Post-disaster recoveries, post-disaster complexities: social cohesion, immigration and memory on the Caribbean island of Montserrat

Monteil, Charlotte (2018) Post-disaster recoveries, post-disaster complexities: social cohesion, immigration and memory on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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This thesis aims to better understand the long-term recovery processes after a catastrophe linked to a natural hazard, and the adaptation strategies implemented to reduce the risk of disaster and to “build-back-better”. The study focuses on the sustainability of the recovery process. It underlines the complexity of managing short-term and long-term socioeconomic needs without creating new forms of vulnerability and without affecting the resilience of the society.

The research focuses on the case of Montserrat, a small Caribbean island severely affected by a prolonged volcanic eruption from 1995 to 2010. Due to the destruction of its capital city, Plymouth, and most of its critical infrastructure, the island experienced mass emigration during the crisis. Demand for labour during the physical recovery and a need to re-establish a sustainable level of population has led to large-scale immigration from neighbouring Caribbean countries. Immigrants accounted for only 5-10% of the population in 1990 but now compose about half of the population.

The research adopted an ethnographic approach, employing semi-structured and informal interviews, observation and focus-group discussion. It involved three seasons of fieldwork between 2014 and 2017.

The changes induced by the demographic transformation of the country during an unstable period highlight a number of challenges and dilemmas for the long-term development of the island. Twenty years after the first eruption, physical and demographic recovery are seen as the main priorities, to the detriment of disaster risk reduction plans and immigration management. The research highlights how the will to restore stability conceived in terms of pre-disaster normalcy and cultural identity has tended to prevent the creation of bridging social cohesion in the newly diverse society, contributing to the marginalisation of immigrants and hence creating vulnerabilities to disaster.

Although reconstruction has reduced the remaining population’s physical exposure to natural hazards, these efforts are constrained by a lack of resources and of time, and fail to consider post-disaster change in terms of social vulnerability to disaster. Moreover, memory of the previous disasters, familiarity with the volcanic hazards and the reliance on monitoring are mobilised to create a sense of safety, preventing the implementation of efficient risk communication and preparedness measures. The thesis argues that the will to recover stability and promote economic, physical and demographic recovery encourages the creation of a collective imaginary where the risk of natural hazards, especially of volcanic hazards, is largely minimised. It claims that this prevents the country from adopting adaptive strategies based on learning, experience and memory.

The thesis makes a case for adopting a comprehensive view of post-disaster recovery, one that takes into consideration the interactions between different dimensions of the process, and the social system in which the redevelopment occurs and that existed before the disaster.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Science > School of Environmental Sciences
Depositing User: Users 9280 not found.
Date Deposited: 11 Jan 2019 10:00
Last Modified: 11 Jan 2019 10:00

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