Cultural perceptions of hazard and risk in a dynamic environment

In the Bailong River corridor, Gansu, China, an estimated 1.7 million people are threatened by geohazards including earthquakes, landslides and debris flows, flooding and extreme rainfall. The area is also undergoing rapid economic growth and infrastructure development. This paper reports on recent work exploring the physical and social systems and their interactions, and highlights the need for further multidisciplinary research required to better understand human-landscape interactions in such dynamic environments. Knowledge of geohazard processes (including responses to rainfall, mapping of susceptibility, monitoring and triggering conditions for disaster events) and their interactions with society is advancing, but there is still much further work required to better understand how people living with risk perceive and adapt to their environment. Perceptions of risk are contextual, and influenced by culture and worldview; while society and culture may also be shaped by hazards, for example in the local knowledge and coping mechanisms which reduce risk. There is a need to answer questions such as how perceptions compare with scientifically-derived conclusions about hazard and risk? And can they inform policy that will reduce disaster risk?