Recent decades have witnessed devastating natural disasters affecting individuals, communities and countries over a long time span. “Community-based” approaches are regarded as the most efficient tool to address challenges of disaster risk reduction, to integrate scientific knowledge into practices, and to link top-down policies and bottom-up actions. This thesis applies a community-based approach to build dialogues with residents in disaster-affected communities in three different countries: Nepal, China and New Zealand. It attempts to use the ongoing recovery praxis in disaster-affected communities to inform knowledge of disaster risk reduction. Specifically, this thesis utilises the perspectives of residents to: 1) Understand vulnerability in the aftermath of disasters; 2) Assess local recovery needs; 3) Examine the effects of government policies on medium-term recovery; 4) Investigate success example of community-based approach in practice; and 5) Characterise good practices in different post-disaster reconstruction strategies that are more likely to lead to desirable outcomes for long-term recovery.

Disaster events in three different countries in the Asia-Pacific region are selected for case studies: the 2015 Gorkha earthquake in Nepal, the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in China, and the 2010-11 Canterbury earthquakes in New Zealand. This selection is based on three criteria: 1) The disaster events occurred at different points in time, thereby providing evidence of post-disaster recovery at different timeframe; 2) These three countries have different social, economic and political conditions, forming diverse strategies in coping with natural disasters; 3) These three countries are prone to natural disasters, and the recovery praxis is still ongoing in these countries. Fieldwork was undertaken in the case-study areas using interviews with households and key informants from local governments, focus group discussions and participant observations. Qualitative and quantitative approaches are applied to process primary data that convey the perceptions, experiences and attitudes of the affected population within a community. Empirical evidence from the three case-studies is combined and reviewed in an effort to characterise each approach and to solicit good practices for disaster risk reduction in a broader international context.

This thesis finds that: 1) In the aftermath of disasters in Nepal, vulnerability accumulates as a result of pre-disaster disadvantages, immediate impacts of disasters, and temporary relocation of households. The adversarial conditions resulting from a combination of these factors ultimately makes it difficult for residents to recover from impacts of the earthquake, generating a risk that they may become more disadvantaged in the future. 2) In Nepal, regardless of the severity of earthquake damage, local recovery needs are diverse rather than simplistic in respect of housing reconstruction. People prefer sustainable solutions to their needs: resettling to a safe location permanently, obtaining ownership of the land for reconstruction, and having farmland and cash jobs to lead towards a productive lifestyle and improve their quality of life. Recovery needs in local communities are shaped by the actions that people can accomplish on their own, the resources that they anticipate to be provided, and the attainability of such resources. 3) In China, despite the substantial investment in housing reconstruction, a widespread lack of recovery is observed amongst the relocated households. Scarce employment opportunities, loss of access to farmland in pre-earthquake villages and unaffordable lifestyle are cited by relocated people as principal reasons for their lack of recovery. People consider themselves worse-off, recognizing that the resettlement program brings them more losses than benefits. 4) In New Zealand, the perception of recovery is closely related to post-disaster experiences and outcomes of efforts. Despite some extent of inconsistence to resolve claims, the overall recovery strategy in New Zealand leaves numerous choices to affected households and tailors strategies to answer the needs of individual households, which stimulates extensive stakeholder participation. 5) In an international perspective, countries like Nepal encompass most challenging conditions for disaster risk reduction; good governance makes big difference in coping with disasters; post-disaster recovery should not take matters at face value; encouraging stakeholder participation lies in building local strengths; and two links must be established — the link between strategies for different disaster events within a country and the link between strategies from different countries.

This thesis makes contributions to disaster literature by using community-based approaches and de facto recovery praxis to inform knowledge of disaster risk reduction. It examines post-disaster recovery at community level, considers distinctive disaster management policies in a broader international context, and discusses applicability of good practices across different countries.

Funding: UQI / UQ Centennial scholarship
Advisors: Prof Jonathan Aitchison, Prof Karen Hussey

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