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April 7, 2020

Resilience in the face of disasters

Interesting piece of research highlighted by Alastair McIntosh which explores the relationship between disasters – both natural and man-made – and the extent to which communities are able to organise and develop effective responses. This study looked at the impact of the Spanish Flu pandemic and the self-organised responses from communities. The researchers identified a difference in response when the disaster was perceived to be down to chance or nature as opposed to being directly connected to other members of the community. Somewhat oddly, Spanish Flu was attributed to those individuals who initially became infected.

Hayagreeva Rao and Henrich Greve

Full academic paper click here

Why are some communities resilient in the face of disasters, and why are others unable to recover? We suggest that two mechanisms matter: the framing of the cause of the disaster, and the community civic capacity to form diverse non-profits. We propose that disasters that are attributed to other community members weaken cooperation and reduce the formation of new cooperatives that serve the community, unlike disasters attributed to chance or to nature, which strengthen cooperation and increase the creation of cooperatives. We analyze the Spanish Flu, a contagious disease that was attributed to infected individuals, and compare it with spring frost, which damaged crops and was attributed to nature. Our measure of resilience is whether the community members could form retail cooperatives—non-profit community organizations. We find that communities hit by the Spanish Flu during the period 1918–1919 were unable to form new retail cooperatives in the short and long run after the epidemic, but this effect was reduced over time and countered by civic capacity. Implications for research on disasters and institutional legacies are outlined.