Redefining Disasters
A photofeature based on images from the India Disasters Report II (OUP: 2013)

By Max Martin

Against a grim backdrop of natural hazards, rapid growth of industries, urbanisation and other human interventions - including conflicts - put local communities at increased risks on several counts. People may lose their homes, livelihoods and their sense of security. For many poor communities living on the margins of the industrial nation and the political mainstream, day-to-day life often becomes a confrontation with such risk factors.

A new book, India Disasters Report II: Redefining Disasters (OUP: 2013), looks at this phenomenon critically and challenges us to take a hard look at the way we think about disasters.

Put together by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and brought out by the Oxford University Press, the publication thematically addresses different aspects of disasters such as vulnerability, development, environment, gender, health, information, communication, and technology. It evaluates and contributes to government and humanitarian initiatives to make disaster preparedness and response more effective. In this sequel to India Disasters Report: Towards a Policy Initiative (OUP: 2000), the editors, Prof S. Parasuraman, and Dr Unni Krishnan, have compiled contributions from academics, humanitarian workers, scientists, engineers, media professionals and analysts.

The report explains how natural and social systems are bound together and probes why planning policies and action on disaster prevention, relief, and sustainable and inclusive development are challenging tasks. The report calls for a regional approach in disaster risk reduction and humanitarian action.

A set of black-and-white photos in the book offers a parallel narrative. They tell the story of the people involved and their changing places across India and beyond. Most of these images have been shot under rather grim circumstances between 2005 and 2012, especially when communities were rebuilding their lives and livelihoods after crises. Still the people featured had ingenious ways to deal with their circumstances. They were always friendly, kind and hospitable - with a lot of hope.
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