APSS - Past Seminars

Monday, October 31, 2011

Responding to Natural versus Manmade disasters: Lessons from Fiji

Professor Satish Chand

Professor, School of Business, University of New South Wales @ The Australian Defence Force Academy

Chair: Dr Alec Thornton


Disasters can be naturally induced or result from human actions. This paper uses the experiences of coups and cyclones in Fiji to gauge the differing impact of natural versus manmade disasters, and the lessons for disaster relief and resilience-building emanating from the above. The key findings are: (i) natural disasters in the main destroy physical infrastructure while manmade disasters mainly destroy social infrastructure; (ii) investments tend to increase in the aftermath of natural disasters and fall following manmade disasters; (iii) rebound following a natural disaster is rapid while that from a manmade disaster slow; and, (iv) the capacity to avert a manmade disaster is greater than that for a natural disaster. Consequently, natural disasters offer opportunities to build social capital while man-made disasters throw up the challenge of keeping communities intact.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The role of civil society for capacity building and recovery from disasters: The Japanese experiences

Dr Minako Sakai (UNSW) and A/Prof Keishin Inaba (Osaka University)

Chair: Dr Alec Thornton


This paper will focus on Japanese experiences on disaster relief and recovery processes. Japan is the the third largest economy in the world with an increasingly ageing population. It is prone to earthquakes and typhoons involving the devastation of infrastructure and a large number of victims. In order to cope with the frequent natural disasters, the Japanese people have spent resources to minimise disaster impact by measures including building earth-quake proof buildings, and practising disaster drills in communities. Furthermore, the Kobe earthquake in 1995 has triggered the emergence of disaster-relief volunteers and civil society organisations for effective disaster relief operations. However, there has been strong resistance among the Japanese community members to receive post-disaster assistance as the Japanese community is generally not used to receiving assistance from outsiders. This paper will thus examine various factors affecting the role of civil society organisations involved in disaster relief operations in Japan. We will examine the role of secular and faith-based organisations and identify the obstacles and opportunities associated with their long-term operations. The main question in this paper is to identify social capital affecting disaster relief operation capacity building and creating community resilience.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Agrarianism, Capitalism or Protectionism?: Exploring economic restructuring and local responses amidst global-change in Samoa

Dr Alec Thornton, Geography, UNSW Canberra, Assoc Professor Etienne Nel, Geography University of Otago, and Dr Maria Talaitupu Kerslake, National University of Samoa

Chair: Dr Minako Sakai


This paper seeks to investigate adaptation to natural disasters and economic shocks, or global-change, at the micro and macro level of Samoa. Particular reference will be given to past, current and envisaged future opportunities and challenges posed to the economy and local producers through the country’s current pursuit of membership of the World Trade Organization and broader shifts in the global trading environment. Over the last 30 years Samoa has witnessed the loss of traditional exports due to natural disasters and global economic shocks and has variously sought to protect local industry and to facilitate foreign investment. A look at current government policy raises questions about the impact of policy shifts and changes in global trading regimes on poor rural communities. In the case of the latter, while normal market opportunities are not typically open to them, organic and ethical trading outlets appear to now be providing a parallel marketing opportunity for community based ventures, which formed as a response to impacts of successive cyclones on livelihoods. The value of these alternate markets are also debated in this paper, with a view to understanding the ways in which such opportunities could make a difference to the well-being of rural communities.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Using research partnerships to address wicked problems in Pacific Policy: an example from Bougainville

Prof. Michael Hess

(Business, UNSW at ADFA)

Chair: Prof. Satish Chand


International scholarship has contributed greatly to understanding of policy problems facing Pacific communities. The complexity of contemporary issues and improved understandings of approaches to wicked problems has established a set of dynamics under which research methods are changing. This article reports an approach to research on economic recovery in post-crisis Bougainville in which international scholarly rigour is being combined with local knowledge and community engagement to create new knowledge to address wicked problems as well as achieving local leadership and ownership of the research process and its outcomes.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Key Factors for Capacity Building of Disaster Relief Operations and Post-Disaster Community Resilience-Indonesian examples

