Learning to build resilient coastal communities: post-tsunami recovery in Sri Lanka and Indonesia

R. K. Larsen*, F. Thomalla, F. Miller

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

    2 Citations (Scopus)


    Vulnerability to natural hazards and other environmental risks is frequently discussed at a conceptual/theoretical level but rarely investigated systematically. This study identifies the key factors, as documented in the literature and supported by substantiated primary data, that have contributed to social vulnerability associated with the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Sri Lanka and Indonesia. A review of the post-tsunami literature was conducted and a total of 382 documents was selected for a detailed meta-analysis. Of these documents, only 101 contained primary data with an explanation of the methodology used to assess vulnerability, and only 40 contained substantiated vulnerability insights. In the selected literature, limited attention is paid to the process by which knowledge is generated. For instance, 'fact finding' and 'verification' missions undertaken by many organizations rarely include descriptions of the underlying processes contributing to social vulnerability. In the absence of relevant data and substantiated arguments, it is possible to obtain only a limited understanding of who is vulnerable to hazards, the reasons for their vulnerability and what measures might be most appropriate and effective in reducing vulnerability. Consequently, it is not surprising that new and unexpected vulnerabilities have emerged during the longer-term post-disaster recovery process. Some 75% of the vulnerabilities identified in the literature have emerged during the recovery process, and the delivery of aid and other external interventions have been identified in the selected literature as the drivers of vulnerability for approximately 50% (51 of 103) of the vulnerability insights documented in the literature. The lack of understanding of social vulnerability and the resulting contribution of the post-tsunami relief and recovery activities to the exacerbation of existing and the emergence of new vulnerabilities highlight an urgent need for actors to learn how to base aid delivery and livelihood interventions on a clear consideration of vulnerable groups and the underlying causes of their vulnerability. Social learning theory is used to analyse the way the 'recovery community' operates and to highlight the current challenges in building resilience. We suggest that an alternative perspective is needed for actors in post-disaster recovery, namely that of being enablers of vulnerable people's recovery, self-organization and coping.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationTropical Deltas and Coastal Zones
    Subtitle of host publicationFood Production, Communities and Environment at the Land-Water Interface
    EditorsChu T. Hoanh, Brian W. Szuster, Kam Suan-Pheng, Abdelbagi M. Ismail, Andrew D. Noble
    Place of PublicationWallingford, UK
    PublisherCABI Publishing
    Number of pages17
    ISBN (Print)9781845936181
    Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2010


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