The University of Newcastle, Australia

Moving people from the margins to prevent disaster

Dr Jason von Meding’s recent research focuses on the social, political, economic and environmental injustice that causes people, across global societies but particularly in the developing world, to be marginalised and forced into greater risk of being impacted by disasters.

Having accumulated a decade of research experience in the field of disaster science, Jason takes a critical approach to disaster scholarship and argues for an acceptance of disasters as social constructs rather than natural events. He follows in the intellectual vein of pioneers in the field such as Ben Wisner and Anthony Oliver-Smith and works alongside contemporaries at the radical end of resilience and disaster risk reduction literature.

“What I hope that we are trying to do in my field is connecting the dots between historical and systemic conditions that have led to vulnerability and to risk. We are not doing this successfully yet, because what we are seeing is an increased creation of new risk.”

Disasters are not natural

Jason uses his work to “draw attention to the fact that disasters can be combatted by looking at some of the reasons why people are vulnerable.” He aims “to make sure that people stop focusing on the earthquake or the flood or the tsunami as the cause of what they might think of as a ‘natural’ disaster.” 

“Disasters happen because of the decisions that we make, or because of decisions that were made in the past as societies were constructed, as people were pushed to the margins of society and forced to live in very prone conditions.

Jason believes strongly in the need to explore new communication methods in order to reach a broader audience. His feature length documentary DEVIATE is currently in production and brings together many of his core intellectual arguments about disasters through story.

He says that he is encouraged to “find a lot of people who are looking for creative ways to reach others with knowledge,” in his field. He was inspired to make the movie in order to communicate about “issues that are related to disasters in a language that they can understand.”

Helping organisations to respond to disasters with sensitivity

Jason is working with Save the Children to explore urban flooding impacts on schools in Vietnam, Bangladesh and Thailand. He has leveraged existing regional research networks to bring together a strong consortium for the funded project.

Jason says ,“ I think that it is critical that universities build stronger links with NGOs like Save the Children. We can bring that richness of different perspectives and different cultures together.”

The research investigated 9 schools in the region, collecting data from over 90 interviews and 50 focus groups. The results will be used to guide agencies and practitioners in the region working on comprehensive school safety, particularly in reducing disaster risk.

It is imperative that researchers come together and collaborate across disciplines to protect children and protect facilities, and to ensure continuity in education,” he continues. “The results of the project can really support ongoing work to make schools safe.”

Relationships leading to action on disaster risk in Asia-Pacific and beyond

With funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Jason has spearheaded the establishment of a resilience education network across South-East Asia and the Far East, with planned expansion into Latin America.

His portfolio of projects in this area is driven by a vision to create lasting collaboration in the area of disaster resilience between leading providers of higher education and to enable network partners to strategically lead wider initiatives that protect society from shocks to physical, socio-cultural, politico-economic and natural systems.

He also relishes teaching into the Masters of Disaster Resilience and Sustainable Development at UON and supervising around a dozen PhD candidates at any time. His research and advocacy efforts across multiple dimensions of disaster research are contributing to an exciting and dynamic culture in the Disaster and Development research group.

Jason von Meding in the news