Menu Close
A bushfire.

Fire, tsunami, pandemic: how to ensure societies learn lessons from disaster – podcast

In this episode of The Conversation Weekly: when catastrophes like a pandemic strike, how do we make sure societies learn – and implement – lessons from disaster? We talk to three researchers coming at this question in different ways.

First, a story from northern Australia about how Indigenous knowledge that can help to prevent natural disasters has been with us for thousands of years.

The savannah landscape of northern Australia is prone to huge, destructive wildfires, which are a significant contribution to the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Indigenous peoples know how to manage fire in the north by lighting smaller fires at particular times of year.

We speak to Kamaljit Sangha, senior ecological economist at the Darwin Centre for Bushfire Research at Charles Darwin University in northern Australia. She’s part of an innovative collaboration that’s scaling up the use of this Indigenous knowledge to reduce large wildfires in the north and tackling climate change at the same time. “It’s led to this innovative carbon economy which is now worth about AU$30 million to AU$40 million (£16 million to £21 million) across the north per year,” Sangha explains.

Read more: Indigenous expertise is reducing bushfires in northern Australia. It's time to consider similar approaches for other disasters

Second, what happens when a country with a long history of preparing for disasters, faces something it didn’t predict.

Located at the site where four seismic plates meet, Japan is a country that’s had its share of disasters, and it’s very good at preparing for them. Elizabeth Maly, associate professor of international research at the Institute of Disaster Science at Japan’s Tohoku University tells us that “Japan is really strong at preparing for a repeating event,” but that “doesn’t translate into flexibility of response or thinking”. Yet, flexibility is what’s needed when facing a complex, completely unpredictable disaster. (Listen from 13m30s)

If you enjoy this podcast, check out our collections of articles on recovering from the pandemic and disasters in ways that makes societies more resilient and able to deal with future challenges.

Third, we focus on how to use the recovery from a disaster like the pandemic as a catalyst for change. Ian Goldin, professor of globalisation and development at the University of Oxford, recently published a book called Rescue about how to use the current crisis to make a better world. He’s optimistic about the future, if both governments and their citizens seize the moment to make real change. “The old orthodoxy has to be permanently thrown out the window, not temporarily,” says Goldin. (Listen from 27m45s)

Read more: COVID-19 has shown that following the same road will lead the world over a precipice

And Julius Maina, east Africa editor at The Conversation in Nairobi, recommends some analysis of this week’s crucial election in Ethiopia. (Listen from 39m20s)

This episode of The Conversation Weekly was produced by Mend Mariwany and Gemma Ware, with sound design by Eloise Stevens. Our theme music is by Neeta Sarl. You can find us on Twitter @TC_Audio, on Instagram at theconversationdotcom. or via email on You can also sign up to The Conversation’s free daily email here.

News clips in this episode are from UN Archive, DW News, Democracy Now, BBC News, CNN, ABC News, CTGN News, WION News, Nippon TV News 24 and NHK World News.

You can listen to The Conversation Weekly via any of the apps listed above, our RSS feed, or find out how else to listen here.

Want to write?

Write an article and join a growing community of more than 148,200 academics and researchers from 4,405 institutions.

Register now