Natural Hazards

, Volume 77, Issue 3, pp 1915–1938 | Cite as

What constrained disaster management capacity in the township level of China? Case studies of Wenchuan and Lushan earthquakes

  • Qiang Zhang
  • Qibin Lu
  • Yameng Hu
  • Jocelyn Lau
Original Paper


Mega-disasters appeared in the twenty-first century highlighted the importance of strengthening local disaster management capabilities to cope with risks more effectively. Despite the occurrence of Wenchuan (2008) and Lushan (2013) earthquakes, local capacities in managing disaster in China remained largely unexplored. Given the scant empirical attention given to township level, we focus our study on assessing the disaster management capacities through seven indicators in the affected townships of Wenchuan (2008) and Lushan (2013). After interviewing 32 townships executives, the finding suggests that although substantial progress has been achieved in strengthening the overall disaster management capacity in townships by 2013, pronounced challenges remained. We argue that the restrained disaster management capacity in Chinese townships was attributed to three factors. First, the top-down institutional framework has limited the autonomy of township governments from ensuring disaster-related policy to be executed effectively as it induced a shortage of funds and undermined incentives for officials to enforce policies. Second, the failure of township governments to pursue external collaboration with local and social organizations has impeded the mainstreaming of key disaster management components into local level. Finally, national development strategies, and the by-product of rapid urbanization processes, have caused the lack of human resources that prevented effective mechanisms of disaster preparedness and responses as well as post-disaster reconstruction from developing.


Disaster management capacity Emergency management system Township Wenchuan earthquake Lushan earthquake China 



The authors appreciate the support from China National Social Science Fund for Outstanding Project (#10AGL011) and comments from the anonymous reviewers and their colleague Dr. Karl Johnson.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social Development and Public PolicyBeijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina
  2. 2.Harvard Kennedy SchoolCambridgeUSA

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