Skip to content

Justifying our post-disaster recovery spend

16 February 2017

News and media


In Australia and New Zealand, disaster recovery is a big deal. Since 2009, natural disasters have claimed more than 200 Australian lives, destroyed 2670 houses and damaged a further 7680, and affected the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Australians. We spend many millions of dollars each year on disaster management and recovery efforts – the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquakes alone were estimated to have a financial cost of approximately $15 billion. But in our latest Evidence Base issueProf Roberta Ryan and her colleagues from the University of Technology Sydney argue that we are not getting enough value for our long-term post-disaster recovery spend, because we don’t properly evaluate our efforts.

‘Post-disaster recovery’ commonly refers to the activities that occur after the immediate relief and response to a disaster event. It’s critical to getting community members back to their normal lives.

Prof Ryan and co-authors Liana Wortley and Dr Éidín Ní Shé looked at the evaluations of post-disaster recovery efforts for 84 Australian, New Zealand and international disasters occurring since 1995. The recovery efforts were evaluated for only 35 of these disaster events; the remaining 49 disaster events either did not have an evaluation, or it was not published or made publicly available. Given the huge spend involved, this is already quite concerning.

Most of the evaluations identified were process evaluations. These seek to involve stakeholders in considering how activities or interventions occurred, but don’t look at the actual outcomes of the interventions – i.e., did they have a demonstrable impact on community recovery? The few that considered outcomes were generally conducted by independent researchers or consultancies rather than governments, and still did not convincingly link specific interventions to outcomes. The review identified the Canterbury Wellbeing Index (2014) as an evaluation that did look at outcome indicators, and could provide a useful case study for practitioners designing future evaluations.

The authors advocate for a national post-disaster recovery framework that would provide practitioners with a clear understanding of what post-disaster recovery is and what success looks like. It would provide guidance on timing and methodology, and ensure that practitioners can connect interventions with impacts and outcomes so we can decide whether resources are being properly allocated to support community recovery.

The review is available free of charge on the Evidence Base website.

Based on: Ryan, R., Wortley, L. & Ní Shé, E. (2016) Evaluations of post-disaster recovery: A review of practice materialEvidence Base, 2016(4): 1-33.