Bloated bodies and broken bricks: Power, ecology, and inequality in the political economy of natural disaster recovery

Benjamin K. Sovacool, May Tan-Mullins, Wokje Abrahamse

    Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

    50 Citations (Scopus)


    Disaster recovery efforts form an essential component of coping with unforeseen events such as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and typhoons, some of which will only become more frequent or severe in the face of accelerated climate change. Most of the time, disaster recovery efforts produce net benefits to society. However, depending on their design and governance, some projects can germinate adverse social, political, and economic outcomes. Drawing from concepts in political economy, political ecology, justice theory, and critical development studies, this study first presents a conceptual typology revolving around four key processes: enclosure, exclusion, encroachment, and entrenchment. Enclosure refers to when disaster recovery transfers public assets into private hands or expands the roles of private actors into the public sphere. Exclusion refers to when disaster recovery limits access to resources or marginalizes particular stakeholders in decision-making activities. Encroachment refers to when efforts intrude on biodiversity areas or contribute to other forms of environmental degradation. Entrenchment refers to when disaster recovery aggravates the disempowerment of women and minorities, or worsens concentrations of wealth and income inequality within a community. The study then documents the presence of these four inequitable attributes across four empirical case studies: Hurricane Katrina reconstruction in the United States, recovery efforts for the 2004 tsunami in Thailand, Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines, and the Canterbury earthquakes in New Zealand. It next offers three policy recommendations for analysts, program managers, and researchers at large: spreading risks via insurance, adhering to principles of free prior informed consent, and preventing damage through punitive environmental bonds. The political economy of disaster must be taken into account so that projects can maximize their efficacy and avoid marginalizing those most vulnerable to those very disasters.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)243-255
    Number of pages13
    JournalWorld Development
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018


    • Climate change adaptation
    • Disaster relief
    • Enclosure
    • Exclusion
    • Political ecology
    • Political economy
    • Resistance

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Geography, Planning and Development
    • Development
    • Sociology and Political Science
    • Economics and Econometrics


    Dive into the research topics of 'Bloated bodies and broken bricks: Power, ecology, and inequality in the political economy of natural disaster recovery'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this