Bradford Disaster Research Unit
The extensively rolling lawn at Dartington Hall in Devon, England, once a driving force for social change and community development and now a vibrant fusion of old and new, was an improbable but appropriate place for early ideas on what might now be called "disaster reduction". At the 1972 Summer School of Music and as a family of three, we had returned a few months earlier, by way of contrast, from Hong Kong. While we were there, in 1970, Bangladesh had suffered its largest cyclone ever and 500,000 people had died. Media images from helicopters, of people devastated by the tropical cyclone and desperate for help from helicopters, tragically exposed deficiencies of "disaster relief" as they then were. In Hong Kong, we had experienced serious tropical cyclones ourselves. Typhoon Rose, in 1971, sank a ship and its crew in the harbour, under which was being constructed the first Cross Harbour Tunnel between island and mainland Hong Kong and on which I was working. One of the colossal steel tunnel units was also sunk, in the wrong place, as it waited to be towed to its position.
Having discovered in London some early indications of shifts from "relief" to "prevention", we discussed at Dartington my need to more extensively survey the "disasters" scene (1). In Geneva, United Nations (UNDRO) contacts were kindly but it was the League of Red Cross Societies' Secretary-General who expressed his idea for what might be a demonstration project of "pre-disaster planning" to be based in the Bahama Islands.
Very soon after that visit, a university lecturer friend in our village spotted, in the Sunday paper we didn't take, a job announcement from the Project Planning Centre at the University of Bradford. Applicants were to have an interest in any of a number of subjects - the last of which was "natural disasters". Not having conceived of an academic role for myself, I applied and was invited to interview. "On a shortlist of one" I faced a University committee of probably thirty academics and was appointed subject to funding. A proposal to the Leverhulme Trust was successful so, now as a family of four, we went to Yorkshire.
The Disaster Research Unit was attached to the Project Planning Centre at Bradford. Michael Gane, its director, had undertaken an assessment of the impact of tropical cyclones in Fiji. The Bahamas project went with me, eventually to become a field study, with Phil O'Keefe additionally supported by the UK Overseas Development Administration, and Ken Westgate. I was on a steep learning curve. I never knew the reasons for Michael Gane's resignation from the University, or for the University's discontinuation of the Disaster Research Unit, of which I was co-founder and director. Nevertheless, it formed a secure stepping stone for each of us, for my continuation at the Centre for Development Studies, University of Bath (funded again by the Leverhulme Trust), and for subsequent and continuing applications and writings.
(1) U.K.'s Inland Revenue rejected the inclusion of my Geneva costs as incompatible with my self-employment at that time. At an appeal hearing a year later, I won my case.
James Lewis in Wittenberge, Germany (photo copyright Lars Reinhold, Prignitzer, 2011).
I have no doubt in my mind that my time at the Unit was among the most stimulating periods of my life and set me up for the direction that I subsequently took--and I have not wavered. I graduated from Bradford with a BSc in Geography and Economics in 1973. During the last year I wrote a geography dissertation. There were 26 students in the year so there were 26 subjects to choose from. Having a lazy streak I left it until almost the very last to choose my subject. By that time there were only two topics left. The only interesting subject to me was "The Human Geography of Earthquake Zones in Europe".
My interest developed from here and particularly it was an interest in the literature which I found was dominated by schools of sociology and psychology from the States, the human geography schools (Clark, Boulder, Toronto) and collections of literature around specific major disaster events which included, to my relief, the Skopje earthquake of 1963. We were lucky also in having a Yugoslav Studies Centre at Bradford. So by the time I graduated I had a fair knowledge of the field and a growing interest in it.
On the day I received my undergraduate degree in July 1973, I was approached by my lecturer in economic geography who was aware of my dissertation and he told me that Michael Gane was trying to set up a Disaster Research Unit at the Project Planning Centre for Developing Countries based on his experiences in the Pacific. I did not have a job to go to at the time and therefore I was keen to follow up the suggestion.
