Analyzing Differences in Flood Resilience between Japan, Indonesia, and Taiwan Using Social Capital Theory

Analyzing Differences in Flood Resilience between Japan, Indonesia, and Taiwan Using Social Capital Theory

Published: 2023.04.11
Accepted: 2023.04.07
International Master Program of Agribusiness National Chung Hsing University, Taiwan
Distinguished Professor
International Master Program of Agriculture, National Chung Hsing University, Taiwan


Resilience in the context of increased flood risks in the face of climate change has risen in importance. Our study sought to cross-compare flooding resilience in Japan, Indonesia, and Taiwan within the context of social capital theory to identify the challenges and success factors for flood resilience among these three countries. Mitigation strategies for flood risk management (FRM) in three island countries—Japan, Indonesia, and Taiwan— were examined to determine the varying effects on community resilience. The three components of resilience—capacity to resist, capacity to absorb and recover, and capacity to adapt—for all three countries were examined, and a SWOT analysis of the results were provided. The results revealed major differences in flood resilience in the three countries. Furthermore, ecosystem functions for disaster risk reduction (Eco-DRR) were recommended as an efficient, low-cost, and innovative solution to many of the challenges to flood resilience, especially in the case of Indonesia. This study is one of the few investigations providing a cross-comparison of resilience for countries in Asia. It provides a novel analysis of climate change adaptation that considers social capital theory as an explanation and Eco-DRR as an innovative solution.

Keywords: Flood-risk mitigation; Flood resilience; Ecosystem functions for disaster reduction; Climate change adaptation; Japan; Indonesia; Social capital theory; Taiwan


Resilience is key to flood risk management (FRM) and refers to a community’s capacity to resist, absorb and recover, and adapt to flooding disasters (Ek et al., 2020). These capacities have become even more important in the face of climate change, which has led to increased global flooding and extreme weather events (UNEP, 2019; Kossin et al., 2020), and are related to climate change adaptation (CCA) success. However, countries differ widely in their resilience levels, which are affected by a variety of factors, including geography, governance strategies, ecosystem functions, and social capital. Cross-country comparisons may help countries learn from each other in terms of improving flood resilience. Our study does a cross-country comparison of flood resilience in three Asian countries and utilizes social capital theory to help explain the differences that exist among them in terms of resilience.

A number of studies have been conducted on resilience in Japan (Fan & Huang, 2020), Indonesia (Buchori et al., 2018; Djalante, 2018), Taiwan (Fan, 2015), and several other Asian countries (Beirne et al., 2021). However, there have been only a few pan-Asian cross-comparisons (Abbas et al., 2016; Shrestha et al., 2014). Moreover, there has been no unified analysis on how social capital and ecosystem functions for disaster risk reduction (Eco-DRR) are incorporated into, or stand to improve, flood resilience strategies. In this study, we provide analyses of the various flood mitigation and flood resilience capacities of the above three countries and explain how social capital theory and consideration of Eco-DRR can help understand and improve these policies.

Linking resilience to flood-risk management and sustainable eco-system management

Resilience over the years has had varying definitions and has gained importance in climate change and flooding risks (Quinlan et al., 2015). The concept was first applied to ecological systems by Holling (1973) and referred to the ability of “natural systems” to absorb change and disturbance while preserving relationships between “state variables” (Alexander, 2013, p. 2711). Later, the theory was extended into the socio-ecological realm to describe the capacity of human communities to withstand and recover from disaster and other disruptive events (European Environment Agency [EEA], 2015). It is also often used in the context of climate change (Solecki et al., 2011; Zimmerman & Farris, 2011). In particular, for flooding disasters, resilience often refers to urban contexts or the ability of cities to recover or absorb flood damage.

