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DFG-Projekt: Surviving the First 72 Hours – Megaurbane Disaster Response in Times of Limited Statehood

Principal investigator: Prof. Dr. Frauke Kraas

Contact person: Dipl.-Geogr. Gerrit Peters

Research partner: Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta/Indonesia

Project duration: 2013 – 2016 

Keywords: megaurban disaster, disaster response, disaster management, flood, self-organization, resilience, governance 

Research discipline: Social- and Urban Geography, Geographical Risk and Development Research, Informality and Governance Research, Disaster Management


Megacities as highly complex anthropogenic systems are prone to a multitude of significant risks. Megaurban risks and their culmination in disaster challenge local governance and disaster management, often to an overpowering degree, particularly during the phases of response and recovery. In megacities of the so called Global South the situation is even more severe, due to the common limitations of local governments’ capacities to effectively prevent, mitigate and respond to disaster. The high density of informal structures and processes in these megacities, which in many fields complement or even substitute the state’s functions entirely, demand for disaster management policies, operating procedures etc. that acknowledge the limited reach of the state and the importance of self-organization in megaurban disaster settings.

State-run disaster response too often sets in with a crucial time delay, if at all. Family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, in other words, the close socio-environment of the individual, becomes a decisive factor in providing emergency response during a disaster. This has been acknowledged and addressed in international strategies and a variety of community-based programs and efforts. However, efforts to develop a distinct theoretical field of megaurban disaster response, based on empirical findings, are scares.

The research aims at a deeper theoretical and practical understanding of self-organization among communities affected by disaster, while asking in a broad sense, what is specific about megaurban disasters and how can megaurban disasters be responded to more efficiently, if the state is constraint or rendered unable to respond promptly? 


The research project “Megaurban Disaster Response in Areas of Limited Statehood” takes an equivalence-functionalist approach, focusing on 1) identifying specific characteristics of megaurban disasters and of disaster response in the megaurban setting, 2) classifying the essential functions of disaster response and such functions that are specific to the megaurban scenario from the perspective of affected communities as well as experts; 3) understanding the ways in which these functions are fulfilled in absence of the state during the first hours and days of disaster; 4) analyzing the local modes of governance and legitimation during such a phase; 5) contrasting the de jure and the de facto response to past disasters in order to identify gaps, adversities and potentials for integrating informal structures and processes of disaster response and state-run response efforts. 


The qualitative approach of this geographic study is highlighted by the methods used: At its center is a set of participatory methods (based on Cause-and-effect Diagram, Process Map, Timeline and Venn-Diagram) and group discussions as well as problem-centered interviews with affected individuals. In addition, expert interviews and workshops with representatives of government, civil society and science as well as private sector institutions are conducted and a comprehensive literature review has been undertaken. Furthermore, local disaster management plans, manuals and standard operating procedures of organizations involved in disaster response in Jakarta have been analyzed. 


The empirical research in Jakarta has been conducted in cooperation with Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta, distributed across two main fieldwork phases: The first phase from March until June, 2014, and the second phase from January until April, 2015. During a third and final visit of the responsible research associate from Cologne the empirical research has been concluded and the second expert workshop has been held at the Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia (LIPI) in Jakarta. 


The research is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).