I went to see Michael and he agreed with my suggestion that I should become a research student with the new unit using my growing familiarity with the literature as a basis for a wide-ranging study on the human response to disaster. Of course, we needed funding so Michael agreed to make a submission for funding from the UK Social Science Research Council. This would be funds from the residue or "pool" that remained after all the subject specific funds had been allocated. We were successful and these funds covered the two-year period of my studies from 1973 to 1975 after which I was funded from the Unit, either from the contribution made by the University, or the Leverhulme money or from the UK Government's Overseas Development Administration (ODA) that was funding Phil.
Phil O'Keefe on the left and Ken Westgate on the right, in a slide labelled "Bahamas January 1975" (photo copyright James Lewis).
To and From the Bradford Disaster Research Unit
Some background to my entry to BDRU might be helpful as well as on Bradford University itself.
I had completed, although not submitted, my doctoral work in 1973, focusing on the problem of soil erosion in one village in Murang'a, Kenya. I had come to the conclusion that the cause, and certainly the lack of remedy, of soil erosion were male outmigration for work in urban areas. There were simply not enough people to maintain the intensive agricultural system. I was later to model this as expanding circles of increasing chaos but, at that time, had not considered the role of women in the process. Fortunately, like most doctoral students, I had collected so much data that I was able to return to the work and model women's role in the crisis. I had done much of this work in and around Ben Wisner and together we had shared sites--his series of profiles was down the Eastern foreland plateau--where he was looking at local response to drought.
In 1973, I went as a Commonwealth Academic to teach at the University of Khartoum. I did little teaching that year. First, the students shut the university. Then, the army shut the university to keep out the students. Finally, when the army relented, the staff closed the university because no final examinations could be held since there had been no teaching. But it was a year in which I learnt much about anthropology, particularly Barth's approach to groups and boundaries, through contact with Gunnar Haaland and Gunnar Sorbo. It was a year dominated by the Arab-Israeli war and, from my own perspective, the Ethiopian famine which, among other things, led to the fall of Haile Selassie.
I returned to the UK and, within a week, a Research Fellowship in disasters was advertised. I applied, got the job and so joined the Bradford Disaster Research Unit. Jim Lewis had been in place for a couple of months and Ken Westgate, just finished undergraduate work, had just been in place for a couple of weeks. We were attached to The Project Planning Centre (PPC), a specialist centre running short-term courses for developing world professionals. The PPC was, like many other departments including Peace Studies, a kind of stand-alone institution. While there was no politics or drama department, there were political and drama fellows who ignited activities across the university. Of which more, later.
We had a blank research agenda and yet we did not. Jim brought a strong architectural sense to our purpose of meaningful design, and other architects, notably Fred Cuny, Ian Davis, and Fred Krimgold helped set that agenda. Ken and I, with backgrounds in geography, were knowledgeable of White's 'Natural Hazard' paradigm; the leading work of Kates and Burton; and the current generation, including Wisner, who were doing comparisons across the world. The big backdrop to this was the expanding African famine where significant work was being done in London around Paul Richards, including the establishment of the edited series from the African Institute, and the significant work of the French Marxist anthropologists on explaining the causes of the famine.
All this in a world of student protest and teaching at the Left Club, a workers' cooperative in Bradford, with Ralph Milliband and organising Medical Aid for Vietnam. It was a world of globalising politics where Frank was our reading for Latin America, Myrdal for Asia, and Rodney for Africa--where we knew underdevelopment was not a static position but was the product of a global development process. Much of this, I have tried to capture in a PowerPoint presentation celebrating 30 years of work (376 kb in PowerPoint). The numbering of the BDRU Occasional Papers gives an idea of the evolution of these issues.
Papers--that was it. The Grey Literature of papers, from academic departments all over the world, with whom we shared correspondence. This was before the internet, e-mail, and fax. There was ticker-tape, but that was difficult, and for emergencies, telegrams. The big revolution was the IBM golf ball typewriter, note the font of the BDRU papers, and, most critically, the afternoon post which delivered papers. For the mornings, I developed a routine of one idea, two pages of writing and three games of table tennis in the basement where Alec Baird, who had some systems background like myself, substituted for Jim Lewis in the permanent tournament between himself, Ken, and myself.
