The Impact of Natural Disasters on the Social Protection System: Empirical Evidence from the Wenchuan Earthquake

Published on 1 January 2011

The enormous Wenchuan earthquake of 2008 caused great damage not just to the local population, but to the local officials and social protection organisations that were supposed to administer the relief effort and coordinate reconstruction.

This paper explores the impact of the earthquake on the functioning of the social protection system using data from surveys of victims and local officials at Mianyang city, the most severely affected area. The double shock of internal damage and the simultaneous large increase in the demands presented a difficult challenge, which required the deployment of several mechanisms of resilience.

Among the mechanisms identified were flexible leadership structures, high corps solidarity, personal commitment because many officials were victims of the disaster as well, a very concentrated surge in the use of existing resources, a dwell organised central government response that provided both resources and administrative back-up, and a very streamlined and simple structure of early assistance that did not tax the already exhausted administrative resources.

This successful resilient response to the disaster was effective in providing fast relief to the affected population, and the level of satisfaction with the relief effort was relatively high. However, the cost of the burst of effort began to tell several months after the disaster, resulting in relatively high levels of burnout and negative health consequences for overstretched officials, charged with delivering assistance.

Related publication: Social Protection in Asia: Research findings and policy lessons

Publication details

published by
Salazar, M., Wang, X., Hu, X., Lu, Q., Zhang, Q., Zhou, L. and Zhang, X.
CSP Research Report, issue 11


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Programmes and centres
Centre for Social Protection

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