A rational response to natural disasters? : Explaining the global rise of regional disaster risk management

Abstract: Natural disasters pervade the certainty of social life. In a globalized world this truism increasingly calls for transnational solutions to prevent, prepare, and respond to these deadly disruptions. Regional Disaster Risk Management (DRM) has recently emerged to meet this concern. However, a number of observations question the expected motivation that compels states to cooperate in this important issue area. First, there has been only a moderate increase in the relative estimated economic costs from natural disasters in a majority of regional organizations, and the number of deaths related to natural disasters has consistently decreased. Second, after a tranquil period of cooperation from the mid 1970s, regional DRM rapidly developed and spread across the globe. This sudden rise in DRM cooperation seems difficult to explain if the costs from natural disasters have not considerably changed. Third, remarkable similarities appear in the goals and wording of regional DRM agreements despite the varied political, historical and cultural contexts that typify regional organizations. These empirical observations go against conventional expectations and question the core motivation of the state’s protection of its citizens. This thesis explains the emergence of regional Disaster Risk Management (DRM) globally. This is achieved by applying two alternative traditions of inquiry to ten regional organizations. The first is informed by a neopositive methodology and neoliberal institutional theory. It reveals that a combination of interdependence and asymmetrical risk are a sufficient explanation for the outcome. The second is informed through an analytical methodology and world society theory. It reveals that the UN and the international community are an adequate cause for motivating states through the mutual application of relational and cultural diffusion. An additional aspect of this thesis assesses the extent to which these contending approaches can provide a more complete explanation. This is achieved through a conservative translation of their different modes of knowledge production: an exercise that encourages additional ideal types and hypotheses for the purpose of fostering a richer explanation according to the terms set by each tradition of inquiry. This thesis contributes to the debate on the evolving function of the state in a globalized world. It provides an empirical contribution through a comprehensive comparison of 10 regional organizations; it delivers a theoretical contribution by inter alia questioning the scope conditions of neoliberal institutionalism; and it provides a metatheoretical contribution by offering an alternative avenue for thinking about stylized epistemological divides in the discipline of International Relations (IR). 

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