Book Review: The Consequences of Disasters: Demographic, Planning, and Policy Implications

Review of The Consequences of Disasters: Demographic, Planning, and Policy Implications, by James, Helen and Douglas Paton. Charles C Thomas, Publisher Ltd, Springfield, IL, 2016. ISBN: 978-0-398-09097-5 (paper); ISBN 978-0-398-09098 (e-book); 414 pp.; $ 62.95

Reviewed by Donald Watson, who is the author of Design for Flooding: Resilience to Climate Change (Wiley 2011)

This book is a collection of short chapters and case studies, originating from an international conference at Australian National University September 2013. The editors state their intention to connect scholarship with policymaking by documenting lessons from disaster response and recovery… “to make a contribution to fostering greater knowledge of how natural disasters impact on people, their livelihoods, health, family dynamics, migration patterns, coping capacities, and evolving models of social capital as survivors recovery.” [p. 7]

The 26 contributors to this volume support this intention by showing the value of enlarging disaster recovery from a sole focus on physical rebuilding, giving equal and prime focus to social and cultural recovery.

The chapters of the book provide data on a range of natural disasters, including earthquake, tsunami, and flood. The emphasis is upon cross-cultural factors, supported by a key finding that, “social capital and leadership…[are] the most effective elements to mobilize collection actions to promote recovery after a disaster.” [p. 9]

Ch. 3 “Climate-Change Resilience, Poverty Reduction, and Disaster Risk Management” by Mark Pelling and Daanish Mustafa offer ten “resilience pathways” for disaster management, including: Diversity, Governance, Flexibility, Localism, Preparedness, Equity, Social Capital, Non-linearity (aiming to improve not only to replace), Process learning, Co-responsibility. The chapter notes that hazard mitigation can often be found as part of ongoing local projects, but that some conventional development practices undermine livelihoods and environmental integrity, and thus increase risk.

The one U.S. example in the volume is Chapter 4 by Susan L. Cutter, “Demographic Change after Hurricane Katrina: A Tale of Two Places,” which documents the population decline and demographic changes after Katrina.

Chapter 5 “Long-term Community Recovery: Lessons from Earthquake and Typhoon Experiences in Taiwan,” by Douglas Paton, Li-Ju Jang, and Li-Wen Liu describe the great range of social and cultural values at play in disaster recovery. They offer a clear process to measure social capital as the sum of “community consciousness, community trust, community participation, and organizational networks.” [p.77]

Chapter 5 authors also define a “strengths-based approach” to community recovery, to encouraged residents to understand their own communities, to enable community members to take active roles in obtaining resources and to manage the relevant local public affairs. That is, as reported widely in the literature, both community engagement and governance prove to be necessary ingredients to community resilience.

Chapter 10 “The Discourse of Disasters in Philippine Festivals,” (Philippines) by Cecilia S. De La Paz and Chapter 11 “Saving Folk Performing Arts for the Future” (Japan) by Ken Miichi document how historical festivals and improvising upon oral and performance traditions can assist in community recovery.

The publisher’s website states that, “This book provides many innovative insights which will be of value to disaster policy experts, practitioners in the humanitarian field, civil society and government sectors and researchers engaged in disaster recovery and reconstruction practice and research.”

The book does deliver on this claim. The authors of the assembled case studies make valuable contributions in documenting social and cultural lessons from the tragedy of natural disasters.

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