International Review of Environmental and Resource Economics > Vol 14 > Issue 4

Defining Build-Back-Better after Disasters with an Example: Sri Lanka's Recovery after the 2004 Tsunami

Ilan Noy, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, , Diana De Alwis, Ministry of Primary Industries, New Zealand, Benno Ferrarini, Asian Development Bank, Philippines, Donghyun Park, Asian Development Bank, Philippines
Suggested Citation
Ilan Noy, Diana De Alwis, Benno Ferrarini and Donghyun Park (2020), "Defining Build-Back-Better after Disasters with an Example: Sri Lanka's Recovery after the 2004 Tsunami", International Review of Environmental and Resource Economics: Vol. 14: No. 4, pp 349-380.

Publication Date: 15 Dec 2020
© 2020 I. Noy, D. De Alwis, B. Ferrarini and D. Park
Environmental Economics,  Political economy,  Public policy,  Climate Change
JEL Codes: Q54
Tsunamilong-runrecoverydisasterbuild-back-betterSri Lanka


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In this article:
1. Introduction 
2. The Typology and Evidence of Post-Disaster Recovery 
3. Sri Lanka after the 2004 Tsunami 
4. A Build-Back-Better Definition 
5. Building Back Safer 
6. Building Back Faster 
7. Building Back, Inclusively, a Fairer Community 
8. Building Back a Social and Economic Potential 
9. Conclusion 
Appendix: A Very Short History of the "Build-Back-Better" Refrain (More details are available in Asian Development Bank, 2019) 


The long-term economic recoveries catastrophic disasters are poorly understood. In contrast, the policy literature is full of aspirational plans to "build-back-better" (BBB) — a recovery that leads to improvements above and beyond the pre-disaster status quo. Yet, BBB remains ill-defined. It is clearly multi-dimensional, but here we focus on assessment of building back a better economy. The central objective of our paper is to propose a more concrete definition of BBB and test it against Sri Lanka's recovery after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. To do so, we propose four criteria against which one should evaluate BBB policies, and then we specifically evaluate these for the recovery as it was experienced in Sri Lanka. These criteria are safety, speed, fairness (inclusiveness), and socio-economic potential.