Natural Disasters and Development: In a Globalizing World

By Mark Pelling | Go to book overview

11

Vulnerability reduction and the community-based approach

A Philippines study

Katrina Allen

Introduction

Globally, there are many regions that, like the Philippines, are subject to frequent extreme events such as typhoons. The occurrence of these events is an integral part of the seasonal cycle for affected communities and their members. In this respect, those affected manage levels of vulnerability according to their priorities and capacities as part of their daily existence. Vulnerability to 'disasters' can only be fully understood and addressed through the consideration of everyday livelihoods and underlying vulnerability (described below). Vulnerability is too closely tied to societal and environmental processes of development and change to be treated as a separate phenomenon in times of crisis (Hewitt 1983; Winchester 1992). Among the contributors to local vulnerability are factors and processes that have far wider resonance and origins. These include market forces and policy trends. Addressing such issues within the context of micro-level projects poses a significant challenge for proponents of community-based approaches.

Before proceeding further I shall clarify my use of the terms: 'vulnerability', 'underlying vulnerability' and 'community'. Vulnerability is defined as a degree of susceptibility to the effects of events or shocks, of processes of change or of a combination of factors, including stresses, which is not sufficiently counterbalanced by capacities to resist negative impacts in the medium to long term, and to maintain levels of overall well-being. Vulnerability is manifested as a limited or lessened ability to cope with potential or actual situations that may arise. In contrast, underlying vulnerability is experienced as a contextual weakness or susceptibility underpinning daily life. The term community is employed to describe residents of the geographically and politically defined unit of the barangay. 1 As is true for any of the social units of which societies are comprised, local communities in the Philippines are subject to high degrees of diversity, both internally and between different community units. This is not to imply that communities are always too diverse to be capable of unified decision-making or action, simply that - like any social unit - communities have their limitations and weaknesses (Midgely 1986; Wade 1986).

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