How can the concept of a social contract aid in the appraisal of disaster response? A case study of Ballinasloe

[This is part six of nine guest blog posts written by our 3rd yr Single Hons / Major students. Please feel free to add constructive comments!]

The west of Ireland underwent a large-scale inundation during November 2009, and although I was not directly affected by these events, I was affected by the total devastation to people’s lives due to the floods. For weeks after, media reports highlighted stories of families displaced and businesses destroyed from Co. Cork to Co. Galway. Furthermore, what was also clear was the level of public discontent with the emergency services attributed with prevention and protection during such events. As the story unfolded the complicated nature of disaster response within our borders became evident. I feel we should use these events to educate ourselves on the failings of disaster response in Ireland.

It was with this information in mind that I set out to formulate a thesis topic that would encompass human, physical and environmental issues and integrate as many branches of geographical knowledge as possible. I felt it was also important to look at a current topic that involved local issues. Furthermore future climate change projections by the ICARUS department in NUI Maynooth have highlighted the possibility of an increase in the frequency of flood events of similar magnitude to 2009.

In order to link environmental issues to the social world I used the concept of a social contract as a framing point for the evaluation of flood response. The concept of a social contract dates back 300 years and involves the dynamic that exists between a state and its citizens. In short, to live in a society, citizens behave in an appropriate manner: we pay taxes and abide by laws that allow us to function in a rational manner, in return the state is expected to provide protection of our property and general well-being whether from conflict or disasters.

My thesis aims to illuminate whether people affected by disasters feel that this contract has been compromised. To do this I plan to use the town of Ballinasloe, Co Galway as a case study. This will involve ciphering through various governmental policies dealing with flood events such as the Framework for Major Emergency Response (2006). I also intend to conduct a quantitative study, by way of a questionnaire to grasp the general feeling around the town towards the emergency response. My final research method will consist of two interviews, the first with a member of the public that has been affected by the floods and secondly with an elected representative who held office during the floods. Finally I will assemble the information gained through the research and critically answer the thesis research question.

Mark Mitchell

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