How Resilience-Building Efforts Can Benefit Those Who Need it Most
Local perspectives on disaster risk are essential for resilience measures to be sustainable and effective.
Efforts to strengthen resilience against disasters and climate change have gained momentum in recent years. But, how can we ensure these efforts are benefiting people who need the most?
Take the case of an ADB-supported technical assistance project in communities from 10 villages in Gunungkidul District in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The communities got together with their local governments to lead a village risk-mapping process to identify and prioritize resilience-building measures.
From an outsider perspective, resilience building should have a stronger focus on earthquake risk, especially since the communities have witnessed large-scale destruction of housing and infrastructure in the recent past. But for local residents, the priority is drought – a hazard that is more frequent and has a direct impact on their livelihoods. They recognize the shifting patterns of rain and dry periods in recent years, resulting in frequent crop failures that directly impact their livelihoods.
Worsening water shortages are also an issue, requiring households to buy water for domestic purposes, farming and for tending livestock. This has sharply increased household expenses.
Through the risk-mapping process, villagers prioritized resilience-building strategies that would reduce food and water shortages and protect natural resources while increasing income.
An example is planting acacia on hill slopes. Since the acacia tree is drought-tolerant and helps to stabilize the soil in areas threatened by erosion, the space between the trees is being used to plant ginger and herbs that command a good price in the local market.
Data on vulnerable individuals (women, children, the elderly and disabled), collected by women’s groups are being used to improve the targeting of social protection programs.
In the past, women’s groups were only involved in decision-making on social issues such as health and education. However, the risk mapping process has allowed them to better understand infrastructure and livelihoods-related needs for strengthening resilience. They are able to bring these needs to the local authorities, and thus engage in wider development issues.
Furthermore, the collective understanding of risk allowed the communities to advocate for resilience-building measures to be financed through the village development fund.
This case study highlights a few considerations that are critical for resilience initiatives to have an impact.
First, natural hazards are becoming more frequent and intense with climate change. When communities prioritize resilience-building measures, they usually focus on hazards that have everyday impacts on their lives and livelihoods.
However, natural hazards are only one factor contributing to disaster risk. The other two underlying factors are exposure of people and assets to the natural hazards, and the degree of vulnerability faced by those people and assets.
Both exposure and vulnerability are often shaped at the local level (because of decision-making processes involved in local development). Efforts to enhance resilience therefore require knowledge of the local area such as physical geography, socioeconomic issues, the role of women in the community, and how decisions are made.
Without such local knowledge, efforts to improve resilience will not be sustainable and will not benefit those who need them most.
Second, resilience interventions often look solely at how to avoid potential losses due to damage to infrastructure and assets from disasters.
The assumption here is that everyone in the community has equal access to infrastructure and assets and that they will therefore benefit from resilient infrastructure. That, however, that may not be the case.
More importantly, damage to assets provides a partial picture of the impacts on poor households or communities. It is equally important to understand the impact of disasters on income and wellbeing. This will help us design interventions that achieve development benefits over the short term (through livelihoods), as well as reduce vulnerability in the long term.
The interventions will also be more holistic in nature as they would support different facets of resilience – physical, livelihoods, social, ecosystems, financial, and institutional.
Third, when designing projects to improve the resilience of poor and vulnerable communities, we should not forget that populations living in these communities are not homogenous.
The impacts of disasters may have different effects on different groups and may need different solutions to strengthen resilience.
For example, chronically poor or vulnerable individuals may need more consumption support during lean times to deal the impact of disasters. On the other hand, households that are “transitional” poor may need support during specific times of the year, such as flood season, to diversify their livelihood and acquire new skills so they can adapt to changing hazard patterns. Women have specific needs and may need tailored solutions to strengthen resilience.
Moreover, household level interventions may be called for, whereas in other cases community-level interventions might be more appropriate.
Governments and development partners in Asia-Pacific are systematically assessing disaster risk in the context of project preparation across different sectors.
However, these assessments tend to focus on identifying the potential risks of disasters to the proposed project outputs (roads, water supply, irrigation, school building) and not necessarily the risk faced by the communities in the local areas.
This leads to resilience measures that do not always address the underlying factors contributing to exposure and vulnerability, and do not benefit all those who need more support to deal with climate change and disaster risk.
Moving forward, part of the solution would be to support local risk mapping, at least during preparation of projects that target interventions at household, community, and local government level. Examples include community-driven rural development, upgrading of urban informal settlements, and social protection.
Assessments undertaken through participatory processes will help capture local perspectives on disaster risk and identify underlying factors that contribute to localized risk that can be supported through the project.
Moreover, the benefits of local level assessment go beyond informing project design. They provide opportunities for transformational changes. For example, communities can be empowered to interact with local governments to collectively identify disaster risk, including how that risk is changing over time. They can build consensus on priority interventions for strengthening resilience, and, in many cases take actions by mobilizing local resources.
Resilience-building projects should have mechanisms to ensure that the funds are actually reaching the local level, and that communities have a say on how to spend the money. Deciding for the communities without consulting them, and then expecting the locals to support the arrangement is not sustainable for resilience building.
And that’s not all. Once the communities have had their say, they must have the capacity and skills to implement the resilience initiatives they have prioritized in the risk-mapping process.