Developing Sustainable Disaster Resilient Communities: Lessons from Some Survivors

Project: HDR ProjectPhD

Project Details


In a world where disasters impacts are growing, sustaining communities is becoming increasingly difficult. The UN Sustainable Development Goals include 25 targets within 10 of the SDGs “firmly establishing the role of disaster risk reduction as a core development strategy.” However, despite starting in the 1990s “decade of DRR” improvement in community disaster resilience is slow. In the US, FEMA indicates that there has been no improvement in 20 years.
This project examined a DRR process on the island of Simeulue in Indonesia which was sustained for 100 years, saving the entire population of 80,000 lives in 2004. The research involved extensive interviews with tsunami survivors in villages around the island. A combination of Grounded Theory and narrative theory analyses revealed a pattern of cultural practices that engendered strong personal commitments to appropriate disaster response behaviours.
The findings indicate a ‘soft power’ strategy where highly influential family and village members sustained a narrative tradition about ‘smong’ – (tsunami in Simeulue’s language). These influential people are not village potentates but rather respected older citizens and especially grandmothers. The narrative is combined with music including lullabies and ‘nandong’ folk songs.
The net effect of these practices is to provoke sustained emotional connection with past disasters and clear risk perceptions of possible future events.
All of this lay hidden ‘under the radar’ and despite the ’Simeulue strategy’ being known to authorities in Indonesia and elsewhere, government risk communications continue with the same ‘top down’ broadcast model. Some alternative approaches derived from Simeulue are suggested.
Effective start/end date1/01/15 → …

Research Output

Cultural drivers of disaster risk reduction behaviour: The case of Pulau Simeulue

Sutton, S. A., Buergelt, P., Paton, D. & Sagala, S., 2018, Disaster risk reduction in Indonesia: Environmental, social and cultural aspects. Paton, D. & Sagala, S. (eds.). Springfield, Ill: Charles C. Thomas Publisher Ltd, p. 167-185 19 p.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

  • Evaluating Resilience in Two Remote Australian Communities

    Morley, P., Russell-Smith, J., Sangha, K. K., Sutton, S. & Sithole, B., 1 Jan 2018, In : Procedia Engineering. 212, p. 1257-1264 8 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalConference article

    Open Access
  • 8 Downloads (Pure)

    True, but trival? The value of grass-roots cultural local stories and songs as effective DRR strategy on Simaleu, Indonesia

    Sutton, S. A., Buergelt, P., Paton, D. & Sagala, S., Oct 2018, p. 94-95. 2 p.

    Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paper presented at Conference (not in Proceedings)

    Open Access