COVID-19 is a global health crisis and climate change is threatening the basic conditions of life itself. We are living in times when popular and scientific discourse on natural hazards and disasters is pervaded by universalising narratives, conceiving nature (again) as a force beyond human control which, time and again, endangers human livelihoods. Yet, as the history of natural disaster invariably shows: we have never been vulnerable, only some people living in specific conditions are. In this talk Soens will highlight the crucial importance of inequality as a key to understand the production and impact of natural disasters. Delving into the history of major flood disasters in the North Sea Area, striking inequalities in the social profile of the victims are revealed. Moreover, the flood disasters themselves tend to be associated with growing socio-economic inequalities, socially and physically separating those who profited from the environmental benefits from those burdened with the costs of increased risks. The unfolding history of COVID-19 unfortunately tells a similar story.
Tim Soens is professor of Medieval and Environmental History at the Centre for Urban History of the University of Antwerp (Belgium). He is specialised in the history of natural hazards and disasters before 1850, with a particular emphasis on coastal floods and water management.