Community Resilience: Why It Matters and What We Can Do

By Komino, Takeshi | The Ecumenical Review, October 2014 | Go to article overview

Community Resilience: Why It Matters and What We Can Do


Komino, Takeshi, The Ecumenical Review


Background: Trends in Disasters

The impact of disasters is increasing day by day. These disasters are not only the mega-disasters (the so-called Level 3), but the daily disasters causing the most damage to the world's poorest.

Some of the statistics are summarized in Views from the Frontline (VFL), an action survey by Global Network of CSOs for Disaster Reduction: (1)

* In the last 20 years, natural disasters have affected 64 percent of the world's population (United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction [UNISDR]);

* Economic losses associated with disasters continue to grow each year in all regions (Emergency Disasters Database [EM-DAT]);

* 95 percent of people killed by disasters are from developing countries (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC]);

* Women, children and the elderly disproportionally suffer the greatest disaster losses (UNISDR);

* More than 50 percent of people affected by "natural disasters" live in fragile and conflict-affected countries (Safer World);

* Conflict, insecurity, and fragility affect one in four people on the planet (World Bank)

* The majority of disaster losses are due to small-scale recurrent disasters, primarily associated with weather-related hazards (UNISDR/GNDR VFL);

* There is a continuing gap between national disaster risk reduction (DRR) policies and local-level practices (GNDR VFL 2009/2011/2013).

Rapid urbanization is one key driver of increasing risk. Urban populations are expected to double in Africa and Asia by 2030. This is giving rise to megacities and informal settlements such as slums and shantytowns that house millions of people, often in extreme poverty. Many of these settlements are built on flood plains or are vulnerable to fires starting and spreading quickly. Residents of city slums are also more vulnerable to food supply chain disruption and disease epidemics. (2)

Additionally, as the world's economy grows, more and more countries move from the category of developing country to middle-income country. There is a trend (especially in Asia) that these middle-income countries do not request international assistance to deal with recurrent disasters; rather, they turn to intergovernmental associations, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). ASEAN has in fact made significant progress in this field with the ratification of the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response Programme for 2010-2015 (AADMER), which is the legally binding agreement on disaster management in ASEAN nations. This situation puts pressure on the international humanitarian system to work more closely with these regional bodies, rather than focusing on individual negotiations between the United Nations and its member states.

The Role of Communities and Their Resilience

The international humanitarian system (or architecture) is solely based on requests made by governments. As noted above, for small to mid-scale disasters that the state considers domestic issues that do not require international assistance, the cluster system does not come into play. Therefore, for recurrent small to mid-scale disasters, it is indispensable that local communities be equipped with mitigation, preparedness, and response so that effective counter-disaster measures can take place with the limited resources available. Furthermore, in such contexts, informal gatherings (called informal clusters) may function, replacing the official cluster mechanism. Stakeholders need to know who consists of such an informal cluster, how to get in touch with them, how such mechanisms help at the local level.

The key in such informal groups is, of course, the communities themselves. As Peace Boat Disaster Volunteer Center (PBV) in Japan noted, engaging, empowering, and involving community groups to be more pro-active in all phases of DRR can have a major impact in disaster-stricken and disaster-prone areas. …

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