Family influence on youth disaster risk and vulnerability perceptions in a South African context
Youth is among groups that are mostly affected by disasters with impacts ranging from psychological, to physical, socioeconomic and educational. Yet, there are still some gaps during policy-making and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) planning which see young people falling short in terms of active participation in DRR as well as in using the opportunity to shape their contexts and futures effectively within context. This study attributes such to implications of risk perception and the factors contributing to the formation of such perceptions. This is because the perception of risk has been found to have behavioural linkages to fear, emotions, trust, personal responsibility, altruism, risk sharing, adaptability and response actions to unexpected events. Considering the above paragraph, the role played by different types of contexts has been identified as a major factor that contributes to the formation of perceptions regarding risks. Such contexts or settings include the physical environment, the social interactions that take place within the physical environment, as well as the receptiveness of external influences by the individual. The main aim of this study is to, determine the role that family and the community play in the process of forming the views, idea and understanding of disaster risk and vulnerability among young people in South Africa. This is done to identify whether South African youth conceptually understand what disaster risk and vulnerability are and the extent to which family, space and the environment influence these perceptions of disaster risk and vulnerability in and within their respective communities. To achieve the aim of this study, a number of young respondents were interviewed in individual interviews as well as through focus groups in order to get a sense of their perceptions relating to disaster risks as well as how those perceptions are influenced by contextual factors. This study found that people do not exist in isolation and are interconnected to others through their environments. These dynamic relations moderately influence the measure of attention, consciousness and judgement of conditions that may prohibit or promote normal functioning and development, hence influencing social-wellbeing. Psychological growth between the ages of 15 – 35 years is a crucial step at development and is characterised by great environmental changes. Accordingly, family functioning affects the outcome of cognitive growth and environmental adjustment throughout a person’s life. Furthermore, this study finds that family and amity support help serve as a buffer mechanism to negative environmental impacts that people may be faced with in life as much as family and the community influence views and beliefs about the world within which a young person exists. It is generally accepted by researchers that resilience to life-limiting conditions is a function of buffer or protective psychological processes that equip the individual to withstand, control, or avoid factors that affect their well-being. Considering this, interventions aimed at empowering populations are recommended to invest in every aspect of life, including the psychological processes that are involved in subjecting people to feelings of weakness and inability. By so doing, individuals in this regard need to be studied holistically as systems along with the environments within which they reside which therefore warrants the emphasise on ‘’social interactions, environmental and social psychological factors that influence the consciousness of an individual as well as their personality’’. Furthermore, through cultural norms and settings amongst other factors, community members are regarded as legitimate sources of social change and development. Therefore, targeting development at the familial level, the influence or power that families impose on their members can be used and adjusted accordingly to have positive outcomes on the healthy development of youth. Consequently, youth are then enabled to actively adopt attitudes and actions that promote a culture of safety and protection against any undesirable outcomes. In this regard, family serves as the immediate context through which young people can filter their knowledge and understanding as inferred by society at large. While on the other hand, society provides the guidelines on behaviour and traditions as it encompasses institutions that serve as a platform for development to promote the well-being of communities. According to the 2011 census, the greater part of South Africa is made up of young people. This places the country in an advantage to invest in the optimal development of the youth to ensure a well-functioning population which can be groomed to gravitate towards effective disaster risk reduction. The potential of a country that is predominantly made up of youth is an opportunity to better livelihoods by educating young people and providing them with the necessary skills and resources to make informed choices and be motivated to actively participate in developmental initiatives as they will be aware of the benefits. The value of this study is to highlight the importance of having South African youth participate in efforts to reduce disaster risks in order to promote successful personal development as well as the development of the country. The study further shows the importance of understanding the basis of attitudes and behaviour by young people towards disaster risks, what influences their composition and how they affect DRR. The role of immediate influencers to young people is also looked at in order to highlight the possible opportunity of emparting the right kinds of attitudes and behaviours on young people from a young age so as to adopt a countrywide culture of safety and informedness.