Furthermore, in terms of capacity, resilience can be characterized as (1) the ability to resist, (2) the ability to absorb and recover, and (3) the ability to transform and adapt (Ek et al., 2016; Handayani et al., 2019). According to the available research, factors that affect resilience especially in terms of capacity to absorb and recover, include income and minority status, where minorities or poorer communities are likely to have lower resilience (Cutter et al., 2006; Fraser, 2021). Figure 1 provides an illustration of the various components of resilience.

Social capital theory and flood resilience

Social capital can be defined as the social unity and personal investment in a community (Szreter & Woolcock, 2004; Fraser, 2021). Components of social capital include social trust, institutional trust, and social networks (Jones et al., 2012). It is usually characterized into three types, namely bonding, bridging, and linking social capital (Pelling & High, 2005). Bonding social capital refers to tight bonds between people who view themselves as similar to each other and as belonging to the same social group. By contrast, bridging capital refers to different social groups being connected to each other. These are ties commonly found in religious centers such as mosques, temples, churches or civic or voluntary organizations (Hudson et al., 2020). Lastly, linking social capital refers to connections between residents and public officials. In the literature, increasing importance has been placed on the links between social capital and climate change and flooding (Jones & Clark, 2013; Hudson et al., 2020). Social capital has been described as significantly influencing residents’ risk perceptions and trust in institutions. For example, Jones et al. (2012) revealed that there was a direct relationship with lower levels of social capital and higher risk perceptions. Their results suggest that individuals with lower social capital had lower levels of trust in institutions responsible for bolstering community resilience in the face of climate change impacts or in its aftermath. Babcicky and Seebauer (2015) also revealed that strong bonding ties could provide critical support, especially after flooding events.

The role of ECO-DRR

Research has shown that fully intact ecosystems present higher tolerance and resilience to natural disasters, such as flooding. This field of research is known as ecosystem functions for disaster risk reduction (Eco-DRR) (Osawa et al., 2020). Eco-DRR can be described as a method of disaster management where the natural regulatory functions provided by ecosystems (e.g., mangroves, wetlands, and forests) are deliberately exploited or incorporated to prevent or mitigate natural disasters. For example, paddy fields can be used as natural wetlands to inhibit flood occurrence (Osawa et al., 2020) or mangroves could be leveraged to assist in protecting against floods (Menendez et al., 2020). These ecological approaches can be incorporated into flood risk management systems to develop a more sustainable and long-term alternative to flood resilience.



Japan is a modern industrialized country at high risk of flooding and inundation events, which include typhoons, earthquakes, and tsunamis, the most devastating of which in recent times occurred in 2011 and which led to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear disaster (American Nuclear Society [ANS], 2012). The country’s geography and location predispose it to these high flooding risks. It is a series of islands in a region that is prone to typhoons and is also located on the ring of fire. However, the country has put in place a system of flood risk management (FRM) that is relatively advanced in dealing with the challenges of flooding (Nakamura & Llasat, 2017). Japan has a comprehensive system of levees and other anti-flooding structures that protect their urban populations from flooding. The country also considers environmental sustainability for its defence structures (Nakamura et al., 2006; Nakamura & Oki, 2018). For example, Teramura and Shimatani (2021) suggested that the traditional Japanese levee, which is a flood plain open levee presented a number of advantages in terms of both protection against flooding and preserving the environment in addition to its low cost. They also have a system of legislature that facilitates proper evacuation and search and rescue operations, which have significantly reduced the human cost of flooding disasters (Nakamura & Llast, 2017; Furutani & Minami, 2021). The flood-warning system in Japan is also effective. This was demonstrated during the 2002 tsunami disaster, where the casualty rate in Japan was much lower than in Indonesia because of the effective flood-warning system. The FRM policies in Japan include proper urban spatial planning, which means that there are areas within the city that do not allow any residential or business building, and only 10% of Tokyo is at risk of flooding (Fan & Huang, 2020).


