Disaster Justice in Anthropocene Asia and the Pacific
Date : 17 Nov 2016 - 18 Nov 2016
Time : 09:15 - 17:30
Venue : Asia Research Institute, Seminar Room
AS8, Level 4, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
National University of Singapore, Kent Ridge Campus
Download Program and Abstracts as of Nov 14

This interdisciplinary conference brings together research on environmental disasters in Asia to illuminate questions of disaster justice from historical and contemporary perspectives. As all disasters occur in political space, disaster justice is situated in spheres of governance and in the context of Asia’s rapidly urbanizing societies that are increasingly impacted by the advent of the Anthropocene, namely, the destructive human transformations of nature that are significant drivers of environmental disasters. As awareness grows of human complicity in creating socially and spatially uneven vulnerabilities to disasters, discontents and mobilizations for disaster justice are being generated as moral claims for more effective and inclusive modes of disaster prevention, mitigation, management and redress. 

This event combines the richness of on-the-ground research with new insights into how to conceptualize and govern disasters from normative as well as explanatory perspectives. Our central premise is that disaster justice as a moral claim on governance arises from anthropogenic interventions in nature that incubate disasters and magnify their socially and spatially uneven impacts. Posing disaster justice as a problem of governance thus covers a set of issues that encompass but are also differentiated from such allied concepts as environmental and climate justice. As intense events that cause widespread harm and overwhelm existing capacities to respond, disasters generate highly charged but exceptionally complex questions of justice. These factors, combined with the increasingly compound characteristics of environmental disasters (for instance, when a tsunami leads to a nuclear power plant meltdown) further complicate issues of justice in establishing causalities, attributing blame, identifying victims and (re-)establishing working solutions.

Changing geographies of vulnerability accompanying Asia’s urban transition are adding new dimensions to disaster governance and justice. Urbanization can erode traditional intergenerational responsibilities and customary law, leaving vacuums in authority and achieving justice. As reliance on the state for justice increases with urbanization, rural-urban migration is producing large slum populations in environmentally precarious locations along urban waterways. The vulnerability of these settlements is exacerbated by urban mega-projects that cover cityscapes with non-porous surfaces and abet ground subsidence while further pushing low-income households into high disaster risk areas. Minorities, women, children, the elderly and disabled are also among the ranks of those who are unable to access and thus have low confidence in government disaster support systems. Self-reliance in disaster resilience is often the only recourse, and as grassroots efforts grow, so do calls for disaster justice that extend into issues of land ownership, the right to dwell in the city, and participation in governance, all of which move beyond a disaster event to present growing challenges to prevailing political structures.

Asia’s urban turn also brings environmental disasters into wider global urban networks of flows of information, ideas and technologies. Whether in cities or world peripheries, awareness of our planetary interconnectedness is growing, and along with it calls for disaster justice are appearing from local to global scales. Cooperative inter-city networks of mainly urban-based disaster recovery and humanitarian assistance organizations and programs are furthering acceptance of the principle that people everywhere are entitled to receive help when disasters strike. Cities across Asia are also emerging as sites of innovation in promoting more inclusive forms of participatory governance through wider circles of civic engagement that assert rights-based strategies in building resilience for more socially just post-disaster futures.


Admission is free, and seats are available on a first come, first served basis. We would greatly appreciate if you click on the "Register" button above to RSVP.

Conference Convenors

Prof Mike Douglass
Asia Research Institute, and Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore
E | michaeld@nus.edu.sg

Dr Michelle Miller
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
E | arimam@nus.edu.sg

Contact Person(s)
Sharon ONG