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The importance of social cohesion in recovering from natural disasters

#1
When disaster strikes, it's survival of the sociable - environment - 17 May 2013 - New Scientist

Common sense strikes again, but it's nice to have the data to support it - It appears as though the kind of neighbourhood you live in has significant affect upon chances of survival in both the physical and mental sense:

Take the brutal heatwave that hit Chicago in 1995. The risk of dying varied greatly between two adjacent neighbourhoods with similar economic and demographic profiles, according to research by sociologist Eric Klinenberg. He traced the difference to social connections between residents and how involved they were in public life. In one community, residents checked in on each other during the heatwave, while in the other they were isolated and afraid to leave their homes largely because of crime. Social ties became a matter of life or death.

Similarly, political scientist Daniel Aldrich found that communities with robust social networks coped better in Kobe, Japan, after the earthquake in 1995 and in Tamil Nadu, India, following the catastrophic Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.

These examples suggest the social infrastructure of a community plays a critical role in how prepared a city is when disaster strikes. My research has also shown that the social character of a neighbourhood can alleviate everyday challenges, such as the steady drip of violence that plagues many cities. Indeed, neighbourhoods have an impact on a surprisingly wide variety of outcomes, including child health, high-school graduation, teen births, adult mortality, social disorder and even IQ scores. The power of place to influence our lives in multiple ways and over long periods of time is what I call the "enduring neighbourhood effect".
The good news includes the observation that improved access to technology doesn't isolate people from their environment as much as is feared:
Technology can also help bring neighbours together for a common purpose. Contrary to prevailing assumptions, there is evidence that the boom in social media that connects users globally may have simultaneously increased local connections. In many cities, citizens use their smartphones to report on their neighbourhood's physical infrastructure – potholes and light outages, for instance – and potentially, on its social structure. Some organisations and city governments use the web to encourage local civic engagement, and companies like nextdoor.com have built platforms for neighbourhood social networks.
On one of my tours, I had several small sections, each with its own office, down a long corridor, the doors to which were usually closed. Almost my first act was to open each door and insist that, unless they were doing interviews or such, the doors remained open. Interestingly, what used to be a fairly non-social unit became much more cohesive over the next few months and well and truly passed the next available "Christmas Party" test - everybody, including those who didn't go to such things, went. OTOH, it may be just that I provided them with a common target for derision. :biggrin:
 
#2
I think a lot has to do with national capacity to recover the basics quickly and in most countries that means government capacity. The kinds of disasters big enough to qualify are big enough to overwhelm the resources of smaller entities and even weak and incapable governments.

It may seem obvious but I sometimes look at our own post-Enlightenment rhetoric and wonder if we haven't forgotten the basics - governments are there to govern.

The good news includes the observation that improved access to technology doesn't isolate people from their environment as much as is feared:
NSM are a great way to bind communities together and not just at the local level. During this year's Sichuan earthquake, the government opened a Weibo site for people in affected areas to post information and pictures of the situation in their area so that disaster efforts could be targetted at the greatest need. Compared with the 2008 one when the relief efforts were steered by patrols of airborne troops parachuted in to get eyes-on, this time went far more smoothly.
 
#3
I think a lot has to do with national capacity to recover the basics quickly and in most countries that means government capacity. The kinds of disasters big enough to qualify are big enough to overwhelm the resources of smaller entities and even weak and incapable governments.


The original post was about everything but this.
 
#4
Yes, thanks for that.

Do you think that the aftermath of a major earthquake or hurricane could be coped with By The Power Of Twitter? It's a communication tool, that's all it is. Moving supplies, equipment and personnel from where they are to where they're needed is what counts and that's where good communications come in - as a means of identifying need to the people with the resources.
 
#5
I rather think that the OP was talking about the power of small communities rather than nation states. I had always considered that, at the very least, a strong government would recognised that. In fact I always considered that older Governments were too wise to think that a strong central government had much effect on individual communities.
The report was after all about small local communities having more effect than weak ones and nothing to do with Central Government. It also expressed some surprise that this has not changed in the modern, digital, age.To be concise it is saying a strong Central Government can help local communities but more easily those that are prepared to be helped and are strong already. To pretend it is saying anything else would be propaganda.
 
#6
The article used several examples of natural disaster to justify the premise but didn't examine the extent to which even the strongest communities are helpless or can break down under stresses which overwhelm their resources. I'm not disagreeing that a strong sense of common identity is a valuable factor in coping with the large-scale shocks but they are not a universal panacea. Just as government can be too big, it can also be too small -it needs to have a certain minimum level of capability to be effective.
 
#7
I agree with what you are saying there. Without a strong group of small communities all Governments big and small are powerless. Small communities can be overwhelmed by large disasters and require help from outside the community . A good balance of the two are the ideal and only realistic solution. Even modern communities and Governments display this phenomenon. so strong communities and strong Governments can overcome bigger disasters than weak communities and, or Governments. We have learned nothing new then. Interesting for it to be confirmed by some good research though isn't it.
 

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