Vulnerability, Risks, and Complexity
Readers will benefit from new theoretical as well as empirically based research findings in the emerging field of social-science vulnerability studies.
- The contributions in this volume cover six broad research fields:
- Reflections on vulnerability and risks in complex environments
- Coping with climate change and natural hazards
- Social dimensions of vulnerability and risks
- Participation and strategies of risk reduction
- Strengthening pro-environmental behavior
- Place making and urban design
The volume includes papers investigating human habitats within a variety of settlement structures and settings that are negatively affected by extreme weather events, natural hazards, infectious diseases, contaminations, or crime; as well as empirical case studies describing ways to strengthen environmentally sound behavior and how people behave in specific conditions, e.g., in post-disaster settlements. The focus of the book is on the necessity of studying vulnerability, risks, and complexity as expressions of the impact that global change has on human habitats. These include not only climate and hazard impacts but also new socio-demographic trends and regional economic developments that influence people's quality of life and their capacities to cope with global change.
Vulnerability, Risks, and Complexity
Infectious Diseases as New Risks for Human Health (p. 13-14)
S. Harris Ali
Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada
Throughout history, significant changes in the relationships between human beings and the natural and built environment have served the impetus for the emergence and redistribution of new diseases. The last quarter century has been witness to an unprecedented number of such diseases including, for example, HIV, Ebola, West Nile, mad cow disease, hoof-and-mouth disease, antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria such as those involved in tuberculosis and Clostridium difficile, SARS and, more recently, Influenza A/HIN1. The question therefore arises, could recent changes in the human-environment relationship explain this surge in new and emerging diseases? I address this question by discussing how the forces of economic and cultural globalization over the last few decades have resulted in changes conducive to the emergence and spread of new threats to human health.
Key words: emerging infectious disease, globalization, neoliberalism, security, urbanization
Throughout history, significant changes in the nature and types of relationships that human beings have had with nature, and particularly animals, have led to changes in the development and spread of infectious diseases. It is from this perspective that McMichael (2001) outlines how, for instance, the change in settlement patterns over 10,000 years, from nomadic hunter-gathering to settled agrarian-village living, enabled countless strains of bacteria and viruses to jump from domesticated herd animals and from rodents to relatively stationary human beings. Indeed, many existing infectious diseases that affect human beings today, including smallpox, measles, tuberculosis, leprosy, influenza, the common cold, malaria, dengue, and the bubonic plague, can be traced to this historic period of transition. Other examples of changes in the human-environment relationship, as it relates to the spreading of diseases, include the increased trade, travel, and military movements of the past 1,000 to 2,500 years, during which time smallpox and measles spread from the Indian Subcontinent to Europe via Roman Empire troops returning from settling unrest in Syria (in 2 BCE). During the same period, trade along the Silk Route facilitated the spread of the same diseases from Europe to China. Furthermore, the introduction of the bubonic plague to 14th century Europe occurred as the caravans and armies of the Mongol Empire entered the European continent through the Black Sea. A third major shift in the human-environment relationship accompanied the practices of the colonialist period that spanned the 17th to 19th century and led to the well-documented transoceanic spread of disease via European ships and the decimation of indigenous populations within the Americas. McMichael (2001) concludes by speculating that we may be entering a fourth transitional period in the ever-changing environment-human relationship - a new epoch defined by globalization.
Some supporting evidence exists for the claim that globalization has led to changes in the environment-human relationship which, in turn, has induced changes in infectious disease patterns. Consider the fact that over the last quarter-century, the world has witnessed an unprecedented number of ''new and (re)emerging'' diseases. These may be thought of as a set of infectious diseases that appear in a population de novo or that have been known for some time but are rapidly increasing in incidence or in geographic range (Mayer, 2000; Morse, 1993, 1995). There are numerous examples of these diseases, including HIV/ AIDS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), E. coli 0157:H7, Clostridium difficile, West Nile virus, Lyme disease, antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis, the Ebola virus, and avian influenza (Drexler, 2003; Garrett, 1994; Levy & Fisch