Disaster “problem” framing : a constructivist framework for disaster risk policy in Zimbabwe
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As disasters continue to be on the rise with devastating consequences globally, the need for effective disaster risk reduction policy has never been greater for the safety and well being of the citizenry. The process by which disaster risk reduction policy choices are made is thus fundamental in minimizing the devastating effects of disasters. This calls for understanding the dynamics of disaster risk “problem” framing in disaster risk policy making in order to effectively mitigate, prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters. Of concern in disaster risk management has been whether disaster risk should be viewed as an objectively identifiable phenomenon (objectivism) or a subjective, socially constructed process (constructivism). However, little research has been done to understand what these frames mean for disaster risk policy designs, and with what, consequences for their implementation. This research effort thus sought to understand how disaster risk “problems” are framed and explore the implications of framing on policy formulation and implementation. It focused on the relation between disaster risk causality, disaster risk policy problem framing and policy responses in Zimbabwe. Understanding, disaster risk framing is critical because, framing influences how disaster risk policy problems are defined and constructed as well as how the governance arrangements developed to address the problems are designed. The empirical focus of this research was on the ongoing post-disaster experiences and perceptions of the at-risk people, policy makers and policy implementers in Zimbabwe. The research was guided by the interpretivism research approach because it is concerned with the understanding of collective social constructions of meaning and knowledge that are determined by political and social processes. The research used qualitative semi-structured interviews to seek out the views of practitioners and specialists in a deeper manner as well as to allow flexibility within the interview. In achieving the objectives of the study, four research articles were developed and they formed part of the thesis. Article 1 sought to understand how disaster risk is portrayed in objectivism and social constructivism perspectives. In objectivism, disaster risk is viewed as the real, quantifiable product of nature‟s impact on society; independent from the social constructions of a society. Social constructivism reflect an emerging understanding that disaster risk while potentiated by a physical condition, are essentially a “social construction” the result of social choices, social constraints, and societal action and inaction. The article revealed that viewing and managing disasters through the lens of objectivism might not yield the desired results of minimising risk as it conceals vulnerabilities to disaster risk. The objectivist perspective is therefore in itself considered inadequate for the study of disaster risk and that social constructivism assumptions are required in order to analyse disaster risk. Article 2 sought to critically explore societal perceptions of disaster risk problems in Zimbabwe in order to give them meaning and render them manageable. The results of the study revealed that the Zimbabwe disaster risk management system is dominated by the hazard frame and rival frames such as vulnerability and theistic frames are silenced. The silenced frames (vulnerability and theistic) were found to be crucial in understanding the social construction of disaster risk. The article argues that the locus of disaster risk problem is not to be found primarily in governmental agencies; rather, it is to be found in the communities where risk is generated and experienced. Article 3 investigated what the objectivist frame of disaster risk mean for disaster risk policy designs in Zimbabwe and with what consequences for their implementation by looking into how framing affects tractability in policy implementation using the Tokwe-Mukosi flood disaster. The results of the study suggest that tractability of the objectivist frame is mainly affected by its limited understanding of the causes of, and solutions to disasters. The frame ignores rival frames crucial in disaster causality such as the constructivist frame and in “ignorance” it harbours “latent” failures which only become apparent on the occurrence of a particular major disaster. Moreover, the objectivist frame requires significant administrative and technical expertise and funding to be tackled effectively which are not readily available especially in developing countries. The framework presented in article 4 is a step towards translating the conceptualization of disaster risk as a social construct into a practical set of arrangements that practitioners can use to navigate the complex and fluid landscape of disaster risk problems and solutions, especially in Zimbabwe. The framework constitutes a five-stage process of inclusivity, diagnostic, prognostic, and motivational framing and evaluation. The framework is designed to facilitate the building of trust, ownership, and consensus that ultimately increase the legitimacy to policy decisions and stakeholder support in disaster risk reduction. The results of the research contribute to literature on disaster risk reduction by showing how framing links disaster risk policy problem construction and policy responses. The research contributes to literature on policy implementation by showing that disaster risk cannot be entirely solved by the technocratic paradigm alone, social constructivism is also required in disaster risk reduction. It also contributes to disaster risk framing literature by specifying how disaster risk knowledge is framed by its social producers and users which reflect the interest and culture of the disaster policy-relevant actors. The framework presented in this research contributes to literature on community based disaster risk reduction as it seeks to deepen the contribution of the at-risk publics in disaster risk reduction policy formulation through creating a platform for an inclusive deliberative dialogue. Moreover, it establishes concrete ways to develop a methodology that can be used to promote participation in order to capture the diversity of perceptions, resources and problem definitions.
- Humanities