Environment and Human Security: a Paradigm Shift for Policy, Science and Engineering
Two tendencies seem to redefine our approaches towards risk management
and disaster preparedness. One recent trend is quite subtle. The gradual
shift of international attention and concern from a purely national
approach towards human security characterizes the last 15-20 years.
Along with this development the so called ‘soft security’ concerns like
disaster hazards, land degradation, but also migration and uncontrolled
urban growth have been attracting more and more interest. These
tendencies have a longer time base; however, the last three decades have
witnessed an unparalleled growth of disaster losses and increase of the
frequency and magnitude of extreme events.
Environmental threats to human security may necessitate a paradigm shift
in scientific concepts and subsequent engineering measures. Irrespective
of spectacular infrastructural interventions and (at least temporary)
improvements against natural hazards like floods, the failure of
concepts controlling or mitigating the hazards can be observed on a
global scale. There is a need to learn again to live with risks, rather
than simply pursuing hazard elimination concepts followed by disastrous
consequences if the hazard surpasses the design value of engineering
Shifting the focus from the hazard to the impacted communities implies
that their vulnerabilities should be assessed to serve as a starting
point to conceive remedial and preparedness measures. Social
vulnerability concepts and ideas how to quantify these features in
interdisciplinary context will be presented. Ultimately, the
introduction of the recently established United Nations University
Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) its mandate,
scope and future plans will provide the institutional platform to
implement these goals.
UNU-EHS has been conceived and established in 2003 to address the
environmental dimension of human security.