Why Disaster Subcultures Matter: A Tale of Two Communities: How and Why the 2007 Western Solomon Islands Tsunami Disaster Led to Different Outcomes for Two Ghizo Communities

Hagen, Kim; Petterson, Michael G.; Humphreys, David and Clark, Nigel (2021). Why Disaster Subcultures Matter: A Tale of Two Communities: How and Why the 2007 Western Solomon Islands Tsunami Disaster Led to Different Outcomes for Two Ghizo Communities. Geosciences, 11(9), article no. 387.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/geosciences11090387

Abstract

At 07:45 a.m. on 2 April 2007, a tsunami hit Ghizo Island, western Solomon Islands in the south-west Pacific. Thirty-three people died on Ghizo, of whom 31 originated from a relatively small migrant Gilbertese community (transmigrated in the 1950s–1970s from Kiribati), while only two were from the majority Melanesian community. This paper documents an extensive 4-year study that addresses the potential core reasons for this asymmetrical casual impact. Community-participatory social science research was undertaken in two Gilbertese villages and two Melanesian villages. The four villages had similar spatial vulnerabilities due to their coastal location, although they had variable access to the safer higher ground. Gilbertese villages had less diverse ocean-reliant livelihoods, a limited knowledge of hinterland bush resource utilisation, uncertainties regarding land rights, and perceived ethnic discrimination. Melanesian villages had strong wantok and kastom social reciprocity cultures, a diverse set of livelihoods, wider social capital with other Melanesian communities, and greater security regarding land rights. This paper argues that these key factors—linked to the lower status as a migrant community of the Gilbertese, a limited sharing of knowledge between communities, government blind spots and power hierarchies—explain both the disproportionate impacts of the disaster and issues that impact longer-term aid intervention and social cohesion.

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