Disaster waste management: A systems approach

Charlotte Brown

University of Canterbury, PhD thesis 2012


Depending on their nature and severity, disasters can create large volumes of debris and waste. Waste volumes from a single event can be the equivalent of many times the annual waste generation rate of the affected community. These volumes can overwhelm existing solid waste management facilities and personnel. Mismanagement of disaster waste can affect both the response and long term recovery of a disaster affected area. Previous research into disaster waste management has been either context specific or event specific, making it difficult to transfer lessons from one disaster event to another. The aim of this research is to develop a systems understanding of disaster waste management and in turn develop context- and disaster-transferrable decision-making guidance for emergency and waste managers. To research this complex and multi-disciplinary problem, a multi-hazard, multi-context, multicase study approach was adopted. The research focussed on five major disaster events: 2011 Christchurch earthquake, 2009 Victorian Bushfires, 2009 Samoan tsunami, 2009 L’Aquila earthquake and 2005 Hurricane Katrina. The first stage of the analysis involved the development of a set of ‘disaster & disaster waste’ impact indicators. The indicators demonstrate a method by which disaster managers, planners and researchers can simplify the very large spectra of possible disaster impacts, into some key decision-drivers which will likely influence post-disaster management requirements. The second stage of the research was to develop a set of criteria to represent the desirable environmental, economic, social and recovery effects of a successful disaster waste management system. These criteria were used to assess the effectiveness of the disaster waste management approaches for the case studies. The third stage of the research was the cross-case analysis. Six main elements of disaster waste management systems were identified and analysed. These were: strategic management, funding mechanisms, operational management, environmental and human health risk management, and legislation and regulation. Within each of these system elements, key decision-making guidance (linked to the ‘disaster & disaster waste’ indicators) and management principles were developed. The ‘disaster & disaster waste’ impact indicators, the effects assessment criteria and management principles have all been developed so that they can be practically applied to disaster waste management planning and response in the future.



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