The Great Tōhoku Earthquake. Typhoon Haiyan. Hurricane Katrina. These all bear images of complete destruction and serve as powerful reminder that disasters have become more intense and frequent in the 21st century.
While disasters will continue to be an unfortunate reality, what can be done is to determine what helps us respond and recover after an ill-fated event.
Milestones in peoples’ lives
Recent centre PhD graduate Andrés Marín, and centre researchers Örjan Bodin and Beatrice Crona, have found that when a disaster strikes, being well-connected to others helps aid recovery.
The study uses a case of 21 small-scale fisheries that endured the 8.8-magnitude earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Chile in January 2010.
"The BioBio region, located in central-south Chile, is the second most important region for national small-scale fisheries. The 2010 earthquake and tsunami severely impacted small-scale fisheries and the livelihoods of those living in this area," says Marín.
"Disasters represent milestones in people’s lives dividing time into before and after. They can affect social relationships among those impacted,” adds Bodin.
The study compares the extent to which each fishing community is connected to external organizations, or in other words the level of linking social capital, both before and after the disaster. It finds that communities with higher linking social capital after the disaster also fare better in terms of recovery.
This was true even when there with a high level of damage or when isolated from an urban area, factors known to influence disaster recovery.
"Our findings suggest that this variation in social capital over time can be important, by itself and in conjunction with other factors"
Beatrice Crona, co-author
Ranges of recovery
Initially, Dr. Marín’s work solely focused on the role of linking social capital in small-scale fisheries and resource management. However, after the earthquake the research focus shifted to discover what impact the disaster had on the fishing communities.
Comparing fieldwork from the BioBio region in 2008 and 2013, the study shows how the earthquake and tsunami impacted the fishing communities’ over time.
With it being impossible to predict when and where largescale disasters are going to occur, the temporal aspect of this study makes it particularly unique.
Using a method that allows for comparison across cases, qualitative comparative analysis, the study identifies a number of recovery outcomes.
Recovery trajectories, defined in terms of their likelihood of safeguarding the ecosystems and the livelihoods depending on them, are categorized by the researchers as desirable; returning to a similar or improved state as it was before the disaster; or less desirable; where some capacities have been lost since the disaster.
Communities able to maintain or develop a high level of connectedness with external organizations after the disaster were able to demonstrate desirable recoveries, even with lots of damage or when isolated from urban area.
Communities with low or decreasing levels of connectedness after the disaster, on the other hand, have less desirable trajectories and are still recovering.
To illustrate this, the study uses an example of a community once considered one of the best co-management fishing groups in the region, but high level of damage and little connectedness to others made it very difficult for the organization to reorganize after the disaster.
Recovery as a by-product of co-management
However, what is interesting is the interplay between different factors and time that determine recovery outcomes.
"While linking social capital has been considered a key asset contributing to post-disaster recovery and sustainable livelihoods, its temporal dimension has been overlooked. Our findings suggest that this variation in social capital over time can be important, by itself and in conjunction with other factors," says Beatrice Crona, referring to the level of damage and isolation highlighted in the study.
While there are still many other avenues to explore in terms of disaster recovery, the study illustrates a very important take-home message:
Investing in permanent resource management, social infrastructure can have positive externalities in the face of an unexpected disaster.
In other words, creating a strong social fabric within a co-management system is not only beneficial for general natural resource co-management practices, but can also act as a sort of social insurance for communities impacted by disasters and, eventually, other social or natural perturbations.
Marín, A., Bodin, Ö., Gelcich, S., & Crona, B. (2015). Social capital in post-disaster recovery trajectories: Insights from a longitudinal study of tsunami-impacted small-scale fisher organizations in Chile. Global Environmental Change, 35, 450-462
Andrés Marín is a former PhD student at the Centre. His research interest is in the social dimension of socio-ecological systems with a special focus on small-scale artisana fishery sectors in Chile.
Örjan Bodin's main focus is to develop better understanding of SES through quantitative modeling and analyses of empirical data drawn from case studies and, more recently, behavioral experiments. In this work, he uses and develops theoretical/conceptual models and simulations, as well as engaging in empirical studies and empirical data analyses.
Beatrice Crona focuses on resource governance issues with particular focus on the role of social networks in natural resource governance; multi-level governance, knowledge transfer and the role of boundary-bridging organizations for adaptive governance; and the role of trade in marine resource governance outcomes: understanding cross-scale signals, straps and trajectories.
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