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Research Papers

Issue date: 
Category: 
Risk
Paper number: 
1410

Exploring long-term disaster recovery trajectories in New Zealand

Dr. JC Gaillard, University of Auckland (EQC funded project 16/715)

Non-Technical Abstract

Disaster recovery is a long and complex process that spans years to decades after the initial event and involves multiple dimensions of society. This process of recovery offers opportunities to foster disaster risk reduction. ‘Building back safer’ entails changes to the pre-disaster social, economic and political conditions, which vulnerability led to the disaster to happen in the first place. Encouraging change is however tricky as continuity is similarly essential to preserve the ties between people affected by the disaster and their territory. Fostering significant changes to the social environment following disasters also entails a lengthy process and significant resources which may be lacking locally. Striking the right balance between continuity and change is thus one of the main challenges of disaster recovery.

In this project we have developed an approach to comprehend the multiple dimensions of long-term recovery following disasters. We have particularly focused on the role of memory and souvenirs (personal and collective), memorabilia (photos and other cherished personal effects) and landmarks (landforms, monuments, churches, regular sports events, etc.). We have used this approach to unpack some social aspects of the recovery process that followed the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake and 1984 Southland floods. We have also developed a pioneering methodology that combines photographic documentation and group discussions to understand the role of landmarks as markers of recovery. In addition, we have designed a ‘mana recovery framework’ that emphasises the importance of mana as a marker of disasters and subsequent recovery amongst tangata whenua.

Our research shows that people’s combined and enmeshed sense of identity and territorial grounding constitute the foundation of people’s ability to recover and thrive following disasters. Identity and territory are materialised by tangible and intangible markers that include souvenirs, memorabilia and landmarks. These markers of identity and territory need to be preserved following disasters. Such continuity in people’s everyday life is essential to provide a handrail for people and their livelihoods to recover and thrive as quickly as possible amidst potentially changing natural, economic and political environments that may be influenced by the event itself as well as by subsequent recovery policies and initiatives. Achieving such a balance between continuity and change to foster sustainable disaster recovery and long-term disaster risk reduction requires genuine participation of those who have been affected and whose identity, territory and livelihoods are at stake.

Technical Abstract

Disaster recovery is a long and complex process that spans years to decades. It involves multiple dimensions of the social fabric at different scales, from the individuals and households up to the broader society. The process of disaster recovery offers opportunities to foster disaster risk reduction. ‘Building back safer’ entails changes to the pre-disaster social, economic and political conditions, which vulnerability led to the disaster to happen in the first place. Encouraging change is however tricky as continuity is similarly essential to preserve the ties between people affected by the disaster and their territory. Fostering significant changes to the social fabric following disasters also entails a lengthy process and significant resources which may be lacking locally. Striking the right balance between continuity and change is thus one of the main challenges of disaster recovery.


In this project we have developed a theoretical and methodological framework to capture the multiple dimensions of long-term recovery following disasters at different time frames through the combined lens of people’s livelihood. We have used this framework to unpack some social aspects of the recovery process that followed the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake and 1984 Southland floods to highlight how these regions have been able to maximise opportunities offered by the recovery to foster both social and economic growth and disaster risk reduction. We have also developed a pioneering methodology that combines photographic documentation and focus group discussions to unpack the role of landmarks as territorial markers of recovery. We have finally designed a ‘mana recovery framework’ that emphasises the importance of mana as a marker of disasters and recovery amongst tangata whenua.


Ultimately, our research shows that people’s combined and enmeshed sense of identity and territorial grounding constitute the foundation of people’s ability to recover and thrive following disasters. Identity and territory are materialised by collective and individual as well as tangible and intangible markers that include souvenirs, memorabilia and landmarks. These markers of identity and territory need to be preserved following disasters. Such continuity in people’s everyday life is essential to provide a handrail for people and their livelihoods to recover and thrive as quickly as possible amidst potential changing natural, economic and political environments that may be influenced by the event itself as well as subsequent recovery policies and initiatives. Achieving such a balance between continuity and change requires genuine participation of those who have been affected and whose identity, territory and livelihoods are at stake.

Available resources:

Forsman X. (2016) “Me hoki whakamuri, kia haere whakamua”: The 1886 Tarawera Eruption through a Māori lens. Honours Dissertation, The University of Auckland, Auckland.
Forsman X. (2018) Māori perspectives of disaster recovery in Hawke’s Bay. Master’s Thesis, The University of Auckland, Auckland.
Gibson E. (2018) Continuity and change in longitudinal recovery: a photo-chronology method through the landmark of churches. Master’s Thesis, The University of Auckland, Auckland.

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