Indonesia is a series of islands with unusually high levels of inundation ranging from 2,000‒3,000 mm in lowland regions to 6,000 mm in the mountainous areas (Hapsari & Zenurianto, 2016). In the wake of the major tsunami disaster of 2004, Indonesia has made considerable progress in responding to flooding disasters in terms of post-disaster response. The country has also undertaken a number of engineering projects to provide flood defence and mitigation in major urban cities. These include stream normalization to correct the effects of debris, dredging of certain vital reservoirs, such as Sutami Dam at Brantas River Basin. Furthermore, in the past few years, Jakarta, the current capital city, has seen considerable investments and efforts toward Jakarta’s flood reduction. These include large-scale dredging projects and squatter clearance, pump revitalization, and promoting the construction of 2 million infiltration wells (Hapsari & Zenurianto, 2016). Lastly, the government plans to move the capital to Borneo Island because Jakarta is a “sinking city,” which faces extreme flood risks (Van de Vuurst & Escobar, 2020).

However, there are a number of areas in which Indonesia remains lacking in terms of FRM. For example, its meteorological-hydrological forecasting system relies primarily on real data or long-range forecasting instead of short-range forecasting, which is the most useful for issuing flood warnings (Hapsari & Zenurianto, 2016). Another challenge facing Indonesia relates to the poor spatial planning, which Indonesia is currently attempting to solve by moving its capital to Borneo Island (Van de Vuurst & Escobar, 2020). Deforestation in Indonesia is also related to poor spatial planning, as there is no national plan to designate which forest areas should be reserved for protection, and some research suggest that deforestation for plantation development increases the risk of flooding (Merten et al., 2020). As a result, major coastal cities in Indonesia, such as Semarang, continue to face frequent flooding that persistently disrupts the everyday lives of residents (Harwitasari & van Ast, 2011).

Poverty generally poses a threat to resilience in Indonesia as it is a relatively poor country compared to Taiwan and Japan. However, the case of Aceh’s recovery demonstrates that Indonesia has the potential to improve community resilience despite poverty (Kasim & Nurdin, 2021). Another shortcoming regarding Indonesia relates to the lack of indigenous researchers involved in research regarding flooding risks and resilience. The research has suggested that unlike Taiwan (Chan et al., 2021) and Japan (Shoyama et al., 2021), most of the research conducted on the subject involves foreign researchers (Djalante, 2018). For example, projections of the effects of climate change on the Batanghari River Basin in Sumatra, Indonesia (Yamamoto & Sayama, 2021), was conducted by Japanese scholars.


Taiwan has relatively low risk of flooding disasters, and in the past few years have experienced only a limited number of inundation disasters, the most memorable of which was Typhoon Morakot. In Taiwan, Typhoon Morakot in 2009 raised several questions relating to proactive planning for flood risks, mechanisms to target vulnerable and hard-to-reach groups, and flood insurance or compensation. The disaster in Typhoon Morakot was related to the Water Diversion Project in Kaohsiung County, which led to flooding and mudslides, and it devastated Aboriginal villages located in the nearby areas around the project (Fan, 2015). The government in the aftermath of this controversy was heavily criticized for failing to sufficiently plan ahead to prevent flood risks. The government in the past had already enacted and implemented legislation regarding early warning systems, relocation and compensation for aboriginal communities affected by flood events. However, these systems were severely challenged in the face of Hurricane Morakot.

The relocation and compensation of the aboriginal villagers who were relocated were fraught with issues. In the wake of this controversy, calls have been made for the government to involve aboriginal groups in decision making related to flood governance and to incorporate aspects of vulnerability and sustainability in its approaches (Fan, 2015). Taiwan has also invested heavily in levees and drainage systems in large cities like Taipei; however, these are conventional structures that do not consider ecological contexts (Sui, 2011). Taiwan also has poor spatial planning, especially in a major city such as Taipei (Bosner & Chang, 2020). According to one study, approximately 40% of the city remains at risk of flooding (Sui, 2011; Su, 2017). In addition, despite its very widespread damming system, the country is now faced with the risk of major dam silting (Wang & Kondolf, 2014).

