Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Long-term Development in Post Disaster Communities

This is my current Dissertation research project

In October 1998, Hurricane Mitch swept out of the north and smashed directly into Honduras. Torrential rains deforested hills and caused landslides that buried villages. Two dams exploded, filling the capital Tegucigalpa’s downtown with eighteen feet of mud. The immediate human toll was immense: 5,273 dead, 11,085 missing, and 427,138 people in shelters. The international community responded to President Carlos Flores’s “SOS” with a large relief effort involving substantial long-term development programs. Ten years later, these programs present fascinating evidence of successful and unsuccessful development projects.
Two communities in particular, Ciudad Divina Providencia (CDP) and Ciudad España (CE), offer a strategic opportunity for a comparative analysis of community development, given their similarities immediately after the hurricane in contrast to their dramatically different situations today. In response to Hurricane Mitch, NGOs built CDP and CE to accommodate citizens from different parts of Tegucigalpa who had lost their homes. Members of each community maintained comparable working and lower-middle class socio-economic statuses and racial homogeneity, and their communities had similar local infrastructure. Both CDP and CE were resettled in the Amarateca Valley, eighteen miles northwest of the capital.
But re-settlement in the communities has been remarkably different. CDP thrives economically, sustains a low crime rate, and maintains high civic participation. There is a general sense of well-being and safety for vulnerable populations such as women and children. In contrast, gang problems, crime, and other social ills such as drug and alcohol abuse plague CE. This “natural experiment” of two similar communities beginning anew but experiencing drastically different outcomes offers a unique occasion for advancing understanding of community development and the mechanisms that shape developmental trajectories.
This research will address two theoretical and practical questions. First, why did each community experience such different trajectories? More specifically, how did each community mobilize resources, internal and external, to rebuild? Second, what role did external agencies play in each community’s development outcome, and how did these facilitate or inhibit effective community development? Within this second question I will pay particular attention to the efforts of the two NGOs involved, Fundación Cristo de El Picacho, which developed CDP, and the Red Cross, which developed CE, and examine how development philosophies and practices within each organization shaped the rebuilding process.
Theoretically, my study will speak to debates in the development and political and economic sociology literatures concerning how communities mobilize resources in processes of long-term development against a backdrop of community and organizational philosophies. Moreover, the research contributes to cross-disciplinary debates about the effectiveness of organizational development philosophies (Fundación’s focus on building community versus the Red Cross’ greater emphasis on individual self-improvement). Practically, my research will be relevant to policy makers, NGOs, and community leaders interested in long-term development.

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