Then one day, it dropped through the letter box. From Colorado, written by Judy Dworkin. An analysis of global disasters from 1947-1972. The natural hazard paradigm at its best. I looked at the data clearly showing an increase in disasters. But which ones? Not the geological ones (earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis) but the climatological ones of tropical storm, flood, and especially drought. But that is where the data analysis ended. I took the data set, placed each event against per capita income, and BANG. Vulnerability. Marginal people in marginal places. Poverty causes disasters.
There are a couple of important footnotes. One must be to acknowledge Judy's sterling work, but simultaneously to point out that she was following in the footsteps of Ken Hewitt who had started that global, and other, quantitative work within the natural hazard paradigm, only to leave it for a more humane interpretation. (Hewitt has always been a generation ahead of the game.) The second was that I had already come to the same conclusion as Ian Cherett, a colleague and fellow geographer working for the Catholic Institute of International Relations (CIIR). He had introduced me to the Managua earthquake or classquake (classemota) and then to the class-based losses of Hurricane Fifi in Honduras. Field evidence already confirmed the theoretical results.
I wanted to link the poverty-disaster causation to the wider development debate. I corresponded with USAID, Quai d'Orsay, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about where they mostly intervened in natural disaster. The Americans said Central and South America, the French in the Sahel, and the British in areas of their former empire. Disaster aid followed existing development aid which itself mirrored trade. There was no such thing as natural disaster either in the cause (poverty) nor in the response (neo-colonialism).
Alec Baird and I went to work on the diagrams for a BDRU paper while Ken and I wrote the text. Paul Richards had just published a piece in Nature and encouraged us to follow. He also suggested a piece in New Statesman which, with Peter Hall on board, was the weekly planning journal. On a train journey to London, with Ben Wisner, he argued we should follow the French polemic and not talk of proneness, not mention nature at all. I turned that into "Taking Natural out of Natural Disasters" in Nature in 1976.
I mentioned earlier there was other activity. Much of it centred on discussions of food, as famine dominated the headlines, including a piece for the political fellow. More importantly, and led by Ken's thespian instincts, I was encouraged to write musical drama. One of them was The McNamara Medicine Show "Roll up, Roll UP. The Man that Brought you the Vietnam war brings you World Development"). The chorus captures the argument:
"They say that this is natural
It really can't be so
If this is just an Act of God
Then God will have to go."
It got a small review in The Guardian, but I kept the review page because there was also a much bigger damaging review of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.
I was going to leave for Mozambique to join the Treasury, but personal circumstances ran amok. I ended up at Clark University in Massachusetts, as Visiting Associate Professor and stayed for four years. Work there was to return to food, but most importantly, with Neil Smith, to take the work from Bradford and to frame it in the context of The Production of Nature. But that is another story.
I have respect for the work that Jim and Ken continued to do--small islands and disaster risk reduction respectively--and I bumped into them, still do, around the world. Respect, too, for all others who were part of this effort. And, if I were to introduce a contentious note, it is that I left BDRU as table tennis champion.
Phil O'Keefe in his office at the University of Northumbria, Newcastle, England (photo copyright Ilan Kelman, 2010).
Natural Disasters: An Intermediate Text
Westgate, K. and P. O'Keefe. 1976 (October). Natural Disasters: An Intermediate Text. Bradford Disaster Research Unit, University of Bradford, Bradford, U.K., full text (3,940 kb in PDF).
Rubber tapping in the South Pacific (photo copyright James Lewis, 1976).
BDRU Occasional Papers
1. Westgate, K. 1975 (January). A Bibliography of Disaster Reference Material. Bradford Disaster Research Unit Occasional Paper 1, University of Bradford, Bradford, U.K., full text (3,814 kb in PDF) [The original report does not include page 59].
2. Lewis, J. 1975 (January). Disaster Management with Special Reference to Pre-disaster Planning. Bradford Disaster Research Unit Occasional Paper 2, University of Bradford, Bradford, U.K., full text (952 kb in PDF).
