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Article

Economic and Business Recovery  

Joanne R. Stevenson, Ilan Noy, Garry McDonald, Erica Seville, and John Vargo

The economics of disasters is a relatively new and emerging branch of economics. Advances made in analysis, including modeling the spatial economic impacts of disasters, is increasing our ability to project disaster outcomes and explore how to reduce their negative impacts. This work is supported by a growing body of case studies on the organizational and economic impacts of disasters, such as Chang’s in-depth analysis of the Port of Kobe’s decline following the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake, and the evolving studies of the workforce trends during the ongoing recovery of Christchurch, New Zealand, following a series of earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. The typical view of post-disaster economies depicts a pattern of destruction, renewal, and improvement. Evidence shows, however, that this pattern does not occur in all cases. The degree of economic disruption and the time it takes for different economies to recover varies significantly depending on characteristics such as literacy rates, institutional competency, per capita income, and government spending. If the impacts are large relative to the national economy, a disaster can negatively affect the country or sub-national region’s fiscal position. Similarly, disasters may have significant implications for the national trade balance. If, for example, productive capacity is reduced by disaster damage, exports decrease, the trade balance may weaken, and localized inflation may increase. Studies of individual, household, industry, and business responses to disasters (i.e., microeconomic analyses) cover a broad range of topics relevant to the choices actors make and their interactions with markets. Both household consumption and labor markets face expansion and contraction in areas affected by disasters, with increased consumption and employment often happening in reconstruction related industries. Additionally, the ability of businesses to absorb, respond, and recover in the face of disasters varies widely. Characteristics such as size, number of locations, and pre-disaster financial health are positively correlated with successful business recovery. Businesses can minimize productivity disruptions and recapture lost productivity by conserving scarce inputs, utilizing inventories, and rescheduling production. Assessing the progress of economic recovery and predicting future outcomes are important and complex challenges. Researchers use various methodologies to evaluate the effects of natural disasters at different scales of the economy. Surveys, microeconomic models, econometric models, input-output models, and computable general equilibrium models each offer different insights into the effect of disasters on economies. The study of disaster economics still faces issues with consistency, comprehensiveness, and comparability. Yet, as the science continues to advance there is a growing cross-disciplinary accumulation of knowledge with real implications for policy and the private sector.

Article

Disaster and Response in an Experiment Called New Orleans, 1700s–2000s  

Richard Campanella

As an urbanized river-dominated delta, New Orleans, Louisiana, ranks among the most experimental of cities, a test of whether the needs of a stable human settlement can coexist with the fluidity of a deltaic environment—and what happens when they do not. That natural environment bestowed upon New Orleans numerous advantages, among them abundant fresh water, fertile soils, productive wetlands and, above all, expedient passage between maritime and continental realms. But with those advantages came exposure to potential hazards—an overflowing Mississippi River, a tempestuous Gulf of Mexico, sinking soils, eroding coasts, rising seas, biotic invasion, pestilence, political and racial discord, conflagration—made all the worse by the high levels of social vulnerability borne by all too many members of New Orleans’ population. More so than any other major metropolis on the North American continent, this history of disaster and response is about the future of New Orleans as much as it is about the past. This article examines two dozen disasters of various types and scales, with origins oftentimes traceable to anthropogenic manipulation of the natural environment, and assesses the nature of New Orleans’ responses. It frames these assessments in the “risk triangle” framework offered by David Crichton and other researchers, which views urban risk as a function of hazard, exposure, and vulnerability. “Hazard” implies the disastrous event or trauma itself; “exposure” means human proximity to the hazard, usually in the form of settlement patterns, and “vulnerability” indicates individuals’ and communities’ ability to respond resiliently and adaptively—which itself is a function of education, income, age, race, language, social capital, and other factors—after having been exposed to a hazard.

Article

Comparative Public Finance Approaches to Natural Hazards Management  

Mohammed Alkhurayyif, Julie Winkler, Simon Andrew, and Skip Krueger

An important challenge of natural hazards is that they inflict the greatest total economic damage in large, developed countries, where wealth is aggregated, but they create the greatest economic impact in smaller and developing countries, where a disaster caused by a natural hazard can easily overwhelm a national government’s ability to respond and its economy to recover. Thus, a common understanding in the literature is that the fiscal effect of a natural hazard is a function of the size of the disaster relative to the size of a nation’s economy at the time of the disaster. At the international level, the economic impact of disasters, for example, has been estimated to be US$2.9 trillion between 1998 and 2017, and approximately $945 billion of that occurred in the United States. With a 2019 gross domestic product (GDP) of $21 trillion, the total economic effect for those 20 years is close to 5% of the value of economic output for a single year. Developing country losses, on the other hand, can be overwhelming, especially as measured against the size of the economy. For example, Hurricane Maria’s impact on Dominica is estimated to have been approximately US$1.37 billion, which was equivalent to 225% of Dominica’s GDP. While an appreciation for the connection between the size of a national economy and natural hazards is clearly critical, the literature points to a number of additional factors that are important to understand about how government financial conditions are affected by natural hazards and vice versa. Debates continue about the role of foreign direct investment, government and private debt levels, investments in education, and internationally sponsored protective actions and insurance pools in improving the resilience of smaller and developing countries to disasters. For example, structural approaches to understanding the linkage between disasters and economic development suggest that countries with a limited number of sources of income have economies that are more vulnerable to disasters than more diversified economies, which might suggest that fiscal policies designed to increase economic diversity are important. Neoclassical approaches, on the other hand, argue that economic recovery is slowed by government intervention in the economy, and suggest that the best way for developing economies to recovery quickly is to reduce the amount of regulation in the economy. Whatever the theoretical approach, what remains most clear is the ongoing challenge of decoupling the emotional need to participate in responses to the human tragedy associated with disasters caused by natural hazards from the strategic imperative to invest in hazard mitigation at much higher rates globally and plan toward disaster risk reduction.

Article

Disaster Risk Reduction and Furthering Women’s Rights  

Supriya Akerkar

Traditional conceptions of disaster mitigation focus mainly on risk reduction practices using technology; however, disaster mitigation needs to be reconceptualized as a discursive and social intervention process in the disaster-development continuum to further women’s rights and equality and their emancipatory interests before, during, and after disasters. Such reconception would be more aligned with current formulations within the Sendai Framework of Action (2015–2030), which to an extent highlights the need to engage with gender inequalities through women’s leadership in disaster and development planning and the fifth UN Sustainable Development Goal on furthering gender equality. As discursive practices, disaster mitigation should question discrimination against and marginalization of women in disaster recoveries and development processes in different contexts. Discourse about women and gender is ingrained in the society and further perpetuated through regressive and patriarchal state policies and practices in the disaster-development continuum. A critical and progressive politics for women’s rights that furthers their equality would counter regressive discourses and their effects. Women experience discrimination through complex and multiple axes of power, such as race, class, ethnicity, and other social markers. Instead of treating women as a passive site for relief and recovery, nongovernmental organizations, both national and international, should work with women as persons with agency, voice, aspirations, and capacity to bring about policy and social change in the terrain of the disaster-development continuum. Critical humanitarianism and mobilizing women’s leadership would be a hallmark of such work. The relation between disaster mitigation and women’s rights is that of a virtuous cycle that calls for a synergy between disaster response and development goals to further women’s equality and rights. A vision for socially just and equal society must inform the relation between disaster mitigation and furthering women’s rights.