The importance of social ties in the face of natural disasters
With all that is going on on the world's stage at this moment in time, one might be forgiven for missing the environmental crisis that has hit the East Coast of Australia this past month where residents are battling the worst floods in living memory Thousands of homes are now uninhabitable and thousands of families have been displaced, businesses destroyed, and livestock swept away as a result of the unrelenting downpours. There are estimations that the repairs to roads alone will cost over $1billion
Amongst the media images of mass devastation and displacement, there are also uplifting stories and images of communities coming together and helping one another.
At NeighbourlyLab we are, of course, advocates and evangelists for the power of social connection, so we are naturally drawn to these kinds of amazing reactions in the face of adversity for their sheer humanity and kindness...
But what if we were to say that social connection can actually make you more likely to survive a natural disaster like this..?
Findings from research conducted by Dr Daniel Aldrich (Professor of Political Science and expert in disaster recovery in the US) following the Japanese Tsunami in 2011, would suggest that these connections have significant value in survival. In this talk, Dr Aldrich talks about the wide variation in mortality rates along the coast when the tsunami hit and the predictive factors for survival. At first, he assumed it would be the height of the waves. It was, but only partially. He thought it might be the availability of fire and rescue services. It wasn’t at all. It wasn't the wealth or the resources of the different places either. In fact, it was the measures of social capital and social ties that were the best predictors of survival, even more so than the extent of the flooding.
We can only imagine the horror of a disaster that killed more than 18,000 people. But it’s a marvel too that our best shield against the very worst that can happen to us is our connections to each other: humanity’s super power.