3. Lewis, J. 1974 (November). Proposals for a Working Method of Indigenous Resource Co-ordination as a Part of a Pre-disaster Plan. Bradford Disaster Research Unit Occasional Paper 3, University of Bradford, Bradford, U.K., full text (1,003 kb in PDF).
4. Westgate, K. 1976 (June). Some Definitions of Disaster. Bradford Disaster Research Unit Occasional Paper 4, University of Bradford, Bradford, U.K., full text (2,454 kb in PDF).
5. Lewis, J. and P. O'Keefe. 1976 (June). A Philosophy of Planning. Bradford Disaster Research Unit Occasional Paper 5, University of Bradford, Bradford, U.K., full text (763 kb in PDF).
6. O'Keefe, P. 1975 (January). Gakarara - A Study in the Development of Underdevelopment. Bradford Disaster Research Unit Occasional Paper 6, University of Bradford, Bradford, U.K., full text (1,384 kb in PDF).
7. Westgate, K. 1975 (January). Flixborough - the Human Response. Bradford Disaster Research Unit Occasional Paper 7, University of Bradford, Bradford, U.K., full text (2,388 kb in PDF).
8. O'Keefe, P. 1975 (January). African Drought - A Review. Bradford Disaster Research Unit Occasional Paper 8, University of Bradford, Bradford, U.K., full text (2,290 kb in PDF).
9. Gane, M. 1975 (January). Report of a Mission to Assess the Hurricane Factor for Planning Purposes in Fiji. Bradford Disaster Research Unit Occasional Paper 9, University of Bradford, Bradford, U.K., full text (2,248 kb in PDF).
10. Lewis, J. 1975 (June). A Study in Pre-disaster Planning (including Phase 2: Towards Implementation). 1975 (June). Report to the League of Red Cross Societies, Geneva, Bradford Disaster Research Unit Occasional Paper 10, University of Bradford, Bradford, U.K., full text (9,934 kb in PDF).
11. Baird, A., P. O'Keefe, K. Westgate, and B. Wisner. 1975 (August). Towards an Explanation and Reduction in Disaster Proneness. Bradford Disaster Research Unit Occasional Paper 11, University of Bradford, Bradford. U.K., full text (2,565 kb in PDF).
12. Westgate, K. 1977 (April). A Bibliography of Precautionary Planning. Bradford Disaster Research Unit Occasional Paper 12, University of Bradford, Bradford, U.K., full text (13,436 kb in PDF).
13. Lewis, J. 1977 (February). A Primer of Precautionary Planning for (against!) Natural Disaster. Bradford Disaster Research Unit Occasional Paper 13, University of Bradford, Bradford, U.K., full text (3,368 kb in PDF).
14. O'Keefe, P. and C. Conway. 1977 (April). Natural Hazards in the Windward Islands. Bradford Disaster Research Unit Occasional Paper 14, University of Bradford, Bradford, U.K., full text (1,946 kb in PDF).
Nassau, the Bahamas (photo copyright James Lewis, 1974).
July 1974. "The Disaster Research Unit". Project Planning Centre (PPC) Newsletter, no. 3, p.2, full text (99 kb in PDF).
March 1975. Disaster Research 1: A review of the activities and interests of the Disaster Research Unit, full text (314 kb in PDF).
December 1975. Disaster Research 2: A review of the activities and interests of the Disaster Research Unit, full text (513 kb in PDF).
August 1976. Disaster Research 3: A review of the activities and interests of the Disaster Research Unit, full text (407 kb in PDF).
c. 1976. "DRU News". Newsletter: University of Bradford, University Information Office, pp. 11-12, full text (175 kb in PDF).
Nauru (photo copyright James Lewis, 1976).
Other BDRU Publications
Lewis, J. 1974 (February). International Council of Voluntary Agencies Commission on Emergency Aid, Geneva, Agenda Item No 7, (with transcript in English and French), Bradford Disaster Research Unit, University of Bradford, U.K., full text (425 kb in PDF).
Lewis, J. 1974. Environmental Hazards in a Global Planning Context, S.S.R.C. Working Group on Environmental Hazards, Department of Psychology, University of Leeds, 28-30 June, full text (262 kb in PDF).
