Layering of Disasters and Decreasing Responses

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History has been described as the experience of “One damn thing after another.” The experience of multiple ‘natural’ and technological disasters is experienced as “One damn disaster on top of another.” In south Louisiana and the mountains of West Virginia and Kentucky this means the layering of natural and technological disasters on top of each other making recovery and resiliency building and vulnerability reduction extremely difficult. Add the new reality of climate change and sea-level rise and the problems associated with layering are compounded, complicated and confused. 

Metaphor (the images – poetic or scientific -- we use to describe our experience of our reality) reveal, bring new insights and clarification and hide, muddy, and confuse at the same times. The metaphors of ‘place’ and ‘people-of-place’ and ‘layering’ become critical for understanding the impact of the layering of disasters on indigenous and historied people-of-place. The metaphors of ‘layering’, ‘legacies-of- atrocity’ and ‘sacrificial-zones-of-extraction’ provide new and expanded ways of conceptualizing the situations and therefore create new ways of moving forward.

Some ‘places’ become ‘sites’ of chronic misuse of place and people-of-place creating “legacies-of-atrocity" and the problems associated with "sacrificial-zones-of-extraction." The mountains of WV and KY and the wetlands of south Louisiana are areas where the metaphor of rape is used to describe the violations of both people and places. Generations of deforestation and coal and oil/gas extraction have deeply scarred the people and places in ways that cannot be restored, reclaimed or made resilient. 

These three concepts were at the heart of the presentation/conversation by Dr. Kristina Peterson (facilitator), Dr Shirley Laska and Richard Krajeski (board members) and Dr Betsy Taylor (Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical and Cultural Theory, Virginia Tech University) at the Society for Applied Anthropology held in Albuquerque, NM in April. 

This layering of disasters creates unique issues that call for new and different approaches to research, policy development, and interventions.  It was agreed by the panel and the participants in this conversation that the metaphor of layering, together with the metaphors of legacies-of-atrocity and sacrificial-zones-of-extraction can be helpful tools in describing, analyzing and developing helpful responses to the problems associated with complex, cumulative, layering disasters.