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hazard, human-made

  Human-made (or anthropogenic) hazards are products, processes and other conditions that potentially directly threaten individuals and/or their reproduction (in all senses). These hazards are somewhat distinguishable from environmental hazards by the direct level of human involvement in their causation. For example, a volcanic eruption is an environmental or natural hazard, whereas radioactive wastes and insecticides such as DDT (see pollution) are human-made hazards. However, the dualism between \'natural\' and \'human-made\' hazards is built upon a separation of \'humans\' and \'nature\'. This division has collapsed as we understand that humans are part of nature, and have been so for thousands of years (see Willems-Braun, 1997). While it is possible sometimes to distinguish between natural and human-made direct causes of events, the transformation of a natural event into a hazard involves social processes that have left some people vulnerable to the effects of a natural event. This may be due to their initial physical location, lack of viable options for escape, or human activities that exacerbate events with natural causes, e.g. deforestation that leads to increased flooding after heavy rainfall. Human-made hazards relate also to the siting of facilities, the transport of materials and products, the methods of production processes used, and the disposal of products and wastes (cf. environmental justice).

The concept of risk is very important in understanding vulnerability to both human-made and environmental hazards. Risk profiling often identifies discrepancies between people\'s perceptions of risk of personal harm caused by a particular event, and the statistical probability that such an event will harm them. The statistical evidence is based on the frequency and damage caused by previous events of a similar character and often assists in the development of plans and policies to reduce the initial risk, or managing events if they do occur. However, the notion of risk tends to individualize disaster. It may provide quantitative justification for not addressing particular issues, especially when the most vulnerable people are grouped in a homogenous population so their vulnerability is masked in the statistic. The perception of risk is influenced by personal histories and psychological dispositions, local histories, media reporting of events, experts, institutions, availability of information and other factors which interact to influence people\'s perceptions and actions in ways that may vary greatly from statistical risk, and may contribute to either increasing or reducing the probability of personal harm.

Research on human-made hazards and risk (e.g. Schrader-Frechette, 1991) often includes nuclear power, toxic substances and biotechnology. Beck (1992) argues that in previous centuries hazards were caused by an undersupply of hygienic technology; now their basis is in industrial overproduction. He defines risk as \'a systematic way of dealing with hazards and insecurities induced and introduced by modernization itself\' (Beck, 1992, p. 21). Unlike the often personal hazards of previous eras, contemporary human-made hazards (e.g. human-induced climate change) are often global in threat (cf. global warming). (PM)

References Beck, U. 1992: Risk society: towards a new modernity. London: Sage. Brown, M. 1995: Ironies of distance: an ongoing critique of the gographies of AIDS. Environment and Planning : Society and Space 13: 159-83. Schrader-Frechette, K. 1991: Risk and rationality: philosophical foundations for popularist reforms. Berkeley: University of California Press. Willems-Braun, B. 1997: Buried epistemologies: the politics of nature in (post)-colonial British Columbia. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 87 (1) 3-31.



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