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Book review

The vulnerability of cities:natural disasters and social resilience

by Mark Pelling
Earthscan, London, 2003
256 pp. 17.95
ISBN 1 85383 830 6

As urbanized areas continue to expand and enlarge, exposure to disasters grows. The magnitude of catastrophic and chronic effects of disasters is ever-increasing. This book outlines the theoretical basis for understanding urban vulnerability to natural disaster and then presents three case studies from Barbados, Guyana and the Dominican Republic. The case studies explore the role of social capital, social cohesiveness and government and community involvement in disaster mitigation activities. The case studies are used to compare and contrast national and municipal political structures and to explore indicators of local capacity, such as participation in formal and informal community activities.

Reasons for increased vulnerability to natural disasters in urban environments are explored, with interesting examples cited of natural and human-induced disasters and the influence and impact of these events on urban areas. The book highlights the potential for governments and communities to engage in preemptive actions to reduce vulnerability to environmental risk in cities and reviews in depth the dynamics of community participation in the three case-study communities. Influences of the macro- and micro-political climate on community participation are documented and indicators of community participation are compared across the case-study areas. The book concludes with a section on actions that can lead to safer cities.

The book does not deal directly with issues related to food and agriculture, and the scope of case studies is limited to the Caribbean and Latin America. However, students and researchers interested in emergency preparedness and disaster mitigation will find the text useful. Urban planners, municipal leaders and people working with non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations would find the indicators of community participation and methodology for assessing the macro- and micro-contextual factors helpful.

Gina Kennedy
Nutrition Planning, Assessment and Evaluation Service,
FAO Food and Nutrition Division

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