Remittances in the face of disaster: a case study of Samoa

Disasters Money Economic assistance Emigrant remittances Foreign aid Samoa
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Over the last few decades, the number of disasters in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) has been constantly increasing. While usually portrayed as weak and passive victims in the face of disasters, the inhabitants of these countries have always demonstrated abilities to deal with such events. Remittances, the money and goods sent by migrants back to their home country, represent one of the many mechanisms that SIDS’ populations use to overcome disasters. Yet, very little is known about remittances in a disaster context, including on their importance and role in the face of disasters, their long-­‐term effects on people’s recovery, and the implications remitting during and after such events may have on migrants who assist those in the country of origin. The large majority of studies exploring remittances have adopted economistic approaches. Most of the existing research has focused on the short-­‐term effects of remittances in the receiving areas and generally concentrated on the impacts of remittances at national, regional or even global scale. While producing relevant quantitative data on processes occurring at a larger scale, such an approach has provided little information at household or small community level. Besides, this dominant economic-­‐focused approach often overlooks the social, cultural, historical and emotional elements that shape remittances. Diverse social scientists have emphasised that remittances are not only money but also have more intangible meanings and implications. Although this more social perspective has produced a pertinent critique of economic-­‐based research exploring remittances, it has generated very little quantitative information on this mechanism, including at the local level. This thesis is a first step towards bridging this knowledge gap. The present research focuses on Samoa with the 2009 tsunami and the 2012 cyclone Evan as case studies. Using participatory techniques with disaster-­‐ affected households as well as with Samoan migrants living in New Zealand, this thesis indicates that those with access to remittances could more easily deal with emergency problems and recovered more quickly than those who have limited access to this resource. In turn, reduced access to remittances often implied strong negative effects on people’s livelihoods. This thesis emphasises that remittances reproduce or even intensify the inequalities and vulnerabilities existing pre-­‐disaster. Finally, this research shows that remitting in a disaster context may have severe economic impacts on migrants. On the other hand, it also indicates that remitting may engender different positive effects, such as reinforcing the social ties amongst remittances senders and receivers.

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