Moreover, the government in Taiwan has published flood risk maps to increase public awareness of flood risks (Hsieh, 2021). The country has an effective system to forecast flood warnings in a timely manner, as well as mitigation-based measures encouraged through national policy or legislation. Figures 2 and 3 provide SWOT analyses of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats regarding FRM for Japan, Indonesia, and Taiwan from the subsequent discussion.

Figure 2 provides a general SWOT analysis, whereas Figure 3 represents an analysis based on specific components of Resilience as depicted in Figure 1.


Social capital has been described as having both positive and negative effects (Jones & Tripidaki, 2012; Babcicky & Seebauer, 2017; Hudson et al., 2020). In the case of bonding capital, close ties that bring a group closer together might improve flood resilience as in the case of Japan, where cooperation after flooding during typhoons leads to positive post-disaster recovery, evacuation, and rebuilding (Triyanti et al., 2017). Bonding capital, in particular, is typically only beneficial for people who belong to the same group; however, individuals who exist outside the group may not benefit from it at all. Japan has often been held up as a positive example for bonding capital (Triyanti et al., 2017; Fraser, 2021), especially strong bonding social capital, which is described as tight bonds between individuals who recognize themselves as being similar to each other (Fraser, 2021). Japan is a highly homogenous society, and strong bonding social capital bonds in such a society are easy to understand and useful in dealing with natural hazards.

However, bonding capital may have negative effects in societies made up of diverse groups, where subsets of individuals are seen as not belonging and may not benefit from social ties. This can be seen in the example of Typhoon Morakot in Taiwan. Most Taiwanese citizens are ethnic Chinese (or Huárén) and make up the overwhelming majority of the population. This is in contrast to aboriginal groups who make up a minority and who have often been described as being marginalized, with lower incomes and lower standards of living (Fan, 2015). The lack of bonding capital between the marginalized aboriginal community and the wider Taiwanese society may be seen as contributing to the shortcomings and challenges observed in the aftermath of Typhoon Morakot.

Indonesia, on the other hand, is a society much larger in population, and diverse in terms of culture, language, religion, and even geography than either Japan or Taiwan. Therefore, it is doubtful that it has similarly high bonding social capital. More useful than bonding social capital for Indonesia would be bridging social capital, which has been described as ties connecting residents from varying social groups (Aldrich & Meyer, 2015; Fraser, 2021). The dominant religion in Indonesia is Islam, and Kasim and Nurdin (2020) have indicated the potential of this religion to serve as social capital in dealing with disasters. It may also represent bridging social capital. For example, Gianisa and Le when they described the religious obligations of Muslims, which involved charity and community work on behalf of all members of the community, including those who were not Muslim. Another aspect of social capital includes linking social capital, which residents with stronger linking ties with their government officials experience better public good delivery, and this is particularly the case after disasters (Fraser, 2021). This relationship means that the local capacity of communities should be strengthened, as local capacity is often based on strong political representation. A community that is properly organized in the form of strong and democratic organizations would rely less on personal ties with government officials and more on linking capital based on representation through organization institutions that interact with government officials (Triyanti et al., 2017). This would help reduce the risk of bias or uneven treatment and ensure more equal and efficient distribution of resources after a disaster. It may also help improve trust in institutions.


In this study, we reviewed the resilience of three selected Asian countries: Japan, Indonesia, and Taiwan. Our analysis revealed that the three countries varied significantly from each other in terms of resilience. Japan stood out as the country that is most advanced in its resilience strategy. Indonesia appeared to be the weakest, which was probably due to the fact that it is a low-income country. However, although Taiwan demonstrated some forward planning and innovative and dynamic solutions, especially in regard to using Eco-DRR and preventive measures such as urban spatial planning were identified.

