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Beyond ‘just’ flood risk management: the potential for—and limits to—alleviating flood disadvantage


The threat of flooding poses a considerable challenge for justice. Not only are more citizens becoming exposed to risk, but they are expected to play increasingly active roles in flood risk management. However, until recently, few efforts have charted broader understandings of disadvantage relating to flood risk exposure. Drawing upon social science scholarship that has long been sensitive to concerns related to justice, we deploy and develop the notion of flood disadvantage as a means to assess the challenges to more ‘just’ flood risk management. We contend that the concept of flood disadvantage offers a useful lens to appreciate the constraints of technical approaches to flood risk management, in particular, its limited ability to incorporate complex social elements such as how individuals have differing vulnerabilities and sensitivities to flooding and uneven abilities to engage with risk agendas. The notion highlights the compounding interactions between flooding and other social disadvantages across multiple public policy areas and scales. We argue a fuller acknowledgement of the socio-spatial-temporal dimensions of intersecting disadvantages can help sensitise technical risk analyses that tend to see people and communities as homogeneous entities in a given spatiality. In doing so we can better reveal why some individuals or communities are more vulnerable to disasters or are slower to recover than others. Finally, we outline the challenges in turning more ‘just’ flood risk management from an abstract notion into one that could inform future practice.

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  1. In this instance, ‘flood’ is defined by the database as encompassing coastal, riverine, flash and ice jam flooding.


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Correspondence to Paul O’Hare.

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O’Hare, P., White, I. Beyond ‘just’ flood risk management: the potential for—and limits to—alleviating flood disadvantage. Reg Environ Change 18, 385–396 (2018).

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  • Flood risk management
  • Justice
  • Vulnerability and sensitivity
  • Flood disadvantage