Dr Minako Sakai (HASS,UNSW) and Dr Amelia Fauzia (Rector-Funded Visiting Fellow, HASS, UNSW and the State University of Islamic Studies, UIN Syariff Hidayatullah, Jakarta

Chair: Dr Alec Thornton (PEMS, UNSW)


Due to the geological location of the Indonesian archipelago on the Sumatran fault system, Indonesia has been prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcano eruptions. After the Aceh tsunami in 2004, the Indonesian government legislated a new law for disaster risk (Law 24/2007 on Disaster Management) in order to reduce disaster risk by involving various local stakeholders such as international donors, civil society groups (CSO) and local government. This law places Indonesia in line with other international communities aligned to implement the Hyogo Framework of Action, an international framework for disaster risk reduction.

However, implementing such a policy framework at the local level depends significantly on local contexts. This is particularly true where the capacity of the state is relatively limited. Drawing case studies from Indonesia, this paper argues that the relationships between civil society groups (CSO), their relationships with the government, political parties and the international community, are key factors for directly affecting capacity building of disaster relief operations and community recovery processes. One of the main issues in Indonesia is political democratisation and emergent religious fundamentalism. In this context, religious CSOs play a dominant role in delivering much needed social services such as disaster relief operations. However, the tension between various faith-based organisations, including their relationship with the local government and the international community, needs to be considered along with the international framework of disaster risk reduction, and capacity building of the CSOs.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Civil society and the Politics of Peace in India’s Northeast Borderland

Dr. Duncan McDuie-Ra

Senior Lecturer in Development Studies, FASS, UNSW

Chair: Dr Minako Sakai


Civil society has long played a crucial role in relief for communities experiencing upheaval, whether through natural disasters, state collapse, or violence. As critical scholarship has shifted the discourse on civil society from celebratory to cautionary, relief agencies and associated donors and partners have undergone deeper empirical investigation. While this is to be welcomed, much of this literature suffers from two key limitations. First, the focus has tended to be on situations where upheaval is sudden, visible, and the influx of civic actors is abrupt. Second, critical scrutiny is primarily reserved for the role of international agencies and donors, often working in local partnerships, where unevenness in resources, knowledge, and power is clearly visible. This paper directs critical inquiry to situations where upheaval has been constant and external involvement has been limited allowing a more thorough investigation of local civic actors. I focus on the role of civil society in peace in Northeast India, specifically the two federal states of Nagaland and Manipur, where armed conflict has existed in various forms for the last 60 years. Conflicts have been secessionist, internecine, and communal. Certain conflicts have been resolved, others have resumed after periods of peace, while new conflicts continue to emerge. Throughout these oscillations, local civic actors have been actively involved in the politics that have created conflicts and in the politics that have pursued and maintained peace. Using the case study of the tensions between the Meitei and Naga communities and civic actors during the Naga Peace Process between the Indian Government and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim-IM, I make three interlinked arguments. First, civic actors at the local level are vital for peace-making and peace-building, but expectations that they are capable and also willing to transcend the local politics in which they are embedded is unrealistic and unfair. Second, local civic actors involved in peace are not necessarily able to disentangle themselves from the contexts producing violence. Those that are able to do so are usually less representative organisations within minimal community support. Thirdly, the largely false dichotomy between agenda-ridden international relief agencies and noble local partners is not only difficult to sustain empirically but obscures the complex politics of peace and relief in less visible contexts.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Myanmar, the Tatmadaw, and Crises in Human Security

