Successful Recovery After Natural Disasters: A Guest Blog Post

This blog post was written by Amy Javernick-Will, Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering.

Around the world, natural disasters destroy or delay investments in development. Catastrophic disasters, such as the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and the 2010 Haiti Earthquake, cause massive destruction and deaths. However, the resources that flow into these places after a disaster can provide an opportunity to build more resilient communities. Unfortunately, all too often recovery agencies fail to deliver on their promise to “build back better.”  Sometimes communities are abandoned with infrastructure projects still incomplete. In some cases, poor construction planning actually leaves community members with unsafe shelter or inappropriate, disaster-prone locations.


For these reasons, it is important for those of us in development to understand what enables some communities to recover successfully while others fail.  A National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded research project is currently investigating what factors, combined or in isolation, cause differences in community recovery in India and Sri Lanka.[1]

Elizabeth Jordan, the EDC PhD student on the project, traveled to tsunami-affected communities in Tamil Nadu, India. There, she assessed and analyzed differences in pre-disaster community capacity and vulnerability as well as post-disaster recovery strategies.  To do this, she observed existing infrastructure and held interviews with community leaders and members in 15 rural villages.

EDC student interviewing villagers
EDC student interviewing villagers

Despite the large presence of NGOs following the tsunami, she found that it was necessary for communities to have good access to government resources and strong coordination between agencies to achieve recovery. From this, it is clear that NGOs should not try to circumvent the government, but, rather, should work with the government and improve community links to government officials. It was also determined that community participation in the recovery efforts can counteract pre-disaster vulnerability and enable greater community satisfaction with the recovery program.

Finally, communities where international organizations sent money for recovery without onsite presence had failed recovery programs. As such, it was found that NGO’s implementing recovery programs have local knowledge of the region and maintain strong oversight of projects to prevent corruption.  Such findings can allow development and disaster recovery agencies to prioritize and focus their efforts on the factors that best strengthen a community’s ability to recover from a disaster.

To learn more about this research visit:

[1] PI: Amy Javernick-Will, co-PI’s: Bernard Amadei, Kathleen Tierney and Charles Ragin; GRAs: Elizabeth Jordan and Elizabeth Bittel


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