Skip to main content

TO THE READER: This is a summary of the “live tweets” written by Morgan Pitelka during Professor Aldrich’s talk. Apologies for infelicitous grammar.


Hosting a talk by @DanielPAldrich on his new book Black Wave today at 5:30 pm in the FedEx Global Ed Center, 4003. Daniel isn’t just an influential political scientist who studies disaster resilience; he’s a @UNCAsianStudies alum. What will you do with an Asian Studies major?

18,400 people died in the 3/11 disaster, but the percentages from community to community differed. This means something and allows us to study why some communities lost no one and others lost more than 10%. Why? Book talk on Black Wave.

Another topic of interest to Aldrich is recovery, and the rates of recovery after 3/11. He quantifies the rate of recovery in different communities and then tried to understand why and how some are more successful.

Clusters of communities were particularly successful, in a two-year period. Why?

Lastly what is the mental health toll of these disasters, and how does the ongoing shock of displacement and disaster change lives and communities? Aldrich says emergency kits is not the answer.

Likewise giant public works projects are not the answer, says Aldrich. The core aspects of survival and recovery come from social connections.

He asked people why they wanted to return to Fukushima? Social ties.

What was needed after the disaster was collective action, says Aldrich, and social ties enable this. Makes it possible to overcome barriers to collective action.

Also necessary after a shock is what Aldrich calls “informal insurance” – knowing your neighbors and being able to rely on them, trust them. The book tests these various theories of social capital.

First, did communities with the highest wave (19 meters, 60 feet) have a higher death rate? No. Some communities had worse death rates with significantly lower wave heights. Why?¬†Was it political participation at the national level? Did communities that had pushed back against the LDP have inferior infrastructure, and thus suffer more? Was the amount of concrete between your community and the ocean the answer? Was it the average age of the community? 40 minutes between the earthquake and the tsunami. If you are elderly or infirm, that might not be enough time in some communities. But if the community had strong social ties, even those elderly who didn’t know they had to evacuate received help.

Aldrich argues that the strength of social ties in the community trumps all the other possible explanations–wave height, politics, age, infrastructure–and drives outcomes.

Another question: who rebuilds after a disaster? And is rebuilding, cleaning up, the same as recovery? Aldrich shows us pictures of a street that has been cleaned but is empty, no people, and perhaps indicates a dead community.

Gives example of 2 billion spent on a fishing village of 16,000 people. One of the members of the mayor’s cabinet had gone to school with the head of construction ministry; that connection gave them full funding while other communities got nothing.

So Aldrich proposes in the book an index of recovery. The most powerful predictor of successful recovery turns out to be how many powerful politicians in national government come from or are connected to your village.

Communities that had a lot of powerful connections sometimes rebuilt even stronger and better than before the disaster.

Looking at stress after the disaster, found that wealth does not affect stress levels. Good health also doesn’t affect stress, though bad health (before the disaster) does, in the negative. Social ties did have a positive effect on stress levels.

So Aldrich proposes 5 social-tie building solutions: First, get to know your neighbors who are in effect the first responders. Build neighborliness. Second, build a sense of the large neighborhood, the broader expanse of social ties. Third, build better communities in the sense of the physical landscape–a park, a third space, a dog run–that allows mundane activities. Trees=shady spots.Fourth, improve civic engagement, get people involved in political process. Hold multiple meetings so people help run the town or city. Fifth, encourage volunteering through community currencies that stay in the local region and don’t go to big corporations.

Aldrich says they’ve tested these five proposals and see results in which social ties improve by more than 10%. Various projects across the world–in the U.S., in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan.

$240 billion sea walls have no demonstrable effect on survival, recovery, or mental health rates.

Comments are closed.