What is it that makes one society capable of dealing with a major shock like a flood or a war relatively easily, whereas in another it turns into a disaster of unparalleled magnitude that still resonates decades later? That was the central question in the research project Coordinating for life. Success and failure of Western European societies in coping with rural hazards and disasters, 1300-1800, led by Prof. Bas van Bavel. The results of this project are now published in six languages by the European Commission.
The researchers found that while rising inequality in itself does not necessarily lead to higher vulnerability, the presence of intermediary groups is often crucial. For example village communities, water management organisations and charities have played a key role in helping societies to prevent and recover from disasters. Furthermore, the research results showed that societies became more vulnerable when rises in material inequality are not addressed by way of institutional changes. Finally the project showed that it's actually not societies being hit by disaster, but very specific groups within society. Some groups are highly vulnerable to hazards, while others have always managed to escape them.