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Disaster governance as the governance of decentralized systems: the case of the 2003 Bam earthquake in Iran

Armita Farzadnia (Department of Disasters and Reconstruction, Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran)
Mahmood Fayazi (The Institute for Disaster Management and Reconstruction, Sichuan University, Chengdu, China)

Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Article publication date: 6 January 2021

Issue publication date: 8 July 2021




This study aims to yield significant insight into decentralized Disaster Governance (DG), explaining the passage from selecting actors and defining actions to determining outcomes in a decentralized process.


We adopt the systems thinking approach to investigate the reconstruction program after the 2003 Bam earthquake in Iran. In-depth interviews are our main source of data that are carefully triangulated with findings from the review of documents and our direct observations.


We detected many shortcomings in this program, among which incomplete decentralization is highly prominent. In the Bam recovery program, tasks were delegated to varied actors based on their capacities without considering potential conflicts of interests and their unbalanced authority to serve their benefits. Meanwhile, the impact of the country's unstable political climate on restricting or liberating actors' influence on the recovery program was overlooked. These split relationships between DG components finally obstructed decentralization by intensifying conflicts of interest, which eventually compromised recovery objectives.

Practical implications

The results reveal the importance of adopting mechanisms to ensure monitoring systems' and governments' neutrality and limit any political influence over the outcomes.


DG concept is relatively new in disaster literature and despite its advancement in the last two decades, many studies still contribute to the epistemology of DG and its assessment methodology. However, the relationship between DG's components remains still obscure. This study tries to bridge this gap and make the concept more practical.



The authors thankfully acknowledge Dr. Akbar H.E. Zargar and Dr. Sharif Motawef for their comments on interviews’ sampling and qualitative data analysis. Thanks, as well to many Iranian disaster‐management scholars and Bam’s earthquake victims who kindly participated in interviews.Funding: This work was partially supported by the Fundamental Research Funds for Central Universities in Sichuan, China.


Farzadnia, A. and Fayazi, M. (2021), "Disaster governance as the governance of decentralized systems: the case of the 2003 Bam earthquake in Iran", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 30 No. 3, pp. 354-368.



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