Of risks and normative responses: unleashing the potential of disaster risk reduction in relation to natural hazards
Despite the fact that disaster risk reduction (‘DRR’) saves lives, private assets, and taxpayers’ money compared to mere disaster response, the current risk management of the member states of the Council of Europe (‘member states’) remains response-oriented. Both international and domestic law fall short of recommended disaster preparedness measures related to natural hazards, leading experts to project ever increasing disaster losses. Building on research that more people would privately and collectively opt for more DRR related to natural hazards if they understood the facts properly, this thesis focusses on the link between people’s distorted risk perception in the context of natural hazards and the private and public neglect of DRR. With the benefits of DRR in mind, this thesis explores to what extent the knowledge on people’s distorted risk perceptions should be used legally and politically to increase DRR.
To that end, the thesis examines different normative responses to distortions in people’s risk perceptions and discusses them in terms of the main competing interests and values in relation to public risk management decisions. It argues that, as a starting point, the state should complement its risk management with discursive methods set out in this thesis to mitigate the influence of distorted risk perception related to natural hazards on private risk decisions. Member states should also reduce the impact of distorted risk perception on the collective evaluation of the acceptability of potential costs arising from disaster response operations and reconstruction, which may result from individual neglect of DRR. In this regard, this thesis argues for implementing deliberative fora in the democratic decision-making process. Once the benefits of DRR are ‘authentically’ evaluated, the claims for more effective state measures to reduce disaster risks may achieve greater public support. To highlight the merits of strengthening DRR from the bottom-up, this thesis demonstrates how fundamental rights and democratic values stand in the way of increasing DRR from the top-down even when people's risk perceptions are distorted.
Thus, this thesis contributes arguments and concrete measures to reduce disaster losses from the bottom-up, while respecting democratic requirements for the decision-making process, as well as human rights standards to protect individual autonomy. In this regard, the thesis addresses the issue of DRR in a novel way by exposing how legal and political barriers to disaster loss reduction can be overcome by giving higher priority to mitigating distorted risk perceptions.