Wellbeing and Community resilience after disasters
Updated: Dec 4, 2020
Disaster events have extensive consequences for affected communities, these impacts can be devastating and last long beyond the event itself (Walker Springett et al., 2017). Between 2000 and 2020 1.65 billion people were affected in some way by flood events (UN 2020), the health and wellbeing impacts of these events are described in the literature with the mental health consequences proven to be significant years after the events occur (Jermacane et la., 2018).
Whilst government action can be central in the recovery period, the role of community is known to be key in resident’s experience of disasters and in recovery efforts. Our collective experience of Covid-19 has demonstrated how important community has been in providing support and aid where agencies are unable to, indeed the flexibility of community response to this crisis has highlighted their centrality in quickly and sensitively supporting individuals in times of crisis. However, what is not clear is how exactly collective community resilience dynamics interact and shape individual wellbeing. How do collective processes borne out of a disaster shape the lived experience of community members? What does it mean for their wellbeing? This is the question we sought to explore in our investigation of the response and recovery by communities in Boston, Eastern England and Somerset, South West England to a series of floods in the winter of 2013/2014.
To consider this question we designed a project with multiple stages of data collection, including a survey with a 622 of flood affected residents and two stages of interviews at 6-8 months and 12-14 months after the floods. This longitudinal research design enabled us to consider how individual residents experience the recovery period over time, and to consider how wellbeing and community resilience unfolded in the 18 months after the flood event.
Our findings identify two particular social processes as key in linking community resilience and wellbeing: active belonging and relational capital. Actively belonging, an active expression of feeling part of a group, including participation in social events for example, consistently correlates with self-reported wellbeing from before the event through to 18 months following the flood. Relational capital, an internal reflection on the quality of relationship with other community members, relates differently to wellbeing. Before and during the flood, relational capital does not correlate with wellbeing, however, 12 months and 18 months after the flood, relational capital does indeed correlate with wellbeing. Something has occurred in the recovery period that means that quality of relationships between community members becomes significant for the wellbeing of individual residents.
Here we focus on our analysis of interviews with flood affected householders and we find that social identity processes are central to this evolution in wellbeing. The flood event has caused people to see themselves and their place within their community differently, they identify increasingly with their neighbours as part of a ‘flooded community’. This increased identification is reflected in frequent descriptions of a collective experience, with respondents often referring to a wider set of others when describing their individual experience, anchoring their experience within a broader group. This reorientation in how individuals see themselves within their community in the 12-18 months after the floods explains how relational capital, and quality of relationship, becomes correlated with individual wellbeing: people now feel part of a new group and therefore care in a new way about their relationships within this group.
The link between individual and collective social dynamics has been drawn into focus during Covid-19. And as social contracts continue to evolve in the face of the ever-increasing impacts of climate change (Adger et al., 2013), the role of community comes increasingly to the fore. In our current project we are studying how adaptation interventions affect health and wellbeing, and we will build on our findings described here. Adaptations range from household level insurance, through to flood walls and relocation, and we are interested exploring the impacts that such adaptations have on experience of community, and ultimately what this means for wellbeing.
Adger, W.N., Quinn, T., Lorenzoni, I., Murphy, C. and Sweeney, J., 2013. Changing social contracts in climate-change adaptation. Nature Climate Change, 3(4), pp.330-333.
Jermacane, D., Waite, T.D., Beck, C.R., Bone, A., Amlôt, R., Reacher, M., Kovats, S., Armstrong, B., Leonardi, G., Rubin, G.J. and Oliver, I., 2018. The English National Cohort Study of Flooding and Health: the change in the prevalence of psychological morbidity at year two. BMC Public Health, 18(1), p.330.
Walker-Springett, K., Butler, C. and Adger, W.N., 2017. Wellbeing in the aftermath of floods. Health & place, 43, pp.66-74.
United Nations World Meteorological Organisation, United in Science 2020 report