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Relating root causes to local risk conditions: A comparative study of the institutional pathways to small-scale disasters in three urban flood contexts

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Arabella Fraser, Mark Pelling, Anna Scolobig, Stavros Mavrogenis

Original languageEnglish
Article number102102
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
PublishedJul 2020

King's Authors


The continued rise of global disaster losses pushes our attention yet further to the causal factors that drive risks, beyond the frame of standardised risk assessment models. A key gap in our understanding of the causality of disasters remains establishing how spatially and temporally distant factors – ‘root causes’ – drive local risk conditions. This is particularly the case for small-scale but high-impact disasters. It includes understanding the role that institutions play in influencing such pathways of risk production. This paper addresses this question using a holistic approach to risk analysis that links past drivers to contemporary conditions. We apply this in three case studies of coastal flood management in urban areas of differential size and integration within the European Union - Rethymno (Crete), Genoa (Italy) and St Maarten (Dutch Caribbean). The paper reveals the importance of local institutions in mediating the impacts of higher-level economic and political changes on local risks. It provides new empirical evidence of the relationship between austerity, institutional reform and local disaster risk reduction. The analysis supports a stronger causal epistemology of resilience to disasters but also leads to re-consideration of the institutional entry points for risk reduction, and the importance of considering context and trade-offs.

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