Social Support

Social Support

Lean on Me: Social Support Systems in the Face of Calamity

In February 2010, a fire burned down almost 10% of homes in Kaula Bandar. This project documents the toll of that fire – both in terms of property loss and the emotional trauma.  Immediately after the fire, PUKAR researchers Dr. Anita (principal investigator), Kiran, Shrutika, and Tejal (research coordinators), helped distribute aid to all fire affected individuals in the community in the form of grain, clothes, stoves, pots, and pans.  The distribution of these supplies was possible due to generous personal donations from principal investigators Professor Arjun Appadurai (NYU) and Professor David Bloom (HSPH).

While distributing supplies, PUKAR researchers informally observed that formal social support systems inadequately helped particular vulnerable groups in the community.  For example, it appeared that residents who rented their living spaces seemed to receive less support from the government.  At the same time, they noted the crucial importance of informal support systems to the survival of community.  Residents frequently primarily rely on their neighbors for financial and other forms of assistance during disasters and calamities.

Based on these observations, the PUKAR team has designed a research protocol to more formally evaluate the way that social support systems functioned (or failed) immediately after the February 2010 fire in Kaula Bandar.  Kiran, Shrutika, and Tejal will perform approximately 30 interviews with fire-affected Kaula Bandar residents, residents not affected by the fire, and external actors, such as local politicians and NGO leaders involved in the response to the fire.  While some structured interview questions will be asked, the methodology for this study will primarily focus on collecting more in-depth unstructured and semi-structured interviews.

Unexpected accidents, calamities, and disasters are relatively commonplace occurrences in urban slums due to marginal living locations and the inherent instability of housing structures.  By performing an in-depth evaluation of the fire in Kaula Bandar, we hope that this study will highlight the crucial but under-studied issue of calamity in urban slums.  In addition, we expect that this study will highlight the resilience of informal community support systems while highlighting areas where formal government and NGO support systems could improve in the future in addressing the needs of the most vulnerable slum residents.


*** An abstract from this research project was accepted for presentation by PUKAR researcher Kiran Sawant at the 2011 International Conference on Urban Health in Belo Horizonte, Brazil: View Abstract***