Disasters Create Opportunity for Active Learning

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Date of submission:01 April 2011

Title:Given that disasters create opportunity for active learning, why do they repeat?

1. Introduction
Natural and manmade disasters are a gloomy recurrent feature of today’s reality. The 1986 nuclear catastrophe in Chernobyl, the 2004 hurricane in Brazil and, the same year, the devastating Tsunami in East Asia; the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, the BP oil spillage in the Mexican Gulf in 2010; the 2010 earthquake in Haiti; and the latest tragic Tsunami that hit Japan in March of this year along with the subsequent threat of a nuclear calamity, are but a few examples of humankind’s vulnerability to the, often unpredictable, strikes of nature and to the, far more predictable, technological calamities.

During the past sixty years, the number of disasters has significantly increased. The value of properties destroyed by natural disasters in the 1990s was 15 times greater than the one in the 1950s. Approximately 2.6 billion people were affected by natural disasters over the past ten years, compared to 1.6 billion in the previous decade. No country is immune to disaster.

The increasing frequency, intensity, duration and range of today’s disasters, both natural and manmade, are challenging even the strongest of leaders and institutions and pushing them to apply new thinking and approaches to disaster risk reduction and risk management strategies. As part of this new thinking and approaches, “active learning” is growing in popularity. “Active learning” is defined as a process by which an organization, after receiving information from a public enquiry, generates active foresight. By building on lessons learned in past disaster and recovery experiences and by systematically applying them before, during and after a disaster occurs, it should be possible to both minimize its consequences on the people and the environment and , to a certain extent, event prevent it from occurring (at least in the case of technological disasters).

The title offers the opportunity for a dual reflection: one related to the application of the active learning process to technological disasters and the other related to its application to natural disasters. . Active learning is indeed relevant to all type of calamities and its application can have a very considerable impact on how the consequences of disasters are handled and, even more importantly, on how some disasters can be prevented in the first place. Technological disasters, usually caused by human failure, for instance the 1986 Chernobyl explosion, offer better chances to risk managers to identify the elements that can spark a calamity and thus allow them to correct these elements and limit the risk of occurrence of another disaster. In the case of natural disasters instead, an earthquake or a Tsunami, the application of active learning can at least significantly reduce the impact of the disaster over the peoples, infrastructures and environment in the stricken affected areas.

By using the above analytical framework and by making reference to specific case studies, this essay examines some of the positive and negative factors that have either contributed to the effective application of the active learning theory or to its failure.

Section 2 provides an overview of theoretical issues within which the essay question ought to be framed using a descriptive approach; section 3 analyzes the application of active learning in the case of natural disasters and its overall effectiveness using the example of the Mozambique and 2010 earthquake in Haiti; The same paragraph, considers the impact of active learning in the case of a technological disaster using the 1979 Three Mile and 19836 Chernobyl disasters as cases study. The paper concludes with some broader reflections on the vast potentials but also the limitations of active learning in the overall disaster management theories and applications based on the March devastating...
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