Book Review: Disaster Recovery Through the Lens of Justice

Disaster Recovery Through the Lens of Justice, by  Alessandra Jerolleman. Palgrave Publisher, 2019.  108 pp. Cost: $69.99 paper, $54.99 online.

Reviewed by Erika Pham and Sahar Derakhshan, PhD candidates, University of South Carolina Department of Geography, Columbia, SC

Disaster Recovery Through the Lens of Justice is an examination of the nexus between justice and disaster recovery. Author Alessandra Jerolleman aims to combine concepts of justice with resilience and vulnerability, which are used in the context of Zakour and Swager’s (2018) Vulnerability-Plus (V+) theory. She discusses the potential for the application of a capabilities justice framework, and uses the idea of “Just Recovery” to account for the elements of justice and its relevance to resilience and recovery, arguing that resilience and recovery are not possible if there is no justice. She sets out to explain an initial set of four principles characterizing Just Recovery: 1) the ability of the community to exercise agency through free and informed choice; 2) any unequal treatment needs to be justified by the discriminator; 3) the community needs to define adaptation for holistic disaster risk reduction and consider their own contexts; and 4) people require equal access to resources and programs for Just Recovery.

The book consists of eight chapters, the first of which provides a brief introduction and purpose behind the application of a justice framework to concepts of recovery, explaining how the mechanisms behind current policies’ reproduction and magnification of vulnerability and disparate outcomes are not fully understood. Jerolleman introduces the ideas of the next several chapters, allowing the reader to become familiar with the structure and chain of thought for the rest of the book, as well as the concepts to be investigated. These chapters serve to further illuminate the initial set of four principles of Just Recovery proposed by the author, and leads to a final call to action for gauging the role of current disaster-related policies in sustaining injustice.

Each chapter starts with a clearly defined goal, in addition to an introduction of the presented concepts and applied theories, from fields of sociology, psychology, public policy, and political economy. The concepts of deservedness and survivor agency are built through consecutive chapters to further explain the creation of a corrosive community that prevents equal access to resources. The chapters dedicated to the review of disaster-related federal public policies and legislation, their limitations, and their implementation in the U.S., complements the argument of equal access to resources and informed decision-making for a Just Recovery. The author nicely employs examples from Hurricanes Maria and Harvey along with older comparisons from Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, and other events throughout the chapters; especially, in defining deserving victims, corrosive communities, and disaster capitalism. The examination of case studies, and as the author phrases, the “socio-spatial inequalities”, is fairly and succinctly depicted in the text; however, including some maps or pictures would have helped the readers to better visualize and understand the disparities, for example in the case of New Orleans.

To tie it all together, the author reminds the reader that in examining current policies, assuming a position of non-neutrality is key to unveiling and fixing some of the systemic injustices in place, and asks the pertinent question, “Resilience for whom?” Jerolleman avoids being dry by effectively integrating examples of recent past disasters, and thoughtfully outlines and examines some of the social, political, psychological and economic factors that contribute to the injustices in hazard and disaster landscapes, taking a multifaceted approach to discuss the interplay between different systems and the implications for risk reduction and resilience.

This book is recommended to scholars, managers and policy makers in the field of natural/technological hazards in particular, as well as people who want to learn more about disaster and environmental justice topics in general. What the author does nicely in this book is describe in an accessible manner the typically complex relationships between societal and governmental processes within the hazards and disasters sphere. Finally, the examples from recent events throughout the book are valuable additions to the discussion of Just Recovery, which further illuminates the necessity of considerations and call to action that are raised by the author.






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