The impact of non governmental organisation disaster response on local communities: Perspectives of responders

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (Medical Science)


School of Medical and Health Sciences

First Advisor

Erin Smith

Second Advisor

Lisa Holmes


Introduction: Recent trends indicate disasters are increasing in frequency globally. Improved mitigation, preparedness and enhanced resilience have reduced the number of people killed by these events, but population growth and distribution, increased population density and urbanisation, and overlapping vulnerability coupled with a changing climate mean that disasters are increasingly affecting more people. Consequently, there is a greater proportion of the global community requiring humanitarian aid following disasters. Key in delivering this aid are non-governmental organisations (NGOs). However, at a time when NGOs should eschew competition and instead focus on cooperation and coordination to achieve better results for the impacted communities, the sheer scale of the NGO community and historical lack of collaboration – and indeed competition – continues to raise serious questions regarding the real impact of their post-disaster activities. The objective of this research was to address this question by exploring disaster responder perspectives regarding NGO impact in post-disaster local communities.

Methods: An explorative qualitative design underpinned by a grounded theory approach was applied. Data were collected through semi-structured, in-depth interviews, which were transcribed verbatim. A thematic analysis was conducted. Eight research participants were recruited using a multimodal recruitment strategy.

Results: Five key themes emerged: (1) “It felt good”: The subjective experience of impact (2)” We did good”: The objective experience of impact (3) “It meant something”: Meaningfulness (4) “It worked”: Appropriateness, and (5) “We left something behind”: Building local capacity.

Discussion: Impact was experienced as both a subjective and objective concept. Consequently, future attempts to measure NGO impact in post-disaster communities should utilise evaluations designed to capture both qualitative and quantitative elements of community experience.

Conclusion: This study has revealed that post disaster evaluations need to include both subjective and objective evidence to be as comprehensive as possible. This should also include the experiences of disaster responders and locals to ensure accuracy and robustness. Including responders’ perceptions in the evaluation process enhances their mental health resilience and better prepares them for future adversity.

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