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What natural disasters can teach us
03 November 2012 — 03 November 2012
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Learning about surviving disasters, a study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), has resulted in a unique bank of research data which provides insights into what makes an effective community response at this critical time. Community responses are key to helping children and young people who survive major natural disasters.
The study, led by Professor Lena Dominelli of Durham University, was conducted in Sri Lanka in 12 villages recovering from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
The research involved people and groups who responded to the needs of these villages after the tsunami struck and throughout the years after – including volunteers and international organisations funding humanitarian aid, students, and staff from universities.
The researchers gathered survival stories generated by children survivors of the tsunami who are now teenagers and young adults. "The voices of young victim-survivors are seldom heard, yet they have messages of hope and resilience – and adults who determine what should happen in such situations should listen to them.
They have valuable insights, good suggestions for how to rebuild their communities to be more resilient in the future and they will grow up to make important and active contributions to the future well-being of their communities," Professor Dominelli comments.
The stories demonstrate how well-targeted, but not costly, interventions can successfully help a young person to make the transition from victim to a thriving member of the community during the 'reconstruction' period – the time when the village or community is being rebuilt.
"These stories show that there is no one-size-fits-all response but that success in promoting resilience and well-being involves constructive, helping relationships that are both specific to the location and are culturally relevant", says Professor Dominelli.
As part of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Festival of Social Science , Professor Dominelli will present a one-day workshop - 'Survival Stories: Learning from narratives about surviving disasters'. It will focus on the stories from the young survivors of the 2004 tsunami. The event will also show how practitioners worked to ensure the children were safe and able to cope in the aftermath of the disaster.
Professor Dominelli says, "Our study contains a rare bank of data which enables us to learn how young people have survived immense suffering and hardship caused by natural disasters. This helps us better understand how to develop their strengths and resilience as they grow up and become active members of their communities and contribute to their community’s renewal. British practitioners and service users can derive lessons about developing resilience for disasters such as flooding that occur in this country."