Lessons from disaster relief in the Asia Pacific
This volume presents a wide range of practices and experiences of disaster relief in the Asia-Pacific region. We have highlighted the diversity of the region, its notable vulnerabilities, and often less notable resilience, to various types of catastrophes (both natural and human-induced), and the complicated roles that various stakeholders play in disaster rescue, mitigation and recovery processes. Our case studies provide ample opportunity for cross-country and cross-sector comparison, which can further enrich and problematize our understanding of some of the key concepts, agendas and policy practices in disaster relief within and beyond the region. The aim of this concluding chapter is to highlight some of the key themes that lie beneath and run across the various chapters in this book, and place them in the context of some of the broader debates in disaster studies. We will also extrapolate a few policy implications from our studies. There are three main themes that stand out from the volume. First, the need for contextualizing and, if necessary, reinterpreting or at least thinking more broadly about concepts such as disaster, vulnerability and resilience. Greater attention should be paid to the specific sociopolitical and cultural contexts in which disastrous events and responses take place. A focus on contextual factors is critical to understand the nature of disasters, gauge the effectiveness of disaster responses, develop proper policies and build capacity. Second, the volume shows that agency matters. Our studies illustrate the complicated roles that agencies such as state institutions, CSOs, local cultural groups, the media and businesses play in disaster relief. We caution against the risk of prioritizing some actors over others, as each of them can have either a positive or a negative impact on the effectiveness of the relief efforts. Instead, we stress the need to study and understand specific types of agency in specific spatial and temporal contexts. Third, our volume demonstrates the need for a holistic approach to disaster relief. While the main focus of traditional emergency responses is often on physical infrastructure, we argue for greater attention to rebuilding social infrastructure. Our studies show that the social infrastructure is often not only harder to detect, but also much harder to repair than the physical infrastructure in disasterhit communities. The rest of this chapter will further elaborate on these themes and their policy implications.