In the literature on the recovery of societies from natural disasters, a dominant theme is the importance of pursuing and achieving sustainable recovery. Sustainability implies that recovery efforts should aim to (re-) build, maintain, and, if possible, enhance the quality of life of members of the disaster-stricken community in the short and long term. In this paper, we propose a capabilities-based approach to recovery and argue that it provides important theoretical resources for better realizing this ideal of sustainability in practice. From a capabilities-based approach, the societal impact of a disaster is measured in terms of its impact on selected capabilities of individuals within society. Capabilities are constitutive elements of well-being and capture the valuable doings and beings individuals can achieve or become (e.g., being adequately nourished, and being sheltered). A proposed Disaster Impact Index (DII), we argue, can capture the societal impact of a disaster by measuring its impact on the well-being of individuals, as gauged by the changes in individuals' capabilities. We discuss how to measure this impact in practice. Also, a proposed Disaster Recovery Index (DRI) measures the current level of individuals' capabilities. It can provide important information on the degree to which capabilities have been restored and enhanced by comparing the DRI against a benchmark, or level of capabilities attainment, toward which recovery processes should strive. We argue that the DII and DRI provide critical information for policy- and decision-makers to use in order to practically implement the principles of sustainable recovery. Both can be used in the process of predisaster planning for recovery and in the period of recovery itself.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)317-333
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Sustainable Development and Planning
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2008


  • Capabilities
  • Man-made disasters
  • Natural disasters
  • Sustainable recovery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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