Home > Uncategorized > Interesting new research shows that THE key to disaster recovery is the strength of the local community ('social capital'), NOT Government action

Interesting new research shows that THE key to disaster recovery is the strength of the local community ('social capital'), NOT Government action

Daniel P. Aldrich is an up-and-coming political scientist who got interested in disaster recovery when New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Katrina a few months after he had moved there with his family.

He has also spent quite a bit of time living and studying in Japan; I ran across him recently in connection with my reading and blogging on post-earthquake, post-tsunami and post-Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster Japan; he’s mentioned prominently in the NYT article excerpted in my preceding post.

According to his bio at Purdue University, Aldrich:

received his Ph.D. and M.A. in political science from Harvard University, an M.A. from the University of California at Berkeley, and his B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Daniel has focused on the ways in which state agencies interact with contentious civil society over the siting of controversial facilities such as nuclear power plants, airports, and dams. His current research investigates how neighborhoods and communities recover from disasters. He has published a number of peer-reviewed articles along with research for general audiences. His research has been funded by grants from the Abe Foundation, IIE Fulbright Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Reischauer Institute at Harvard University, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and Harvard’s Center for European Studies. He has been a visiting scholar at the Japanese Ministry of Finance, the Institute for Social Science at Tokyo University, Harvard University, the Tata Institute for Social Science in Mumbai, the Institut d’etudes politiques de Paris (Sciences Po), and the East West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. He has spent more than three years conducting fieldwork in Japan, India and France.

His research and writing on disasters and resilience is very interesting and speaks to the importance of strong communities of the type that governments and their corprate agents frequently do their best to seek to erode. Here is his own description and set of links to that work:

Externalities of Strong Social Capital: Post Tsunami Recovery in Southeast Asia forthcoming in Journal of Civil Society


Much research has implied that social capital functions as an unqualified “public good,” enhancing governance, economic performance, and quality of life (Coleman 1988; Cohen and Arato 1992; Putnam 1993; Cohen and Rogers 1995). Scholars of disaster (Nakagawa and Shaw 2004; Adger et al. 2005; Dynes 2005; Tatsuki 2008) have extended this concept to posit that social capital provides nonexcludable benefits to whole communities after major crises. Using qualitative methods to analyze data from villages in Tamil Nadu, India following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, this paper demonstrates that high levels of social capital simultaneously provided strong benefits and equally strong negative externalities, especially to those already on the periphery of society. In these villages, high levels of social capital reduced barriers to collective action for members of the uur panchayats (hamlet councils) and parish councils, speeding up their recovery and connecting them to aid organizations, but at the same time reinforced obstacles to recovery for women, Dalits, migrants, and Muslims. These localized findings have important implications for academic studies of social capital and policy formation for future disasters and recovery schemes.

Social Science Perspectives on Disasters in Perspectives on Politics

In this extended review, I discuss three recent books on disaster: Governing after Crisis: The Politics of Investigation, Accountability, and Learning edited by Arjen Boin, Allan McConnell, and Paul ‘T Hart, Learning from Catastrophes: Strategies for Reaction and Response , edited by Howard Kunreuther and Micheel Useem, and The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters by Charles Perrow. All three books invoke the market and state as core forces at work in mitigation and disaster recovery, overlooking the critical role of social capital.

Separate and Unequal: Post-Tsunami Aid Distribution in Southern India published in Social Science Quarterly

Objective. Disasters are a regular occurrence throughout the world. Whether all eligible victims of a catastrophe receive similar amounts of aid from governments and donors following a crisis remains an open question. Methods. I use data on 62 similarly damaged inland fishing villages in five districts of southeastern India following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami to measure the causal influence of caste, location, wealth, and bridging social capital on the receipt of aid. Using two-limit tobit and negative binomial models, I investigate the factors that influence the time spent in refugee camps, receipt of an initial aid packet, and receipt of 4,000 rupees. Results. Caste, family status, and wealth proved to be powerful predictors of beneficiaries and nonbeneficiaries during the aid process. Conclusion. While many scholars and practitioners envision aid distribution as primarily a technocratic process, this research shows that discrimination and financial resources strongly affect the flow of disaster aid.

The Power of People: Social Capital’s Role in Recovery from the 1995 Kobe Earthquake forthcoming in Natural Hazards

Despite the regularity of disasters, social science has only begun to generate replicable knowledge about the factors which facilitate post-crisis recovery. Building on the broad variation in recovery rates within disaster-affected cities, I investigate the ability of Kobe’s nine wards to repopulate after the 1995 Kobe earthquake in Japan. This article uses case studies of neighborhoods in Kobe alongside new time-series, cross-sectional data set to test five variables thought to influence recovery along with the relatively untested factor of social capital. Controlling for damage, population density, economic conditions, inequality and other variables thought important in past research, social capital proves to be the strongest and most robust predictor of population recovery after catastrophe. This has important implications both for public policies focused on reconstruction and for social science more generally.

Fixing Recovery: Social Capital in Post-Crisis Resilience in The Journal of Homeland Security June 2010

Disasters remain among the most critical events which impact residents and their neighborhoods; they have killed far more individuals than high salience issues such as terrorism. Unfortunately, disaster recovery programs run by the United States and foreign governments have not been updated to reflect a new understanding of the essential nature of social capital and networks. I call for a re-orientation of disaster preparedness and recovery programs at all levels away from the standard fixes focused on physical infrastructure towards ones targeting social infrastructure. The reservoirs of social capital and the trust (or lack thereof) between citizens in disaster-affected communities can help us understand why some neighborhoods in cities like Kobe, Japan, Tamil Nadu, India, and New Orleans, Louisiana displayed resilience while others stagnated. Social capital – the engine for recovery – can be deepened both through local initiatives and interventions from foreign agencies.

Aldrich Presentation on 25 March 2010 BUILDING RESILIENCE conference

Despite the clear and present danger from disasters, social scientists have yet to provide strong, quantitative evidence about which factors influence the pace of recovery. Using data from four megadisasters over the 20th and 21st century – the 1923 Tokyo earthquake, the 1995 Kobe earthquake, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and the 2005 Hurricane Katrina – Aldrich argues that social infrastructure is the critical factor in recovery.

The Crucial Role of Civil Society in Disaster Recovery and Japan’s Preparedness for Emergencies in Japan aktuell 3/28

This article is concerned with the empirical puzzle of why certain neighborhoods and localities recover more quickly than others following disasters. It illuminates four mainstream theories of rehabilitation and resilience, and then investigates a neglected factor, namely the role of social networks and civil society. Initial analyses underscore the important role of trust and connectivity among local residents in the process of rebuilding. After examining the role of civil society in Japan’s preparedness for emergencies, the article concludes with some policy recommendations for governments and nongovernmental actors involved in disaster relief.

This paper, entitled the The Need for Comparative Research, was prepared for a conference at the Jamsetji Tata Centre for Disaster Management in February 2008, and sets out some initial ideas which have motivated this project.

Some of Aldrich’s newspaper articles are linked here.

I expect I’ll be commenting further on his work.

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