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Book Review
Disaster Relief: Responding to
International Development Needs

The Australasian Journal of Disaster
and Trauma Studies
ISSN:  1174-4707
Volume : 2001-1

Review of:

Rising from the Ashes:
Development strategies in times of disaster.

by : Anderson, M. and Woodrow, P.J. (1998)

London, Intermediate Technology Publications (Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc.)
ISBN: 1-85339-439-4

Reviewed by: Douglas Paton
School of Psychology,
Massey University
New Zealand
Email: D.Paton@massey.ac.nz

This book provides an excellent introduction to the practicalities of planning for, and delivering, disaster relief services in international contexts. The central theme of this text is concerned with how to reconcile the motivation to offer humanitarian assistance to disaster-affected populations with facilitating sustainable development in these same populations. Although aimed primarily at those directly involved in providing humanitarian aid, this text will also provide valuable insights and information for those formulating policy in relief agencies. For the latter, understanding the reality of field work (which can be coloured by agency philosophy and politics) can contribute to the development of the training, operational planning, management systems, and support services required to facilitate effective field operations and the well-being of those employed in field roles (Paton & Purvis, 1995). Of particular importance in this book is its focus on building on, and enhancing, the capacities of the populations to whom assistance is provided to safeguard against a common criticism of relief work that it can all to often increase dependence and subsequent vulnerability.

The book is divided into two parts. The first provides comprehensive descriptions of strategies for the analysis of relief and development needs. This discussion focuses on conducting Capacities and Vulnerabilities analyses. When planning to respond to hazard effects there is often a tendency to focus aid on the physical and infrastructure losses that have occurred. While this is important, it is also essential to recognise that the capacity to utilise these resources, and to develop a means for their utilisation that foster self-reliance and resilience, often rests with the social and psychological capacities of the population. The Capacities and Vulnerabilities Analyses framework discussed here recognises this and provides a sound basis for integrating physical/ material, social/organisational, and motivational/attitudinal factors with those relating to gender, socio-economic status and time.

While more emphasis could have been placed on the practical issues involved in the assessment of these variables, this framework enhances the coherence of subsequent material and the ease with which it can adapted to suit specific needs. There is scope for the inclusion of more recent developments into this framework, including, for example, remote imaging, geographic information systems, and the expertise being developed by the Global Disaster Information Network. Resources such as these can be used to assist the construction of a picture of the nature, scope and distribution of hazard consequences and resource availability following the occurrence of acute events (e.g., earthquakes, floods) or for more insidious hazard activity (e.g., famine, drought). These resources could complement the analytical framework described here.

The Capacities and Vulnerabilities Analysis tool provides the backbone for the subsequent analyses and ensures a balanced approach to relief and development planning. Throughout the text, as core issues are presented, discussion of the capacities and vulnerabilities implications of each issue is reviewed. Understanding the practical implications is further facilitated by the inclusion of short 'case studies' throughout each chapter. Subsequent chapters provide comprehensive and well illustrated descriptions of each stage of the process of planning for relief and development work. These stages cover: initial decisions in providing relief; the political, informational and policy context of relief work; key dimensions (speed, scale, duration) of relief operations; identifying and working with local participants; the human resource aspects of relief work; and issues relating to inter-agency collaboration.

The strong practical focus continues in part two, where a selection of case studies drawn from International Relief/Development Projects are used to illustrate actual development projects, problems encountered, and strategies used to deal with issues. Projects have been selected to provide a broad overview of the diverse range of circumstances (e.g., responding to disaster, resettlement of refugees) within which relief agencies operate. The cases are presented in a manner consistent with the material presented in part one and thus further the practical utility of the text as a guide to the application of the ideas discussed in the field. The case material provides tangible illustrations of the benefits accruing from understanding the relationships between physical/infrastructure losses, social/organisational characteristics and the attitudinal/motivational attributes of populations prior to disaster and how these facets interact with hazard activity to define communication needs, community expectations, and the need to devise development strategies that accommodate contingent patterns of interaction between them (Gillard & Paton, 1999; Paton & Purvis, 1995). While it is not done here, the model espoused is consistent with recent work on modelling resilience and sustainability (e.g., Tobin, 1999) and this possibility is alluded to by reference to the "fighting spirit" of affected populations.

The chapter addressing human resource issues discusses several problems inherent in selecting and training relief workers who will work in contexts, and with cultures, that can differ substantially from those prevailing within their home country. This section could have been expanded to consider strategies for selection, including issues relating to temperament and team work under adverse circumstances over and above those relating to their specific knowledge or skill base and the role of training in enhancing well-being, performance and cultural assimilation (Paton, 1996a; Paton, 1996b; Paton & Purvis, 1995).

The text contains an interesting discussion on inter-agency co-ordination and one which challenges the accepted wisdom derived from applying an organisational, as opposed to a sustainable development orientation, to this issue and emphasises the need to develop thinking about relief provision in ways that transcend traditional organisational theories. In a similar vein, the need to develop evaluation practices and criteria linked to sustainable development is also discussed. The book also identifies several policy and development issues that, like those discussed here, will benefit from additional consideration and thinking.

As stated at the start of this review, this book provides an excellent introduction to the provision of disaster relief from the perspective of integrating humanitarian aid with sustainable development. The book has a strong practical focus, and extensive use of well selected illustrations and case material enhance the ease of its applicability. While there are several recent developments that could have been incorporated, and although there are several pertinent omissions, this text should be essential reading for all those employed in relief agencies. In addition, its contents are equally applicable to those considering this issue at national levels. If the lessons discussed in this book are adhered to the quality and appropriateness of relief work will increase substantially.


Paton, D. (1996a) Responding to international needs: Critical occupations as disaster relief agencies. In Paton, D. and Violanti, J. (eds) Traumatic Stress in Critical Occupations: Recognition, consequences and treatment. Springfield, Ill., Charles C. Thomas.

Paton, D. (1996b) Training Disaster Workers: Promoting Well-Being And Operational Effectiveness. Disaster Prevention and Management, 5, 10 - 16.

Paton, D. and Purvis, C (1995) Nursing in the aftermath of disaster: Orphanage relief work in Romania. Disaster Prevention and Management, 4, 45 - 54.

Gillard, M. and Paton, D. (1999) Disaster Stress Following a Hurricane: The role of religious differences in the Fijian. Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies, 3, 2 [Online serial] URL http://www.massey.ac.nz/%7Etrauma/issues/1999-2/gillard.htm

Tobin, G.A. (1999) Sustainability and community resilience: The holy grail of hazards planning. Environmental Hazards , 1, 13-26.


Douglas Paton © 2001. The author assigns to the Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies at Massey University a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant a non-exclusive licence to Massey University to publish this document in full on the World Wide Web and for the document to be published on mirrors on the World Wide Web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the author.

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