Lewis, J. 1974 (September). Le formation et programme du Disaster Research Unit, Université de Bradford, Centre des Études Psychosociologiques des sinistres et de leur prévention, Table ronde sur les Comportements Associés aux Catastrophe, Paris, France, full text (314 kb in PDF).
Lewis, J. 1975. Predisaster Planning: A Working Paper, Bradford Disaster Research Unit, University of Bradford, U.K., full text (311 kb in PDF).
Lewis, J. 1975 (March). A Proposal for a Disaster Situation Analysis, Draft 1, Bradford Disaster Research Unit, University of Bradford, U.K., full text (164 kb in PDF).
Lewis, J. 1975 (August). A Transatlantic View: A note on the work of the Disaster Research Unit at the University of Bradford and comment on the US Natural Hazards Conference at the University of Colorado, paper delivered at the Natural Hazards Conference, University of Colorado - Boulder, Boulder, Colorado, full text (262 kb in PDF).
Lewis, J. 1975. A Programme for Pre-disaster Planning, Bradford Disaster Research Unit, University of Bradford, U.K., full text (727 kb in PDF).
Lewis, J. c. 1975. Disaster Preparedness, Bradford Disaster Research Unit, University of Bradford, U.K., full text (207 kb in PDF).
Lewis, J. 1976 (May). A Report to Establish Guidelines for the Management of a Regional Fund to Provide Insurance For Natural Disaster, Prepared at the Request of the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-Operation for the South Pacific Bureau for Economic Co-Operation, full text (4,505 kb in PDF).
Lewis, J. 1976. "A Review Essay on Gilbert F. White (Ed.) Natural Hazards: Local, National and Global (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974). Mass Emergencies, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 229-233, full text (58 kb in PDF).
Lewis, J. 1976. "Bradford Disaster Research Unit". Newsletter: Commonwealth Association of Architects, vol. 76, no. 3 (December), Education Supplement, pp. i-ii, full text (192 kb in PDF).
Lewis, J. 1976. "New Directions: Are Buildings the Answer?". The Architect, October, pp. 48-50, full text (520 kb in PDF).
Lewis, J. 1976. "Precautionary planning for Natural Disaster", Foresight, vol. 2, no. 2 (August), pp. 7-10, full text (359 kb in PDF).
Lewis, J. 1976. "Precautionary planning for Natural Disaster in the South Pacific", South A Paper Presented at the South Pacific Preparedness and Relief Seminar, Suva, Fiji, September 1976. Seminar Jointly Sponsored by the League of Red Cross Societies and the Commonwealth Secretariat., full text (773 kb in PDF).
Lewis, J. 1976. "Preplanning for Disaster", Design for Need, Symposium: Royal College of Art (Imperial College). 11-14 April, 1976. Bradford Disaster Research Unit, University of Bradford, U.K. full text (337 kb in PDF).
Lewis, J. 1976. Review of "Christian Mosgaard, Logistic Planning of Disaster Relief, Copenhagen: Institute of Mathematical Statistics and operational Analysis, 1973, 38 pp." Mass Emergencies, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 164-165, full text (25 kb in PDF).
Lewis, J. 1976. United Nations Environment Programme. Level One Overview in the Priority Subject Area of Natural Disaster (Draft October 15, 1976). Commentary for Expert Group Meeting: Nairobi November 1976. Bradford Disaster Research Unit, University of Bradford, U.K. full text (376 kb in PDF).
Lewis, J. 1977 (September). A Proposal for the development of 'Halcrow Aid' and for the support of continued research into methods for the mitigation of natural disaster and the implementation of research results., Bradford Disaster Research Unit, University of Bradford, U.K., full text (617 kb in PDF).
Lewis, J. 1977. "Disaster preparedness in the South Pacific", a Paper presented at the South Pacific Disaster Preparedness and Relief Seminar, Suva, Fiji, in September, 1976, South Pacific Bulletin, First Quarter 1977, pp. 14-20, full text (1,035 kb in PDF).
