Research Article: Timescape of disaster risk governance in contemporary Japan: Neither state of normalcy nor constancy in regulation

Date Published: April 18, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Urbano Fra.Paleo, Tim A. Mousseau.


Although the relationship between public policies and disaster risk is apparent, its nature is not so evident. The dominant model, the disaster management cycle, is based on the principle of response and return to normalcy. In addition, it is accepted that policies are based on constant legal development and that risk governance is responsive to successive disasters. The temporal pattern of large nature-triggered and technological disaster events in Japan since the end of WWII has been researched by measuring the duration of events and discontinuities between them as well as the development of the regulation of disaster risk. The evolutionary relationship between these two parameters and other political and economic factors was reconstructed through the notion of disaster timescape. Results do not support the notion of disaster cycle, nor a return to normalcy at the national scale, but a timescape of overlapping and successive events. Furthermore, there is no evidence of a clear association between major events and legal development on disaster risk, neither between this and economic or political crises. Nor is there continual evolution of regulation of disaster risk but, rather, a sequence of long periods of quiescence and acceleration more indicative of policy punctuation. The disaster timescape points to greater complexity with the interaction of multiple driving forces and an unstable balance that goes beyond a simple linear cause and effect. In the disaster timescape, there appear to be overlapping trajectories of environmental, social, political and economic processes.

Partial Text

The temporal dimension of disasters is linked to the debate on whether a disaster should be understood as an isolated event triggered by a natural or a technological process or whether it should, on the other hand, be regarded as a manifestation of the constant accumulation of vulnerability and exposure to hazard, as well as an issue of social distribution of risk and, therefore, of a structural nature. The debate between the incidental and the structural is not just disciplinary since it has relevant consequences in the design of public policies to reduce the risk of disasters [1].

The time of disaster starts much before the event with the sustained prevalence of the drivers of vulnerability over the measures for the reduction of disaster risk (DRR) [58]. And it continues beyond it with the consequences in the middle and long term, policy action among them. Other disaster events, before and after, modify the risk conditions by causing losses and damage, so that the continuous accumulation and destruction of physical, environmental, social or human capital in turn change the conditions of future events. The disaster timescape is shaped by multiple layers of times, those of the event, environmental, social, economic and political times, which unfold in parallel and intersect with varying frequency, with sequences of quiescence and acceleration in a punctuated equilibrium [50]. Furthermore, the times of the event and of quiescence are variable, since they depend on the type of hazard and on its temporal (speed of onset, duration, frequency and temporal spacing) and spatial dimensions.