Home Research
Finding a faster road to financial recovery after natural disasters

How households manage their finances after a natural disaster points the way to policy planning.

It’s no surprise that when a country, community, or household is hit by a natural disaster, the losses – in terms of life, infrastructure and environment – can be devastating.

And while the responsibility of relief and recovery falls largely to governments, it can be a protracted process that’s paved with complexity.

Deakin PhD student Merve Kucuk (pictured, 2nd left), who is also one of the winners of Deakin’s 2019 Three Minute Thesis competition, is currently undertaking research  into the topic of ‘Household Finance in the Aftermath of a Natural Disaster’.

Through the lens of Australia’s fires and floods

Focusing on Victoria’s 2009 Black Saturday bushfires and the 2011 Queensland floods, Merve says that while there are many paths to post-disaster recovery, one of the core issues is how individual households manage their finances in the aftermath.

‘My research is investigating the effect that these two natural disasters had on household finances. What dynamics were involved? How did post-disaster assistance translate into relief? What changes were there in saving, income and debt levels? Who benefited most from disaster assistance? Answering these questions will enable policymakers a faster, more sustainable and efficient track to recovery.’

Emotionally-connected research

Originally from Turkey, Merve is deeply committed to her research from the experience of growing up in one of the world’s most disaster-prone regions.

‘I know many people, including my extended family, who have endured loss and lost their loved ones to devastating natural disasters. Furthermore, coming from a non-first world country, I have a greater comprehension of the importance of household finance in the recovery process and am convinced of the importance this topic.’

Global benchmark

With a Bachelor of Mathematics and a Master of Economics from Istanbul’s Bogazici University and a Master of Science (Finance) from  the Graduate School of Business in Grenoble, France, Merve is completing her PhD research in DBS’s Department of Economics under the supervision of Professor Mehmet Ulubasoglu.

She believes Australia is the perfect place to base research that could provide a global benchmark.

‘Australia is a great example of having effective disaster recovery procedures in place. Understanding the dynamics in household finance after a disaster can enable policymakers to set the right channels and adequate amounts for post disaster recovery assistance, thereby enabling a faster and more sustainable recovery process,’ she explains.

Working with individual tax data collected by the Australian Taxation Office, she says that so far, this has been the biggest challenge of her research.

‘It took me roughly six months, which is a considerable and quite long amount of time in a three-year program of which only two are dedicated to the research. And the challenge does not end there, because obtaining output from the secure research environment or getting even simple programs or functions installed all take a few days of time at least.’

PhD advice

Merve’s advice for those considering PhD research is to first make sure it’s for the right reasons.

‘Don’t undertake a PhD if it’s simply for the title or job opportunities …  and find a topic that you’re personally or emotionally invested in. Reading in the same field for two years can only be durable and interesting if you like that topic.’

She also supports the notion of ‘self-teaching’ which can be valuable in filling knowledge gaps along the way.

‘It might be the underlying maths, or the reading, or the codes, but if at some stage you fail simply because you don’t know how to do something, dig deeper and find out how to make it work,’ she suggests.

‘For me, although my mathematical background is strong, I can still struggle with translating functions into codes. This can mean days working on something which turns out to be completely wrong but it’s all part of the learning process. If you know how to teach yourself then there is nothing hindering you from producing great research.’