2 A DistinctionA hazard is a perceived natural event which threatens both life and property; a disaster is the realisation of this hazard.A distinction can therefore be made between extreme events in nature, which are not environmental hazards (because people and/or property are not at risk) and environmental hazards in which people and/or property are at risk.
3 A DistinctionEnvironmental hazards are caused by people’s use of dangerous environments.A large part of environmental hazards is caused by human behaviour, namely the failure to recognise the potential hazard and act accordingly.Hence the term “natural hazard” is not a precise description, as natural hazards are not just the result of “natural” events.
4 The PoorEnvironmental hazards occur only when people and property are at risk.Although the cause of the hazard may be geophysical or biological, this is only part of the explanation.It is because people live in hazardous areas that hazards occur.So why do people live in such places.The behavioural school of thought considers that environmental hazards are a result of natural events and people sometimes put themselves at risk, for example, living on floodplains.
5 The PoorBy contrast, the structuralist school of thought stresses the constraints placed on the (poor) people by the prevailing social and political system of the country.Hence, poor people live in unsafe areas-such as steep slopes or floodplains-because they are prevented from living in better areas.The school of thought provides a link between environmental hazards and the underdevelopment and economic dependency of many developing countries.
6 Resource Or Hazard?People choose to live in certain environments because of the resources they bring.Deltas provide water, silt, fertile soils and the potential for trade and communications.They are also subject to floods, as shown by the 2008 floods in the Irrawaddy delta (Burma) and those caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans (2005).Such events are rare.Most of the time water levels operate at a level where they can be considered a resource.
7 Resource Or Hazard? The same is true for volcanic environments. These may provide rich fertile soils and minerals to mine; they may attract tourists and create new land.However, when the volcano is erupting it may be necessary to evacuate, as in the case of Plymouth in Montserrat (1997) and Chaiten, Chile (2008).
8 Changing Patterns?In some locations, the sheer number of people triggers hazards.For example, in megacities the volume of vehicles on roads almost inevitably causes air quality to decline.The concentration of manufacturing industry in certain regions (e.g. S.E. China and S.E. India) is also linked with a decline in air quality, increasing water pollution acidification.As more people move into urban areas-whether into slums or formal housing-the risk of hazards increases, since there are more people living in the area and there is more alteration of the natural habitat.
9 Changing Patterns?In some areas, changing climate patterns and are putting people at risk.For example, in Southern Spain and Portugal, increasingly dry years are turning large areas into desert.This natural process is compounded by overuse of water for golf courses and recreational facilities.Consequently, groundwater levels are declining, soils are dying, vegetation is dying and the land is becoming desertified.This leads to increased risk of wind and water erosion, and further declines in productivity.
10 Activity Answer the following questions as a poster… Why do people live in hazardous environments?Are there any advantages?How can people make hazards less hazardous?Do the benefits outweigh the costs?Can there be some type of sustainability between people and the environment?