How long is recovery. It depends. I know that is not a helpful answer at all. Politicians want answers. Funders want answers. Media wants answers. And the people just want to know what is ahead of them. This brings me back to a post that I wrote a couple of years ago, How long is recovery? where I explored some of these questions, and their complexity.
As I mentioned with the Beyond Bushfires study, we found a significant proportion of people were experiencing serious mental health issues a half a decade after the bushfires. Think about all you have done or achieved in the last decade. Now erase that.
When I was in Iceland a couple of years ago, Arna Hauksdottir from University of Iceland told me about the significant proportion of the population of two small towns that were wiped out by avalanche that were still experiencing PTSD, 16 years after the event.
Ten years after the east coast low in 2007, shops in the Newcastle suburb of Wallsendare empty, and locals link it to the disaster.
We talk about recovery as a noun, Recovery. But its not a pre-millennial music show or any other thing. Its a process.
Two reasons why it’s hard to put a timeline on recovery. We know that no two people experience the same disaster. It’s not a laboratory experiment where we can input standardised variables and observe the reactions. Disasters are the product of their context, and people’s health and well-being, their financial capacity, their safety and security, and ability to access information and turn it into knowledge that is acted upon. Its messy.
The second is that there is no one outcome. You could be in the same financial position, or better than before, but your health is not good. You may have rebuilt your house, but you are not happy in your relationship. Your health might be OK, but you are no longer employed. You might live in a new house, in a new community, but you no longer know the neighbours, and the coffee at the cafe is not as good.
Politicians and journalists focus on the simple rebuilding rates. This comes from the way that we measure disaster impacts. We report on lives and houses lost, the the measure of success becomes restoration of loss.”How many houses have been rebuilt, Minister?”. Goes the line of questioning”Only 10%, that’s outrageous, what are you doing”. The decision to rebuilt is not straightforward. Do I want to stay in the community, do I want the same house or a different one. Can I be bothered o am I ready to go through the whole “designquoteredesignnewplanningstandardsplanningpermitbuildingpermitbuild” process.
This is where we have to move the conversation away from KPIs, and to more subjective measures. If a person rates their life as better than it was six months ago, then that is a positive. If that trajectory continues then that continues to be positive. Our friends across the ditch have been doing this with the Canterbury Wellbeing Index, tracking wellbeing after the earthquakes and measuring it against the national indicators.
I live for the day when the when the journalist asks ” What is the quality of life trend in the community after the disaster” and the answer is strongly positive.