The Sustainability of Humanitarian Aid: The Nicobar Islands as a Case of ‘Complex Disaster'

By virtue of being close to the epicentre, the Nicobar Islands located in the Bay of Bengal was severely affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Overwhelming aid followed, transforming an indigenous community of hunters-and-gatherers and coconut growers into a consumer society in a matter of months. Based on several years of fieldwork, this chapter describes the tsunami and its aftermath, the role of aid organisations, the media and the government in driving the islanders from a self-reliant to an aid dependent society, plagued with social conflicts. We call this a ‘complex disaster’, a situation that has fundamentally challenged the socio-ecological system to reproduce itself, an effect more severe and longer lasting than what the disaster itself had accomplished. In other words, a complex disaster is a consequence of inappropriate interventions following a “simple” disaster, which affects the social system’s ability to regenerate, to govern its own recovery, by interfering with its cultural, economic and political regulation. This in turn effects the environmental relations of the society, and its social metabolism.

Associated space

Trinket Island