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Number 560 • January 13, 2011 | Past Issues













1) Situation Normal: A Year Later, Haiti’s Still a Hot Mess

It’s been a year since a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, and there’s no denying the situation there is untenable. An estimated one million people still live in tents, thousands have died from cholera, and a shady election process has generated civil unrest. Food and work are scarce.

But what exactly did we expect?

A bevy of obligatory anniversary reports have bemoaned the lack of any real recovery in the Caribbean nation, but Haiti was a physical and political house of cards long before shaking started. Years of corrupt governments, plundered resources, foreign exploitation, and individual avarice left Haiti ill prepared to deal with day-to-day life, let alone the challenges of a megadisaster.

Even in the first weeks after the quake, experts warned that recovery would take many years and have to address past misfortune.

“I think this is going to take many more decades than only 10 years and this is an enormous backwards step in Haiti's development,” Edmond Mulet, acting head of the UN Haiti mission, told the BBC in January 2010. “We will not have to start from zero but from below zero.”

Why then the perception that Haiti is so far behind the recovery curve? Although conditions are deplorable, some say efforts are proceeding according to plan. Cheryl Mills, chief of staff for the U.S. secretary of state, told Time that while rubble removal and shelter building needed to improve, “Haiti is relatively on pace, recovery-wise.” Others from organizations large and small have defended their efforts as well, saying they’ve done their best with not much to work with. The vastness of the devastation can’t be underestimated, they say.

“The earthquake made Port-au-Prince look like many cities in Europe after World War II, and it took them 10 years to recover," U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten told Time. “To expect more here is not fair to the Haitian people.”

Still, there are indications that relief efforts aren’t productive and in some cases could be hurting recovery efforts. Only an estimated 5 percent of the debris littering the country has been removed and Haiti has only seen about 10 percent of the $11 billion of aid it’s been promised, according to another Time article. Even that small amount is being spent in such a way that is “infantilizing” the country and making Haitians dependent on aid, Haiti leaders said.

And while recovery can be expected to move slowly, time is of the essence, Purdue University geologist Eric Calais, who has been advising Haiti’s government, told the Washington Post.

“I haven't seen a lot of rebuilding. I've seen a lot of patching, which gives you the false impression that something is fixed, when it is just hidden,” Calais said. “There will be a bigger, more powerful, more damaging earthquake, closer to Port-au-Prince, and it will likely occur within the lifetimes of buildings being built now.”

If existing aid efforts are less than productive, so too are the hand-wringing, finger-pointing reports that not enough is being done to speed recovery. While aid groups might not work efficiently, media reports spotlighting the lack of results are leading many Haitians to believe humanitarian organizations are growing rich on their misery.

"The only people making money in Haiti are the NGOs who use the Haitian people to raise money and pay for their big cars," Haitian barber Clenor Fleurent told the Post.

So what would turn the tide in Haiti? There’s no good plan yet, but U.S. politicians and a recent Rand report agree that creating a strong, organized, and transparent government—free from graft and cronyism—will go a long way.

Meanwhile, Haitians on the street have seen too much corruption to hold much hope.

"With my own eyes I don't see progress. I don't see anything," Fleurent said. "Progress is for special people."

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2) Bill Freudenburg: Saying Goodbye to an Intellectual Giant

In a world where man often picks fights with nature, Bill Freudenburg found more than a few rounds to referee. Rather than focus on the little guy in the ring, though, Freudenburg was known for going after the organizers—the social systems that that allow the hazards to turn into disasters. His unique vision has spawned a different way of looking at environmentalism and the consequences of developing our natural world.

Freudenburg, who was tireless in his efforts to educate others on the human causes of disaster, died December 28 from complications of cancer. He was 59. He leaves behind a prodigious body of work pertaining to disaster, risk, and society and the environment. His most recent book, “Blowout in the Gulf: The BP Oil Spill Disaster and the Future of Energy in America,” was published in October.

