Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Review of "Natural Disasters As a Catalyst for Social Capital," by Kevin F. Adler

Review of

Natural Disasters As a Catalyst for Social Capital, by Kevin F. Adler ISBN 9780761864660

Five out of five stars

 Since I live in the city of Marion, Iowa, which is contiguous to Cedar Rapids, my experiences with the great flood of 2008 were indirect, yet consequential. I knew people that were forced to move and had to adjust my work schedule as a consequence of the high water. Due to the water shortage in Cedar Rapids, fire hoses were connected between hydrants in Marion and Cedar Rapids and the residents of Marion were urged to cut back on usage. This book is not simply a factual rendition of the flood and how people were directly affected, it explores the nature of how a community responds to a disaster where the event was predicted but the scale significantly underestimated.

 To be specific, until shortly before the water began its rapid ascent, the consensus was that it would be a flood similar to previous ones, a major inconvenience but not significantly consequential. One of my students at the time told me that he had approximately 48 hours advance notice before the water overran his rental property that had never flooded before. In his words, when he contacted an official requesting information regarding the danger to his address, he was told, “You’re screwed.”

 The analysis here of how the community responded short-term and then long-term are fairly predictable. In the immediate, people rally to aid those severely affected with support at all levels. There is an immediate feel-good atmosphere of sympathy and gratitude.

 However, in the long term there is the inevitable battle for scarce resources as well as impatience with the slow pace of the development of long-term recovery. Many houses simply sat and rotted while the owners waited for decisions to be made by the city as to whether there would be a buyout, or they would be given the appropriate permission and aid that will allow them to rebuild. The erosion of trust in the governments from the city to the national level was severe and ten years later has not been fully restored.

 The phrase “social capital” is defined as the level of goodwill and understanding between the citizenry that allows a society to function while under great stress. When it exists, people not directly affected will step up and give a little to aid those most significantly affected by a disaster. Adler starts out by explaining the term and then describes how it was applied during a flood that will hopefully happen only twice in a millennium.

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