The importance and value of ‘community resilience’ in disaster management is the focus of new research in Australia and Bangladesh by Charles Sturt University (CSU) economists, psychologists, and emergency management experts.
CSU’s Professor of Economics John Hicks, said the research compared the realities and attitudes of flood-affected areas in Australia and Bangladesh in order to gain insights into how people from widely diverse circumstances cope with natural disasters.
“The catastrophic flooding in Queensland, Australia, during February 2011 which affected 200 000 people and caused 35 deaths prompted blame-laying and demand for public accountability of relevant government officials,” said Professor Hicks, a member of CSU’s Faculty of Business
. “This prompted our research into how ‘risk’ in crisis situations is understood and acted upon in two widely disparate societies.”
The researchers hypothesised that if there was a correlation between ‘community resilience’ and community disaster response, it would be evident in their examination of a developed first-world nation (Australia) and a developing third-world nation (Bangladesh). They examined existing data for flooding and disaster management in both countries, and conducted interviews with victims of flooding in Bangladesh.
Professor Hicks said the research found that while Australian communities have a more developed understanding of planning and preparation for floods, the people of Bangladesh are more proactive and engaged in the flood response process.
“For example, in Australia, where we belong to a service economy where we pay (via taxation) to be rescued, there seems to be a growing expectation and demand that communities will be ‘saved’ from encroaching disaster,” he said. “In Bangladesh, among the poorest of the poor, we found there was no expectation even of the right to receive a flood warning. Most people know what they do about floods from personal experience and local knowledge rather than from formal government disaster awareness programs.
“The overarching attitudinal difference we found was that in Bangladesh there was a calm and resigned acceptance of the inevitable - be it flood, famine, political upheaval, personal loss - and resultant disorder. Whereas in Australia, a western nation, there is little scope for such stoic acceptance of chaos.
“In Bangladesh, we found a great spirit of resilience and sense of purpose to advance their families and communities’ resilience to disaster in spite of poverty, because, while advances might seem imperceptibly slow and unacceptable to Westerners, any progress is better than none.
“A solely economic investigation of the impacts of flooding in Bangladesh is unlikely to have revealed such a fundamental and dynamic ‘community resilience’, only poverty, scarce resources and infrastructure. We argue, therefore, that future examination of mass disasters warrants a multidisciplinary approach.”
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