“We have lost an intellectual giant, gifted teacher and mentor, and an incredibly generous colleague,” said Natural Hazards Center Director Kathleen Tierney. “Over his distinguished career, Bill made many significant contributions to environmental sociology, the understanding of environmental policy, and more recently, the sociological study of disasters. He will be sorely missed.”

Freudenburg, the Dehlsen Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, examined the social impacts of technology on the environment, with an emphasis on risk and resource-dependent communities. In the '90s, he helped develop the concept of “double diversion,” the idea that, essentially, the majority of the population willingly bears the risks of an environment plundered for the benefit of a select minority, based on the belief that the devastation is necessary for the good of all. Freudenburg believed that legal and economic reforms were needed to correct such situations.

“What we need…is to set up our laws in such a way that those who benefit from doing dumb things also have to pay for it,” he told the audience at the 2009 Natural Hazards Workshop while speaking about development projects that exacerbated Hurricane Katrina damage. “If they have to pay for it, suddenly the price the market will provide for those houses in dangerous places will start to reflect the true cost.”

Freudenburg’s advocacy for the general public didn’t stop at development issues, though. He was also a longtime proponent of communicating research in ways that could be easily understood. Freudenburg was helpful in educating journalists in sound environment reporting techniques, as well as convincing scientists to speak out despite the professional perils, according the Society of Environmental Journalists.

“I was privileged to hear at least two of Bill’s presentations while covering scientific conferences,” said SEJ President Carolyn Whetzel in a recent tribute. “Those talks demonstrated his ability to communicate complex issues. He will indeed be missed.

Freudenburg never stopped spreading his passion, delivering his last lecture a little more than a month before his death. Shortly before that, he attended Freudenfest, a day-long symposium celebrating his many contributions to sociology and environmental studies. 

Those interested can read more on Freudenburg in his obituary. A Web site has also been created for those who knew him to leave thoughts and memories. A public memorial will be held at 1 p.m. on Jan 22 at the UCSB Faculty club in Santa Barbara. For more information on the memorial, call 805-893-2968.

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3) Give Me Money or Give Me Death: Either Way, 2010 Disasters Exacted a High Toll

Several major earthquakes, tsunamis, extensive flooding and wildfires, and volcanic eruptions all aligned to make 2010 a record year for disaster losses and deaths. The impacts of hazards have not been felt this strongly in the past 30 years, according to numbers released by Munich Re last week.

“2010 showed the major risks we have to cope with,” stated Munich Re Reinsurance CEO Torsten Jeworrek. “The severe earthquakes and the hurricane season with so many storms demonstrate once again that there must be no slackening of our efforts to analyse these risks in detail…”

Although the hurricane season held an unusually high number of named storms, most didn’t make landfall. Instead, the sting of 2010's disasters can be attributed to the January earthquake in Haiti, major earthquakes in Chile and China, widespread floods in China and Pakistan, heat waves and forest fires in Russia, and earthquakes in New Zealand.

Although each catastrophe was devastating, some took higher financial tolls, while others claimed more lives. Below is a look at 2010, painted by the numbers.

950 "natural catastrophes", compared with an average of 785 per year for the past 10 years (Munich Re).

222,000 people killed in the Haiti earthquake, compared to an estimated 577 in Chile (U.S. Geological Survey).

56,000 deaths in Russia attributed to a combination of a heat wave, forest fire, and air pollution (Munich Re).

130 billion dollars in overall estimated losses, of which only $37 billion was insured (Munich Re).

30 billion dollars in property damage caused by the Chile earthquake. By comparison, Haiti damage was estimated to be about $7.84 billion in March—slightly more than its gross domestic product for 2009. 

4 percent of the news hole devoted to Pakistan flooding August 16-22, when almost 2,000 were killed, according to The Project for Excellence in Journalism. Haiti garnered twice that nearly a month after the quake. Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which annoyed air travelers but killed no one, earned 7 percent during its most active week.

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4) Don’t Let PERISHIP Sail Without You: Grant Deadline Approaching

PhD students that haven’t yet submitted their 2011 PERISHIP applications will want to get on board soon. The deadline to apply for the Dissertation Fellowship Program in Hazards, Risks, and Disasters is Monday, February 1, at 5 p.m. EST.