Nonetheless, we believe that by embracing a number of innovative solutions, some risk management may help reduce flooding risks while overcoming the prohibitive economic costs associated with such management. Research has shown that fully intact ecosystems present higher tolerance and resilience to natural disasters, such as flooding. For example, Osawa et al. (2020) described how paddy fields as natural wetlands could inhibit flood occurrence in Japan. In addition, Menéndez et al. (2020) demonstrated how approaches would go a long way in developing proper FRM in a country such as Indonesia, a developing country where prohibitive infrastructure costs may be an issue.

Indeed, there is burgeoning evidence that such an approach has the potential to be on the social capital differences between groups in Demak, Indonesia, participating in a program to restore mangroves in coastal regions to help combat the effects of flooding. They demonstrated that residents in “mangrove groups” had stronger linking capital than those not organized through such groups, in addition to indicating the social inequity that this bridging capital could lead to, as there was very weak bonding and social capital based organizations . Therefore, local or community-based organizations should be encouraged or formed in such a manner, so as to ensure that they benefit equally from linking capital, which translates to official assistance from the government in relation to flood mitigation.

Eco-DRR has been increasingly recognized as being crucial for sustainable solutions to climate-change related environmental crises (Vicarelli et al., 2023). Eco-DRR initiatives have been implemented in China against erosion (Aviron et al., 2011), in Canada (Buttle, 2011), U.S.A (Kelly et al., 2016), and Europe (Vermaat et al., 2016) against inland flooding, and  globally for protection against coastal hazards and sea-level rise (Narayan et al., 2016). However, the majority of Eco-DRR initiatives appear to be located in Europe, Asia, and North America (Vicarelli et al., 2023). Osawa et al. (2020) explored the advantages of Eco-DRR as a climate change adaption (CCA) strategy. In their Japan-based study, they demonstrated how semi-natural land systems such as rice paddy fields could serve as an effective substitute for natural wetlands to reduce flooding, landslides, and debris flood. Such a solution should be highly recommended for all three countries, but especially for Indonesia, where rapid industrialization of the major cultivated crops in Indonesia and also considering government policies to boost rice production (Rusliyadi et al., 2021), a deliberate policy that seeks to merge or coordinate these dual policy goals—increased paddy rice production and flood mitigation through Eco-DRR—should be pursued.

In addition, the government of Indonesia should also merge its DRR needs with funding for research. As mentioned earlier, it appears that most of the DRR research in Taiwan and Japan are conducted by nationals, which may suggest that most of that research gets immediately translated and implemented into policy that benefits communities. However, in Indonesia, FRM research appears to be dominated by foreign researchers, a disconnect between the research conducted locally and the translating policies that are implemented. Possible solutions to mitigate this problem include strengthening the capacity of the Indonesian academic community to collaborate with international researchers to ensure that Indonesia benefits from research on DRR related to flooding. In addition, the government of Indonesia could fund research initiatives specifically aimed at flood-related DRR and resilience strengthening. In that regard, they could learn from Taiwan, which has a rewards system in place that allows the government to provide continuous funding for researchers whose research is published in peer-reviewed journals (Ho, 2021). Through such a targeted approach, the Indonesian government can ensure that research leads to proper policy implementation. Furthermore, Taiwan should also work on policies that are more inclusive of marginalized groups by including them in the decision-making process. Moreover, Indonesia should also work on strengthening the capacities of local communities, as often, policy implemented top-down from the central government may fail if the local agencies are not empowered to implement this policy, both in terms of capacity and democratic decision making in the formulation of policy.

In the future, more studies should focus on successful and innovative examples of ecological functions for disaster risk reduction and how both developed and developing countries could benefit from this. In addition, social capital theory is a relative consideration of social capital which could be used to strengthen resilience in communities prone to flooding. Lastly, cross-national cooperation among the three countries in terms of conducting and sharing research, and government-to-government cooperation can also be explored.


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