Recovery with Dignity

The Recovery with Dignity project aims to understand the experiences of recovery in post-disaster situations across three states in India – Odisha, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala.
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Fishing settlement affected by the 2004 Tsunami and Cyclone Gaja in Akkaraipattai, Nagapattinam (Photo credits: Chandni Singh)


Recovery with Dignity is a two-year-long research project, jointly implemented by the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), Bengaluru, India, and the University of East Anglia (UEA), Norwich, United Kingdom. This project is supported by the British Academy’s Sustainable Development Programme, funded under the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). The project aims to understand the experiences of recovery in post-disaster situations, including how vulnerable populations are represented, across three states in India – Odisha, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala.

The case study sites have a long history of impacts from major disasters, including the 1999 super-cyclone and 2013 Cyclone Phailin in Odisha, the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, and the 2015 Chennai floods in Tamil Nadu. In 2018, Kerala experienced a once in a hundred years floods, where the majority of the state was affected.

These events mobilised multiple forms of humanitarian action, through a range of stakeholders – government, civil society, international aid agencies, the private sector and various citizen groups. Despite several positive steps aimed towards strengthening disaster management, deep structural barriers to achieving a sustainable recovery remain. Central to effective and inclusive recovery processes is how disaster-affected communities are portrayed following the event, and how this shapes the recovery and other support processes that are desirable and implemented. With this in mind, the Recovery with Dignity project aims to cover the evolution of disaster management, with a detailed focus on how the losses, long-term needs, and voices of affected communities are represented through the media, official reporting, and other registers.

The project is committed to a strong element of ‘research for impact’, working directly with affected communities in Kerala towards identifying strategies to strengthen their voice, particularly around their needs and capacities. We do this through qualitative research tools such as interviews, stakeholder mapping, policy review and media analysis as well as creative, art-based approaches such as bottom-up storytelling and community-led exhibitions.

Additional support on this initiative in Kerala and at a national scale is being provided under the associated projects ‘Voices after Disaster’, ‘Bridging Communities and Agencies Post-disaster in Kerala’, and ‘Inclusive and Sustainable Disaster Recovery in India’ (funded via UEA GCRF funds).

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Pictures: Left: A region near Thirunelli, Wayanad, destroyed during a landslide that occurred during the 2018 floods. (Credits: Yashodara Udupa). Right: Houses reconstructed under the Odisha Disaster Recovery Project (ODRP) in Markhandi, Ganjam post cyclone Phailin. (Credits: Zohrab Reys Gamat)


The central objectives of the Recovery with Dignity project are to:

  1. Advance understanding on how, by whom and for what purposes events, recovery processes and experiences have been framed and communicated in the post-disaster phase;
  2. Use this critical understanding to highlight how the dignity, voices, rights and needs of disaster-affected people might be better supported over the long term;
  3. Work directly with communities in India experiencing the aftermath of recent disasters to help strengthen people’s voice in shaping the paths of rehabilitation.

The research elements of the project examine the dominant ways in which affected populations represent themselves and are represented across disasters, and how these relate to existing structural inequalities (including gender, caste, and other dimensions of social difference). It asks how differing narratives of the event, the people affected and the recovery priorities influence the support people receive, their capacities to recover, their rights and access to memorialisation, and more broadly to constrain or enable their agency. These issues have been studied in various sites across Tamil Nadu, Odisha and Kerala.

Case studies and methods

Recovery with Dignity focuses on three states in India: Odisha and Tamil Nadu on the eastern coast, and Kerala on the southwestern coast.

Tamil Nadu

The research in Tamil Nadu is centered around recovery from the 2004 Tsunami, 2015 floods in Chennai and Cyclone Gaja in 2018. These events spurred on different forms of relief and recovery action from the government, international aid agencies, civil society and the private sector. Through a study of these varied stakeholders, various structural inequalities have come to the foreground, hampering long term recovery for affected communities.

The specific lines of enquiry used to analyse the case of Tamil Nadu include:

  • How are disaster events represented by different actors?
  • How are disaster-affected people and their losses spoken about?
  • How do these narratives/perspectives shape recovery interventions and processes?

In order to carry out this analysis, various methods were used in the two sites of Nagapattinam and Chennai. A media analysis of a combination of national, international and regional newspapers was carried out to understand the representation of the events and disaster affected people by the media. Policy analysis of national and state-level policies was conducted to study the evolution of the policies since the 2004 Tsunami, and how the different actors are represented. Fieldwork was also carried out in the two locations, with semi-structured interviews conducted with primary and secondary stakeholders. The research was focused on the different areas predominantly involved in post-disaster recovery, including disaster management, environment, housing, fisheries and agriculture.