Dr Christopher Roberts

Visiting Fellow (HASS, UNSW at ADFA)
National Security College, ANU

Chair: Dr Ediwn Jurriëns


Through to the time of the flawed elections in November 2010 (the first in twenty years), the military run government of Myanmar has maintained the dubious reputation of being one of the most notorious dictatorships in the Asia-Pacific. This reputation has been reinforced by the iniquitous role of the military (tatmadaw) in managing the country’s innumerable human security issues. In recent times, one of the most notable examples concerns the highly inadequate response of the tatmadaw to the devastation of Cyclone Nargis. Accordingly, the first part of the presentation examines the underlying causation behind the tatmadaw’s failure to exercise its ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P) and how the Association of Southeast Asian Nations eventually overcame the military regime’s hesitance to permit humanitarian aid into the country. Finally, the presentation applies the insights from the above analysis to assess whether incremental changes in Myanmar’s political climate (following the November 2010 elections) could potentially generate new opportunities to improve the capacity of the tatmadaw – together with the role of ASEAN – to better manage natural disasters and human security challenges in the future.

Monday, July 25, 2011

From early warning system to trauma healing: Community media and disaster relief in Central Java

Dr Edwin Jurriëns


Chair: Dr Alec Thornton


This presentation will focus on the role of community media such as grassroots radio, video and theatre in re-building a sense of social cohesion and cultural identity in the aftermath of the May 2006 earthquake in Bantul, Central Java. These media not only complement the material reconstruction efforts of local communities, but also cover an informational and spiritual domain that has been ignored by the mainstream media. I will argue that community media provide a necessary alternative to the public and commercial media in Indonesia, not only during the height of natural disasters, but also in day-to-day communication practices towards the democratization of the Indonesian media system and society at large.

Monday, June 20, 2011

After the Crisis: Rebuilding lives at the margins of Delhi

Associate Professor Ursula Rao


Chair: Dr Minako Sakai


This paper discusses the adaptive strategies of people who have been violently removed from their slums in central Delhi, North India. As part of its “Clean and Green Delhi Campaign” the Delhi government expelled 1 million slum dwellers from the inner city. People who had lived in the city centre for 20 to 30 years watched in disbelief how their houses and belongings were crushed by bulldozers within seconds. The slum dwellers were transported to a location 40 kilometres outside the city, and 10 kilometres from the next urban habitation and forced to restart their lives. The new location was an open field, with no infrastructure, not even marked plots. After 5 years in the new place people still struggle to find work and fight to be given basic amenities like a water connection or sewage canals.

The lecture uses the case study of removed slum dwellers to explore strategies of survival in times of crisis. While much has been said about the violence of urban gentrification, we know very little about the adaptive strategies of poor people. The paper will explore the resources and capacities people mobilised to survive the disaster, spell out the role of NGOs for building people’s resilience, and examine the ambivalent relation of people with a state that punishes and cares. The paper will illustrate the talents and strategies that led some people to success and the reasons for others to fail. Adaptive strategies and long term results will be discussed with reference to an academic debate about cultural ways of coping with crises, e.g. in refugee camps or provisional shelters after natural disasters.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Armed Forces and disaster relief in China

Dr Jian Zhang


Chair: Dr Alec Thornton


Armed forces around the world play an increasingly important role in disaster relief operations and constitute an integral part of their nation’s disaster management capacity. In the People’s Republic of China, the role of the military in domestic disaster response is particularly prominent. Ever since 1949, the Chinese military-the People’s Liberation Army (The PLA) - has always been the central force in the nation’s responses to natural disasters. Indeed the frequency, scale and types of the domestic disaster relief works that the PLA has conducted has seldom been matched by other militaries. This presentation seeks to provide a critical assessment of the role and ramifications of the PLA in domestic disaster relief. Specifically, it will examine the various drivers behind the PLA’s extensive involvement in domestic disaster relief activities, the legal, organizational and operational frameworks guiding the PLA’s disaster relief missions, and assesses both the positive and negative impacts of the increasing ‘militarization’ of disaster relief in China on the country’s overall emergency management and disaster relief capacity.