Dynamics of configuring and interpreting the disaster risk script: experiences from Zimbabwe

16 August 2013

People in Zimbabwe have been faced with disasters in different forms and at various levels. When people experience hazard events and disasters, they perceive these phenomena through lenses that are largely shaped by their local day-to-day experiences and some external influence. As they do this, they develop their own local conception of hazards and disasters, and they tend to model their response or preparedness through this. This article argues that on the basis of this premise, each society therefore develops its own unique and localised way of interpreting the disaster, which comes in the form of a ‘script’, that needs to be deciphered, read, analysed and understood within local priorities and knowledge systems. The hazard may be the same, say, fire, but as it occurs in different communities, they configure and read the fire script differently, hence spawning different response and prevention strategies. The way people anticipate, prepare for, and respond to a particular disaster stems from their perception of it, based on their own local conceptions of reality. The article argues that effective disaster risk reduction must focus on people’s holistic understanding of the unfolding scenario, thereby feeding into disaster risk early warning systems. For effective understanding of the utility of early warning systems, the socio-cultural processes involved in the ideation of the disaster cannot be ignored. It is also critical to examine people’s past experiences with external early warning systems, and how much faith they put in them.