Lewis, J. 1977 (July). The Implementation of Research into Precautionary Planning for Natural Disaster, Bradford Disaster Research Unit, University of Bradford, U.K., full text (1,018 kb in PDF).
Lewis, J. 1977. "Some Aspects of Disaster Research". Disasters, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 241-244.
Lewis, J. 1977. "Water Supply and Sanitation in Disasters", Part 8 Sanitation Aspects of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation: A Compendium of Current Knowledge School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UNDRO (Office of the United Nations Disaster Relief Co-ordinator), Geneva. The original of this piece has not been found, but a heavily edited version was published: UNDRO (Office of the United Nations Disaster Relief Co-ordinator), Geneva. 1982. Disaster Prevention and Mitigation: A Compendium of Current Knowledge School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Volume 8. Sanitation Aspects. United Nations, New York, full text (3,023 kb in PDF).
Lewis, J. 1979. "Disasters and the Small Dwelling: Mitigation and Preparedness Measures". Disasters, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 239-241.
Lewis, J. 1979. "Mitigation and Preparedness Measures", pp. 33-36 in I. Davis (ed.), Disasters and the Small Dwelling, Pergamon Press, Oxford, U.K.
Lewis, J., P. O'Keefe, and K. Westgate. 1977. "A Philosophy of Precautionary Planning". Mass Emergencies, vol. 2, pp. 95-104, full text (117 kb in PDF).
O'Keefe, P. 1977. "Chinese Earthquake Policy". Disasters, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 151-152.
O'Keefe, P. and B. Halvorsen. 1979. "The Macnamara medicine show: an experiment in higher education". Journal of Geography in Higher Education, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 29-37.
O'Keefe, P. and K. Westgate. 1977. "Preventive Planning for Disasters". Long Range Planning, vol. 10, pp. 25-29, full text (634 kb in PDF).
O'Keefe, P., K. Westgate, and B. Wisner. 1976. "Taking the 'naturalness' out of 'natural' Disasters". Nature, vol. 260, no. 5552, pp. 566–567.
Westgate, K. 1978. "Hurricane Response and Hurricane Perception in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas". Mass Emergencies, vol. 3, pp. 251-265, full text (163 kb in PDF).
Westgate, W. 1978. "Notes: Situation Report, Disaster Research in the U.K. Delivered to Session on the Sociology of Disaster, Ninth World Congress of Sociology, Uppsala, Sweden, 13-19 August 1978". Disasters, vol. 2, no. 4, pp. 197-198.
Westgate, K. 1979. "Guest Editorial". Disasters, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 239-241.
Westgate, K. 1979. "Land-Use Planning, Vulnerability and the Low-Income Dwelling". Disasters, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 244-248.
Westgate, K. 1979. "Land-Use Planning, Vulnerability and the Low-Income Dwelling", pp. 27-31 in I. Davis (ed.), Disasters and the Small Dwelling, Pergamon Press, Oxford, U.K.
Westgate, K. and P. O'Keefe. 1977. "The Human and Social Implications of Earthquake Risk for Developing Countries". Journal of Administration Overseas, vol. XVI, nos. 1-4, pp. 24-29, full text (1,294 kb in PDF).
Wisner, B., P. O'Keefe, and K. Westgate. 1977. "Global Systems and Local Disasters: The Untapped Power of Peoples' Science". Disasters, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 47-57.
Wisner, B., K. Westgate, and P. O'Keefe. 1976 (September 9). "Poverty and disaster", New Society, vol. 37, no. 727, pp. 546-548.
Rarotonga, the Cook Islands (photo copyright James Lewis, 1976).
Lewis, J. 1972 (June). The Worldwide Co-ordination of Natural Disaster Relief: An outline and preliminary exercise to show the nature, location and frequency of natural disasters throughout the world during a ten year period 1961-70 towards an assessment of the location, extent and function of relief zones as a basis for the organisation of international relief., full text (1,314 kb in PDF).
Lewis, J. 1973 (December). "What has it got to do with architecture?" Whicheloe Macfarlane Partnership Newsletter, Bristol, full text (156 kb in PDF).
The Bahamas (photo copyright James Lewis, 1975).
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