Accepted paper:

Local responses to politics of post-disaster reconstruction in India and Nicaragua


Esther Leemann (University of Lucerne)
Jennifer Duyne Barenstein (University of Applied Sciences of Southern Switzerland)

Paper short abstract:

The paper focuses on local responses to post-disaster reconstruction policies in India and Nicaragua. It will be shown that communities are neither passive nor homogeneous recipients of external aid. The unequal distribution of power and resources allows different actors to adapt policies to their preferences, which may reinforce pre-disaster vulnerabilities.

Paper long abstract:

Over the last decade policies following large-scale disasters have been characterized by slogans such as 'building back better'. The aspiration to enhance the resilience of disaster-affected communities, however, is not necessarily based on an understanding of their livelihoods, social organization, and power structure, and on how these relate to their vulnerability to so-called 'natural' disasters. As a result reconstruction policies are often socio-culturally insensitive and may even reinforce pre-disasters vulnerabilities and exclusion. Based on multi-sited ethnographic case studies focusing on responses to some of the most severe disasters in recent decades (the 1998 hurricane Mitch in Nicaragua, the 2001 earthquake in Gujarat and the 2004 tsunami in Tamil Nadu) the paper examines two closely interconnected domains of recovery: housing reconstruction and restoration of livelihoods. The paper compares the diverse and complex socio-economic and cultural changes that were triggered by post-disaster recovery processes in different disaster contexts by examining the responses of various national, international, governmental and non-governmental agencies. It will be shown that even when governments -like in the case of India—have a strong role in defining reconstruction policies, organizations and communities involved in reconstruction often have a large margin of freedom and an active role in responding to disasters. The paper will thus focus on how communities deal with external interventions and on how they choose, when given a chance, between different post-disaster reconstruction strategies.

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Politics of disasters (EN)