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Photo of Mo Hamza

Mo Hamza


Photo of Mo Hamza

Structural Adjustment, Urban Systems and Disaster Vulnerability in Developing Countries


  • Mo Hamza
  • Roger Zetter

Summary, in English

Structural adjustment (SA) — or macroeconomic reform — has become a dominant characteristic especially in developing countries, where national economies are being reshaped to a common discipline regardless of local circumstances. Within this context, the paper examines the impact of structural adjustment on disaster vulnerability in the urban sector, through examining some structural considerations which underpin forms of technical guidance to mitigate disasters. The paper argues that urban areas are not disaster prone by nature; rather that the structural processes which accelerate rapid urbanisation, population movement and population concentrations substantially increase the disaster vulnerability of the mass of low-income urban dwellers. Migrants settle on areas either originally unsafe (flood plains, land slides, etc), or create the potential of man made disaster (environmental degradation, slum fires, health hazards). This problem derives from three interrelated factors. First, structural adjustment policies are the driving force generating new coalitions of urban interests responsible for decision making at the national and on the city levels. A potential implication is the trade-off between production, competition and efficiency and adverse environmental consequences in terms of potentially disaster-vulnerable settlements. Such trade-offs, it is argued, cannot be afforded by most developing countries. Second, reinforcing this, is the shift in viewing the city economy in an international context. The future of the city, in a globalising economy, depends on economic imperatives and a new division of labour in which Third World cities provide highly competitive labour markets. This questions whether technical and environmental safety concerns, which land use planning might try to address, have been overtaken by the political, and economic forces in a global context. Third, the transformation in urban systems has led to review of planning processes and methodologies, ie the form and nature of urban planning. This questions how the new tools and mechanisms of planning intervention and urban management can respond to issues such as disaster mitigation. In other words, who will be responsible? The effect of these structural factors influencing urbanisation processes, the paper argues, exacerbates disaster vulnerability in Third World cities. The paper concludes with guidelines as to how negative impacts of SA policies vis-à-vis disaster vulnerability could be minimised.

Publishing year












Document type

Journal article




  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary




  • ISSN: 0264-2751