the same time, strategies for disaster risk reduction (such as the Hyogo Framework for Action) have largely avoided explicitly referring to human security.
The Expert Workshop on Human Security and Natural Disasters examined the theoretical and practical value of the human security approach in the context of the immediate response to natural disasters, and the longer-term recovery and rebuilding process. Participants considered the roles of various actors, including international organizations, the military, local communities and businesses, and explored how human security can be protected for the most vulnerable parts of the population, including women, children and the elderly.
By applying human security to natural disasters, the workshop highlighted some of the shortcomings that the approach has had in the past, as well as its broader potential. It suggested that many of the threats, actors and required responses involved in natural disasters are similar to those of human-made crises such as armed conflict. Indeed, most of the organizations involved in natural disaster relief are working to protect human security, even if they do not label their work as such.
Expert participants noted that while the concept of human security itself has primarily been seen as a challenge for developing countries, natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake demonstrate its relevance for even the most wealthy, developed countries.
For more about this issue, see the article “Human security and natural disasters” by UNU-ISP researchers Madoka Futamura, Christopher Hobson and Nicholas Turner in the Articles section of this website.