The social construction of vulnerability to flooding : perspectives and values from the Red River Basin
Morris-Oswald, Monica (Toni)
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In the last two decades there have been efforts to advance human understanding of social sources of flood vulnerability in an attempt to reduce the high social and material costs of flood events. This study explored social sources of vulnerability by examining both community and institutional values and perspectives as they relate to flood risk and mitigation in the Red Rivel Basin, Manitoba, Canada. To that end, the following objectives were considered: - To review local mitigation decision-making processes, and describe the relative emphasis on structural and non-structural measures in the Red River Basin - To explore identified mitigation activities and decision-ranking processes within the context of vulnerability reduction approaches to hazard management - To describe community and institutional perspectives, values, and perceptions of vulnerability, and determine their roles in creating social vulnerability - To recommend how to counter some of the key sources of social vulnerability in the Red River Basin based on the findings from this research The case study research was conducted in two small rural communities in the southetn part of the Manitoba portion of the Red River Basin; the communities were Ste. Agathe and Emerson, Manitoba. Ste. Agathe is a small francophone town located 40 kilometers south of the City of Winnipeg. It severely flooded in the Red River flood of 1997. Emerson is located at the Canadian-American border, 90 kilometers south of Winnipeg. It was spared inundation in 1997 due to the ring dike that surrounds the town. Qualitative methods were used for data collection at the individual and community level. A community survey was conducted in both communities on flood-related issues, community organization and decision-making. A smaller group of participants from each community participated in a visual research method in which they were asked to photograph objects/ places / people which symbolized community values / priorities or had special meaning in the context of living with the ongoing flood threat. Individual interviews were held with each photography participant, and focus groups were held within the two communities to validate findings related to community perspectives and flood risk management. Qualitative methods were also used to identify institutional values and norms related to flood management decision-making in the Red River Basin. These methods including qualitative analysis of documents related to flood risk management, and key informant interviews with representatives of agencies and institutions engaged in flood management issues in Manitoba. ATLAS.ti (2000) qualitative software was used to facilitate data analysis. Vulnerability frameworks were applied to interpret community and institutional research findings and to identify key social, political, and economic factors that influence flood vulnerability and the quality of mitigation decisons. An adapation of the Pressure and Release model (PAR) of disaster (Wisner, Blaikie, Cannon, and Davis, 2004; Blaikie, Cannon, Davis, and Wisner, 1994) was developed using identified contributors to vulnerability in this context. The study revealed that vulnerability in the Red River Basin is in part the result of the inadequate interactions between communities and decision-making authorities with regard to flood risk management, a dominance of institutional responses to flood, and a dependence upon technocratic approaches in assessing and responding to flood risk. Furthermore, identified barriers to vulnerability reduction included a lack of political leadership and commitment to flood vulnerability reduction over the long term, and entrenched community and institutional beliefs about the respective roles of senior government and communities in flood mitigation which fail to promote resilient communities. Four recommendations were made on how to enhance capacities to reduce flood vulnerability in this context. They included: address weaknesses in public perception of flood risk and the role of stakeholders in reducing vulnerability; expand the use of nonstructural measures through improved leadership and use of more diverse tools for economic and social assessment of mitigation alternatives; develop policies to enhance a proactive role for government in vulnerability reduction and to provide incentives to local communities to take responsibility for the assessment and addressing of local vulnerabilities, and; ensure long...