10 June 2018

Finding opportunities for change in disaster

Options Summer 2018: In 2011, an earthquake off the coast of Japan led to a tsunami that decimated the area of Tohoku. Even worse, the event triggered a nuclear disaster from which Japan is still recovering. As is the case in many disasters however, this event created a window of opportunity for positive social and environmental change. 

© yoshi0511 | Shutterstock

© yoshi0511 | Shutterstock

The potential for improvement in the wake of tragedy is known as “building back better”–a phrase that was popularized after the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004. Most simply, it means that when faced with devastation, towns or countries have the opportunity to improve upon the social, civil, and environmental infrastructures that were previously in place.

In a study published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, Junko Mochizuki measured how the area of Tohoku responded to this tragedy. While many people assume that countries build back better after tragedies, very few studies quantify this change. The study found that 30 coastal communities affected by the disaster adopted photovoltaic solar power at a significantly higher rate than the rest of the country.

“Very few studies have empirically investigated the complex dynamics of the post-disaster reconstruction process,” explains Mochizuki, a researcher in the Risk and Resilience Program at IIASA. “Our study sheds light on potential trade-offs between reducing risk and improving other aspects of community in postdisaster reconstruction. Our overall conclusion is that disaster may serve as an opportunity for positive community change when immediate impact is high enough, but not overwhelming.”

Further information

Mochizuki J & Chang S (2017). Disasters as Opportunity for Change: Tsunami Recovery and Energy Transition in Japan. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 21: 331-339.




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Last edited: 18 June 2018

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Junko Mochizuki

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Risk and Resilience

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