The program gives top PhD students up to $10,000 to help complete hazards dissertations in natural and physical sciences, social and behavioral sciences, engineering, and interdisciplinary areas such as environmental studies.

The PERISHIP Fellowship is administered by a partnership between the Natural Hazards Center and the Public Entity Risk Institute (PERI) with funding from Swiss Re and the National Science Foundation. For more information on the program and application guidelines, visit the award Web site.

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5) Latest Natural Hazards Observer Online

The latest edition of the Natural Hazards Observer is now available online. Featured articles from the January 2011 Observer include

— Haiti: From Disaster to Development
— 72 Hours of One, Three Days of Another
— Helping Readers Understand Natural Hazards
— What to Expect in Hazards Legislation

Visit the Natural Hazards Center Web site to read the January and past editions of the Observer.

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6) Call Outs: Calls for Papers, Abstracts, Proposals, and More

Call for Papers
39th Broadcast Meteorology Conference
American Meteorological Society
Deadline: January 24, 2011
The AMS Board of Broadcast Meteorology is accepting papers for presentation at its annual conference to be held June 22-24 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Papers on any aspect of meteorology, climate systems, effective communication techniques, forecasting, or numerous other topics will be accepted from broadcast meteorologists and researchers. For more information, visit the AMS Web site. 


Call for Abstracts
Second World Landslide Forum
International Program on Landslides
Deadline: January 31, 2011
The International Program on Landslides is accepting abstracts for presentation at the Second World Landslide forum to be held October 3-9 in Rome, Italy. Abstracts should be less than 4,000 characters, written in English, and carefully edited before submission. For full details and instructions on how to submit documents, visit the conference Web site.


Correction: The December 16 issue of DR incorrectly cited the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a co-organizer of the Disaster Resilience for Rural Communities program. The program is organized by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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7) Some New Web Resources

[Below are some new or updated Internet resources we have discovered. For an extensive list of useful Web sites dealing with hazards, see]

New Madrid Bicentennial
Seismologists and emergency managers are taking advantage of the 200th anniversary of severe Midwest earthquakes to educate residents about the dangers of the New Madrid seismic zone. The New Madrid Bicentennial Web site features training opportunities, awareness campaigns such as the Great Central U.S. Shakeout, and preparedness tips. With a library, online resources, and maps and modeling information, there’s a little something for everyone who's in the zone.

Want to keep track of how much the United States is spending in Haiti? Or wondering what the nation is doling out to battle global climate change? is a new site that lets users track and compare foreign aid dollars by location, initiative, or sector. Helpful guides to understanding the data and the budget process round out the site.


2010 Humanitarian Response Index
Once you’ve got a handle on U.S. foreign assistance, zip over to the Humanitarian Response Index, which just posted information for 2010. The index, compiled by aid evaluator DARA, ranks the effectiveness and support of each country's humanitarian action. Rankings are based on a blend of quantitative and qualitative data, explained in each report.


Climate Wisconsin
It’s hard to find a reason to be jealous of Wisconsin in January, but this one-of-a-kind state Web site might be it. Looking for viable ways to teach about climate change, Wisconsin Public Broadcasting has collected homegrown climate change narratives and compiled research into a slick and easy-to-enjoy package. The only question is whether you'll be left feeling warm and fuzzy or cold-blooded with envy.


Global Warning
Set aside warming for a moment and take heed of Global Warning, an interesting site created by the National Security Journalism Initiative. This isn’t your everyday climate change site. Instead, Global Warning looks at threats to our climate as threats to our security. Visitors can do everything from access government documents to save the world (in an interactive game, at least).

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8) Conferences, Training, and Events

[Below are some recent announcements received by the Natural Hazards Center. For a comprehensive list of upcoming hazards-related meetings, visit our Web site at]

February 6-8, 2011
Southern Rural Sociological Association Annual Meeting
Southern Rural Sociological Association
Corpus Christi, Texas
Cost and Registration: $150 before January 10, open until filled
This meeting will focus on using social science to build sustainable and resilient communities with a special focus on the sociological aspects of rural life. Session topics include gas drilling and water resources, sustainability and economic issues, rural food issues, and disaster experience and social capital.


