In this podcast, Dr Chandni Singh (Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Bangalore, India) and Prof. Roger Few (University of East Anglia) discuss the different meanings of recovery from disasters and highlight how disasters are caused as much by physical hazards as they are socially generated. Using case studies from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Singh and Few argue that long-term recovery from disasters should focus not only on the measurable, tangible impact (roads, buildings), but also on rebuilding the well-being of communities. Differential access to resources and assets – e.g., loans to rebuild a house, or collateral – meaning rebuilding and recovery have contrasting connotations for affected communities. Media reports too shape the broader understandings of the impact of disasters. While infrastructural recovery is more visible in the recovery policies of Tamil Nadu that has a long history of disasters, psychosocial recovery of people is harder to achieve – as people displaced by a tsunami and rehabilitated to flood-prone areas in Chennai will find it difficult to grow out of stress induced by climatic anomalies. As social scientists and planners, Singh and Few recommend that disaster management, especially for coastal cities like Chennai in India, should be simply not reactive. Instead, a more proactive approach that a) relies upon preserving the wetlands which can absorb a lot of damage caused by floods and cyclones; b) is more attentive towards vulnerability across temporal scales and social differentiation; and, c) is more democratic by including more of people’s voices in what recovery means is a better answer to reimagining recovery from disasters. In so doing, Chandni Singh and Roger Few tell us about a relatively lesser-known aspect of human-environment interaction in the Indian Ocean World.

Project websites:

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A British Academy briefing drawing in part on our work:

On earlier work by on Disaster Risk in Chennai: and