A capability for safety: young people’s recovery after wildfire disaster in portugal

Ribeiro, Ana Sofia (2019). 'A capability for safety: young people’s recovery after wildfire disaster in Portugal' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA 2019, London, UK.



Disasters caused by extreme weather events are increasingly frequent all over the world, impacting negatively families, villages and nature. In Portugal, the 2017 summer brought catastrophic wildfires that killed 112 people (9 under 20 years old) and destructed the industrial and ecological system of the inland region of the country already fragilized due to the exodus of many to the coastal areas and ageing of its remaining population. These occurrences have led to major shifts in civil protection and territorial development policies, focusing the necessity of preparedness for future events and also the recovery needs of these communities. On the other hand, communities themselves have also created their own responses, such as victims’ associations and large-scale donations, expressing a willingness to change through renewed forms of citizenship.


In light of the increased risk caused by climate change,  the Sendai Framework (2015-2030) of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction recommends a more inclusive, bottom up approach for building community resilience, including “vulnerable” groups such as children  and young people as  “agents of change”, who “should be given the space and modalities to contribute to disaster risk reduction, in accordance with legislation, national practice and educational curricula”. Following such recommendation, more research studies are focusing the relation of children and disasters, from impact to role  (Peek, Abramson, Cox, Fothergill, & Tobin, 2018). 


From a sustainability perspective, children’s inclusion is critical, since they will be the most affected in the long term. Moreover, in the case of rural and depopulated areas, listening to young people’s visions can also contribute to enhancing their quality of life in such territories. Rural youth is often deemed invisible in policies and research, fruit of the assumption that globalized culture rendered youth experiences normalized, regardless of their location. However, young people appropriate the global common culture in ways shaped by their values, spaces and the inequalities inherent to it (Butler, 2019; Farrugia & Wood, 2017)


Taking a capability approach (Day, 2017; Nussbaum, 2011)to the subject of disaster recovery, this contribution proposes to elaborate on the capability for safety, considering a young point of view. It is based on the embodied experiences of 20 young people aged between 14- and 22-years old, inhabiting one of the municipalities impacted by large wildfires in the summer of 2017. Using biographical narratives and art-based methodologies (Mandrona & Mitchell, 2018)for data collection, it analyses the influence of conversion factors in their recovery. Institutionally, it will focus youth involvement on local initiatives deemed to create resilience on their communities. Environmentally, the contribution will attend the way access to nature impacts rural youth experience. 

 This is the first installment of research project of 6 years (2018-2024) funded by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology, devoted to amplifying rural and youth voices in post wildfire disaster settings. It builds on two case studies of affected municipalities and uses the capabilities approach as a theoretical lens to explore issues of intergenerational justice and of community resilience in the anthropocene.

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