Working paper

The role of post-disaster institutions in recovery and resilience

1 Jul 2013

Introduction: Dealing with natural disasters and their after-effects are among the most difficult tasks governments face. Such disasters can seriously harm the financial, social, environmental, and human welfare of a country, and managing them often requires co-ordination between local authorities, businesses, neighbourhood groups, and volunteer organisations. Public policy makers and theorists are aware that effective management of natural hazards reduces their potential impact.

Four areas of disaster management, commonly known as the ‘four Rs’, concern policy makers. First, governments can reduce societal vulnerability and build resilience by mitigating known risks. Second, governments can prepare for potential disasters by planning their response and ensuring that sufficient capabilities are in place. Third, governments can effectively respond to natural disasters by providing basic human needs. Fourth, recovery from natural disasters is important both in the alleviation of immediate societal suffering and in improving citizens’ long-term prospects by building resilience against future disasters. Government decisions are critical in determining whether these objectives are achieved.

This paper addresses the fourth area of disaster management: recovery and resilience. Disasters are focusing events that can drive immediate policy change. It argues that good recovery institutions provide the adaptive capacity that enables communities to recover from natural disasters.

This paper briefly describes recovery processes after three natural disasters in Australia and New Zealand between 2009 and 2011: bushfires in Victoria in 2009, flooding in Queensland from 2010-2011 and earthquakes in the Canterbury region from 2010. These cases demonstrate the importance of flexible governance arrangements. This is shown through the choice of recovery institution, evidence of institutional learning before and after disasters, the role of community engagement, response to insurance issues, and the building of resilience. Particularly important for resilience is the building of relationships between recovery institutions and local governments and communities.

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