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Is 'build back better' a response to vulnerability? Analysis of the post-tsunami humanitarian interventions in Sri Lanka

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Abstract:

Post-crisis situations represent a high level of very demanding and complex needs. The longer term goal of recovery should address vulnerabilities to future disasters that are likely to occur with increasing frequency and often in the same places. Post-crisis recovery should not be merely a return to the status quo ante but an attainment of a 'new normalcy'. 'Build back better', as advocated by President Bill Jefferson Clinton after the 2004 tsunami, underlines the need for quality in the recovery efforts. In the paper, recovery is interpreted as addressing the root causes of vulnerability and the pre-existing processes and conditions from which they stem. The paper explores how the narrative 'build back better' is perceived by different actors and how these perceptions are manifested in their operational priorities and programmes. An attempt is also made to examine the outcomes. This is discussed in relation to the post-tsunami recovery in Sri Lanka, specifically examining the interventions of selected humanitarian organizations visited during the research. The paper argues that despite the engaging mantra 'build back better', the tsunami response has not lived up to expectations, nor has it significantly altered the existing structural vulnerabilities.

Keywords: build back better; humanitarian response; post-crisis recovery; tsunami; vulnerability

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00291950802712152

Publication date: March 1, 2009

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