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Key Vulnerabilities And Risks: Floods; Coastal Losses; And The Role Of Law In Disaster Management

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Sandra Zellmer (Lincoln, NE, USA)


Keyword(s): Sub-theme 11: Key vulnerabilities and security risks,
AbstractKey Vulnerabilities and Risks: Floods, Coastal Losses, and the Role of Law in Disaster Management It's seductively deceptive to call floods, hurricanes, and other catastrophes "natural." They are anything but. Storms may well be natural phenomenon, but humans have demonstrated an uncanny ability to exacerbate their own vulnerability to them by shortsighted engineering projects, undue faith in technology, improvident development activities that cause the loss of coastal wetlands and barrier islands, and poor decision-making processes that encourage development in the floodplain. These are often compounded by an array of government incentives, such as subsidized crop and flood insurance. The acknowledgement of our own responsibility for unnatural disasters can lead to blame and finger-pointing, but it can also prod us to confront the consequences of our actions, leading to the knowledge necessary to avoid future disasters. This, in turn, can lead to a liberating sense of possibility and opportunity--melding our own social and economic aspirations with the environmental imperatives of water and waterbodies. If we acknowledge that at least some disasters are unnatural, not uncontrollable "acts of God," then we have a fighting chance at making better laws and better decisions in the future. Potential legal reforms include fine-tuning or eliminating subsidies that create perverse development incentives, redefining landowners' expectations and property rights in coastal zones and floodplains, adjusting our approaches to navigation and channelization of flood-prone rivers, preserving wetlands and barrier islands, and restoring degraded riparian and coastal ecosystems. References: 1. Klein, C.A., and Sandra Zellmer (2014). A Century of Unnatural Disaster: Mississippi River Tragedies. NYU Press: New York, NY, USA. 2. Klein, C.A., and Sandra Zellmer (2007). "Mississippi Stories: A Century of Unnatural Disasters." S.M.U. L.Rev. 60: 1471-1537. 3. Zellmer, Sandra (2007). "Two Imperiled Rivers: Reflections from a Post-Katrina World." Florida Law Review 59: 599-630. 4. Zellmer, Sandra (2004). “A New Corps of Discovery for Missouri River Management.” Nebraska Law Review 83: 305-359.
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