News & Events

Cosmopolis lunch seminar with Jan Maes (VUB) The role of governance in (re)producing ineffective disaster risk reduction: evidence from landslides in Uganda and Cameroon

22 February 2018 , 12.00h-13.30h VUB - Pleinlaan 2, 1050 Brussels, Building F, Room F 4.66

The growth in scientific literature on disasters and disaster-related investment and institutions is unprecedented. The number of humans and assets being exposed to natural hazards is, however, still rising faster than their vulnerability to hazards is being reduced. We therefore argue that several gaps persist in and between disaster research, policy and action. The objective of this dissertation is to contribute to the better understanding of these mismatches through investigating the role of disaster governance.

Based on empirical data from landslides in Uganda and Cameroon, we provide insights on specific examples of disaster governance, such as disaster platforms in Uganda and disaster risk zonation policies in Cameroon. Concerning disaster platforms at decentralised administrative levels in the Rwenzori Mountains region (Uganda), we show that these types of horizontal governance are used as spatial tactics to centralise power for the ruling party. This resulted in unequal risk through blame dissolution and scale jumping. As a consequence, decentralised platforms cannot be considered a panacea for disaster risk management despite such claims of international treaties on disaster risk reduction. Concerning disaster risk zonation in Limbe city (Cameroon), this study illustrates that the current policies are characterised by ad-hoc risk assessment and poor enforcement of the law, leading to risk accumulation instead of risk reduction. Moreover, this study reveals that these perverse effects in Limbe can partly be attributed to socio-political drivers like the use of a post-political discourse by national and local level authorities. A post-political discourse portrays disasters as a technical and a-political problem, making it difficult for citizens to contest the proposed solutions.

By incorporating contributions from ‘politics of disaster’, ‘science and technology studies’ and ‘network governance’, we try to enrich the debate on disaster governance and to answer the repeated calls for both empirical cross-scale disaster analysis and a re-politisation of disaster research.

Speaker: Jan Maes

Jan Maes is a PhD researcher at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the KU Leuven. In his research, he critically investigates disaster governance and its implications for disaster risk reduction. He is particularly interested in landslides in the Global South. His main research project is framed in the AfReSlide project “Landslides in Equatorial Africa: Identifying culturally, technically and economically feasible resilience strategies”, financed by the Belgian Science Policy BELSPO, and jointly supervised by Matthieu Kervyn (VUB) and Jean Poesen (KU Leuven). This interdisciplinary research focuses on the physical processes behind landslide hazards, the socio-economic consequences of landslide disasters and the policy and practice of landslide risk reduction, analysed in a variety of African contexts including the Rwenzori Mountains (West Uganda), Mount Elgon regions (East Uganda), the Bamboutos (North-West Cameroon) and Limbe city (South-West Cameroon).