March 3-5, 2011
2011 Severe Weather Workshop
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Norman, Oklahoma
Cost and Registration: $120 before February 26, open until filled
This year’s Severe Weather Workshop will emphasize hazardous weather information management. Topics include the role of law enforcement in severe weather, prediction technology, the psychological impacts of severe weather, and media relations.


March 29-30, 2011
Disaster Information Outreach Symposium
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, Maryland
Cost and Registration: Free, open until filled
This symposium will teach librarians and other information specialists about accessing disaster health information, communicating in a disaster, and how libraries can be used to support response and recovery.


April 4-8, 2011
11th Wildland Fire Safety Summit
International Association of Wildland Fire
Missoula, Montana
Cost and Registration:
This conference will take the singular approach of examining how story and narrative contribute to wildland fire safety and research. Training and the opportunity for participants to contribute their own narratives will also be offered. 


April 13-14, 2011
International Disaster and Emergency Resilience 2011
European Commission, International Emergency Managers Association, and others
Florence, Italy
Cost and Registration: $535 before February 1, open until filled
This conference will look at the challenges of building community resilience while coping with the impacts of climate change. Topics include integrated emergency response, vital resources in a disaster, medical needs assessments, and an examination of the European Red Cross Informed Prepared Together project.


April 18-22, 2011
2011 National Hurricane Conference
National Hurricane Conference
Atlanta, Georgia
Cost and Registration: $300 before March 11, open until filled
This conference is focused on strengthening hurricane preparedness and response in the United States and Caribbean by exploring new ideas and lessons learned, as well as the basics. Topics include amateur radio communication, healthcare accessibility, debris management, and utility damage assessments.   

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9) Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

[The following job postings provided an overview of some selected openings in hazards-related fields. For more information on a particular job, please follow the links provided.]

Geospatial Information Officer, GS-15
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Washington, D.C.
Salary: $123,758 to $155,500
Closing Date: January 21, 2011
This position will serve in the Office of Response and Recovery performing advanced GIS needs analyses, acquiring or designing an agency GIS enterprise, providing expert advice on obtaining GIS services, and developing related disaster assessment programs. Experience managing a geospatial information program, developing policies, and one year of experience at GS-14 or above are required.


Habitat Risk Management Manager
Aga Khan Planning and Building Service
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will conduct hazard and vulnerability risk assessments, develop initiatives to promote safe construction in hazard prone areas, and advance seismically safe building techniques. A degree in structural engineering and five years of seismic design and retrofitting experience are required.


Science Officer
Integrated Research on Disaster Risk
Beijing, China
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: January 31, 2011
This position will communicate information on Integrated Research on Disaster Risk programs, organize workshops and Scientific Committee Meetings, draft Web site materials, and coordinate IRDR presence at conferences and events. A master’s degree in social or natural science, international program experience, and experience making conference presentations is required.


Assistant Disaster Preparedness, Mitigation, and Management Professor
Asian Institute of Technology
Pathumthani, Thailand
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: February 28, 2011
This position will teach graduate level courses, supervise thesis research, help expand research programs and secure program sponsorship, and develop workshops and trainings. A master’s degree in disaster management or a related field, experience teaching and advising at a graduate level, and the ability to publish in peer-reviewed publications are required.


Director of Conservation Economics and Finance
Defenders of Wildlife
Washington, D.C.
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will direct the valuation of ecosystem services, with an emphasis on damages and restoration from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Ecosystem service payment programs for water quality and quantity in Western states will also be a focus. A PhD or expertise in natural resource economics or valuation, experience quantifying natural resource conservation or restoration, and two years of management experience are required.

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Contributions of jobs, conferences, and other content to this newsletter can be sent to Please include “for Disaster Research” in the subject line.

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