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Contributors:
  1. Clare Shelton
  2. Johanna Forster
  3. Roger Few
  4. Irene Lorenzoni
  5. George A.F. Woolhouse
  6. Claire Jowitt
  7. Lennox Honychurch

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Description: The calamitous consequences of Hurricane Maria (2017) for the Caribbean island of Dominica highlighted the acute and increasing susceptibility of the region to hazard events. Despite the increasing international attention given to disaster risk reduction, recovery from hazard events can be especially lengthy and difficult for Small Island Developing States. In this paper we build on existing understandings of disaster risk as a physical and social condition, and take a novel approach showing that historical processes are fundamental to understanding not only how conditions of risk emerge, but also how societal inertia causes them to persist over time. We take an integrated approach to analyzing the historical, physical, and social and political drivers of risk accumulation, and the consequent barriers to the reduction of risk. Using the example of Dominica, we demonstrate how processes set in motion during colonial times have shaped where people and assets are located, the degree to which they might be harmed, the societal repercussions of that harm and the prospects for recovery. We develop an understanding of the historical factors that have shaped Dominica’s development trajectory, focusing on the underlying economic vulnerabilities and physical exposure to hazards created by agricultural, economic, and social practices, and successive government and international responses that have constrained post-disaster recovery. We argue that uncovering these historical drivers and persistent issues elucidates lessons for pursuing a more resilient development trajectory, including through the promotion of economic restructuring and diversification.

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