People apply different styles of dealing with risk in flood situations. These styles are not determined by knowledge about the risk or by poverty, as is often thought, but mainly by the confidence that people have in aid organisations or the local authorities. This is the conclusion of a doctoral study conducted by Roanne van Voorst, who will be defending her PhD thesis on Wednesday, 26 February at the University of Amsterdam (UvA).
Current intervention programmes aimed at protecting populations in high-risk areas against natural disasters are often ineffective. Van Voorst's research demonstrates that the explanation may lie in the fact that these intervention programmes fail to account for differences in personal risk-taking styles.
Most slum dwellers rely on one of four common styles for dealing with risks. During floods, a sizeable share respond quickly and with a fair degree of autonomy after being warned of an impending flood. They barricade their house or build another storey on top, or evacuate themselves to safety. Another large group counts on receiving support from an aid agency or the local authorities during and after the flood. This group invests considerable time and energy in maintaining good relations with these agencies, for example by doing voluntary work. A third group uses walkie-talkies to receive timely warnings about the flood risk and works with local politicians and the military to protect themselves and their neighbours against flooding. The last group refuses any kind of assistance and prefers to take a different approach to resolving the problems, such as by joining a local militia group or gang. These people have little confidence in aid organisations and are distrustful of the government – in some cases to the extent that they ignore safety recommendations or purposefully oppose them.
Van Voorst concludes that people's different risk-taking styles are shaped by various factors. Among the most important is the confidence they have in the organisations involved, from NGOs to local political agencies. If slum dwellers received financial support from these organisations after previous instances of flooding, they are more likely to follow safety directives when such situations arise again. By contrast, if they were disappointed by an aid agency in the past (for instance if their neighbours received assistance but they did not), then they are more inclined to ignore safety recommendations. The same applies to people who suspect the authorities or other aid agencies of having a hidden agenda. For example, many slum dwellers are afraid that if they accept government assistance they will be permanently separated from their homes and communities.
Van Voorst spent a year living and working in one of the most flood-prone districts of Jakarta (Indonesia), in a slum neighbourhood built on the shores of a river that has been breaking its banks with increasing regularity and force over the last few years. Here she observed at first hand how her neighbours acted and was able to compare their response styles. She also conducted interviews with 130 of the residents regarding their behaviour in situations of flooding.
Ms R. van Voorst: Get Ready for the Flood! Risk-handling styles in Jakarta, Indonesia. Supervisor: Professor M.A.F. Rutten, Co-supervisor: Dr G. Nooteboom.
The doctoral thesis defence ceremony will take place on Wednesday, 26
February, at 14:00.
Location: Agnietenkapel, Oudezijds Voorburgwal 231, Amsterdam.