Pulwarty, R. S., and W. R. Riebsame, 1997: The political ecology of hurricane-related hazards. In Hurricanes: Climate and Socio-economic Impacts, H. F. Diaz and R. S. Pulwarty (Eds.), Springer-Verlag, 185-214.


Differences in research emphases into the impacts and management of natural hazards have, for the most part, resulted from two fundamentally different views of environment-society relationships. In one view, a self-correcting, homeostatic process operates, in which society and environmental hazards are inexorably adjusted, toward some acceptable equilibrium. This view infers that people and institutions are committed to removing known risks from life and fail to do so only where the risk is highly uncertain. Proponents of a second view argue that vulnerability is constructed from an open-ended development process that determines the ways in which a hazard is likely to constitute a disaster. The fact that aggregate economic losses to hurricane impacts are increasing is well documented. Cases, taken from the hurricane-hazard and recent development experience in the Greater Caribbean Basin, illustrate that the progression of vulnerability cannot be addressed outside of the context of social and economic trends that play significant roles in determining "Who is vulnerable and why". An appeal is made here, for a more evenhanded (or objective) consideration of the factors that give rise to vulnerability. Political ecology provides a framework for understanding and integrating the social construction of vulnerability and climatic risk. It reflects the confluence of political economy and human ecology and refers to ways in which vulnerability is rooted in people, values, institutions, and the environment. We review the definition and study of vulnerability from these perspectives, drawing on insights and lessons developed by researchers over the past twenty-five years. These lessons are sespecially immediate as programs for hazard reduction and sustainable development, such as the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, are being designed, implemented, and evaluated.