Pictures: Fishers in Nagapattinam (left), Right: Resettlement colony in Chennai (right) (Credits: Yashodara Udupa, Teja Malladi)


The research covers three major cyclones that have hit the coast of Odisha in the last 20-years: 1999 Super cyclone, known to have mostly affected Jagatsinghpur district, 2013 Phailin, known to have had most impact on Ganjam district; and most recently 2019 Cyclone Fani (which was added during the course of the research) that predominantly was seen to have affected Puri district.

The research questions outlined above are approached through three dominant modes of recovery-related narratives and framings:

  • Institutional narratives and meaning of recovery;
  • Mediated forms of representation; and
  • Representation by disaster-affected people themselves.

Further, for the purposes of understanding recovery narratives from a sectoral point of view, two sectors are explored in greater detail than others: housing, considering it forms a significant means of recovery in Odisha in the dominant narratives; and aquaculture, as a widespread means of livelihood practised across all the regions of interest. The research also recognises other areas such as environment, less-dominant livelihoods and migration that have not received as much attention through the dominant recovery narratives, and are being entirely overlooked.

Pictures: Aquaculture as a source of livelihoods (left); a cyclone-shelter (right) (Credits: Zohrab Reys Gamat)


The research in Kerala is centered around the massive floods that hit the state in august 2018. The worst impacted districts of Alleppey (low-lying region) and Wayanad (hilly region) were chosen as project sites. The research explores the following questions:

  1. How are disaster events represented by different actors?
  2. How are disaster-affected people and their losses spoken about?
  3. How do these narratives/perspectives shape recovery interventions and processes?

To address these research questions, multiple sources and methods are used, including:

  • Documents and reports on policies and interventions relating to disaster recovery produced by governmental and non-governmental agencies
  • Media sources (newspaper articles and online news reports, from the period September 2018 to June 2019);
  • Key informant interviews (conducted with representatives of government and other agencies at local and state levels);
  • Interviews conducted in communities (with disaster-affected people and with elected community leaders);
  • Group interviews, in which multiple community members had the chance to interact in their discussions.

Work with village residents is designed to analyse people’s perspectives in flood-affected communities on how they view their situation and on how they perceive external actors view it. Specialists within the field teams also worked with disaster-affected people to record video testimonies of their experiences. The research was oriented on various sectors involved in post-disaster recovery, including disaster risk and resilience, housing, environment, fisheries and agriculture.

<em>Pictures: Landslide affected settlement from Wayand (left) and Flood affected tribal settlement from Wayanad (right) (Credit:Yashodara Udupa)</em>

Project events and outputs

Methodology workshop, Bangalore April 2019: A two-day workshop was conducted to explore and discuss methods for data collection, knowledge exchange and engagement with local people in the study sites. The Project team members together discussed creative methods with which community engagement could be done in the project sites. The idea was to help build trust, enrich data collection and strengthen motivation and capacity to engage in community-led activities.

Rapid assessment post Cyclone Fani, Odisha– Post cyclone Fani, a five-day field situation analysis was conducted between 20-24 May 2019. The team visited cyclone affected urban centres such as Bhubaneshwar, Cuttack and Konark and rural areas in the districts of Jagatsinghpur, Ganjam, Khorda and Puri. The analysis was conducted to assess the potential long-term implications of this event and to direct attention towards them apart from the business-as-usual short-term response, relief, and rehabilitation work.

Stakeholder consultation, Kochi, September 2019: The one-day multi stakeholder workshop aimed to examine how the voices, rights and needs of disaster-affected people might be better supported over the long term both in the case study areas and nationwide. It was an opportunity to present initial findings from ongoing research on disaster recovery in Odisha, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala, collectively deliberate on ways to strengthen people’s voices in the recovery process and to co-create themes to take forward for deeper engagement in Kerala. It also focussed on getting feedback on working with communities experiencing the aftermath of recent disasters in Kerala to help strengthen their voice in shaping their paths of recovery.

Tamil Nadu community discussions, October 2019 : Semi-structured group interviews with a participatory tool were conducted in Chennai and Nagapattinam. The groups were differentiated by gender and livelihood (farmers, fishers). Exercises included drawing participants’ representations of disaster recovery and an activity to capture their reflections on how their losses and disaster impacts are portrayed in the media.


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