Investigating Fiji and Nepal, this study serves as a plausibility probe, examining how unexpected change in national disaster risk reduction (DRR) policy regimes was enabled under such adverse circumstances and exploring the appropriateness of theoretical assumptions suggesting aspects that warrant more testing in future. Much of the disaster risk reduction (DRR) scholarship has focused on failures while neglecting positive developments, particularly in developing countries. In part, this bias reflects the adaptation deficit argument, which suggests we should expect the most vulnerable (i.e., developing) countries to struggle with adaptation due to their socio-political characteristics and heavy exposure to natural hazards.
Following an exploratory approach, this qualitative study uses documentary evidence and secondary literature to illuminate how factors such as leadership, diffusion, and ‘focusing events’ enabled change. The study finds that in both cases, large-scale disasters accelerated change; however, Fiji was able to build upon continuity in its political leadership, whereas change in Nepal was contingent on international pressure. The findings bolster the case for the theory of ‘focusing events’, i.e., hazards serving as external shocks opening windows of opportunity, in developing countries. Furthermore, they confirm the importance of continuous commitment and diffusion processes in helping to overcome barriers to adaptation. Thereby, this study refines theoretical assumptions and illustrates the value of studying and learning from success and progress, particularly in the context of developing countries. Finally, the findings of this study underline the need, when analysing the processes of change, to take a closer look at the socio-political contexts – including regime types.