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Wageningen Universiteit (2008)

The politics of flood insecurity : framing contested river management projects

Warner, J.F

Titre : The politics of flood insecurity : framing contested river management projects

Auteur : Warner, J.F.

Université de soutenance : Wageningen Universiteit

Grade : PhD thesis 2008

Résumé partiel
Floods bring life and death, fertilisation and destruction. The destructive side instils primordial fears of chaos and destitution. Therefore, flood politics are not like normal politics – they are security issues. In turn, flood disasters are crises for society. The public outcry after flood events challenges a governmental body’s legitimacy, which may be blamed for its unsatisfactory warning or flood protection system. A flood event legitimises extraordinary measures in which normal rules do not apply. A broad consensus on what is to be done and a broad mandate for doing it fast, whatever the price, can be expected. River regulation infrastructure and flood response are supposed to prevent disastrous floods. Engineers create often innovative infrastructural designs and increasingly devise participatory processes to discuss their plans with affected stakeholders. Such projects always seem to get politicised. The present study argued that unease over security distribution is a recurring factor. Analytical starting point for the study is the work of Buzan, Waever and de Wilde (1988), the ’Copenhagen School’, which has given a strong impulse to the security debate. They have shown that threats to security are not a reality ‘out there’ ; a threat is what you make it. One issue can become elevated to security status (‘securitised’), legitimising extraordinary measures, while another remains unaddressed. Generally, it is state governments who can declare war and emergency and mobilise the army, police and emergency services. But a solitary focus on the state underestimates other actors’ capacity to securitise or counter-securitise issues. A move for ‘securitisation’ is a move for closure, excluding certain actors, alternatives, debates for the sake of emergency action. As the post-flood time window for devising new projects run out, normal rules, criteria and accountability structures apply. Flood projects bring contest over the distribution of risk, who should be protected by whom at what cost. Security and risk are strategically used constructs, used for political gain. The study seeks to bring a coherent theorisation and conceptualisation of (the construction of) security and risk in water management. The study focuses on flood security. Far from dodging responsibility for risk management, flood managers appear quite keen to take on the responsibility, using the language of fear and threat to generate demand for their protection services, while citizens are willing to forgo their political rights and place their fate in the hands of these suppliers. The current vogue for ‘risk management’ only intensifies control of people through risk profiles, statistics and subtle incentives. To several liberal observers this opens up vistas of ‘surveillance states’ with worrying effects for civil liberties. The study will however argue that you should not throw the baby called Security out with the bathwater. Especially in the disaster sector, a ‘desecuritised’ mode of governance is hard to imagine.

Mots clés : rivers / floods / natural disasters / prevention / protection / risk assessment / risk reduction / river regulation / flood control / water management / projects / politics / water policy / egypt / turkey / bangladesh / netherlands / risk management

Présentation et version intégrale

Page publiée le 27 mars 2008, mise à jour le 2 juin 2022