Redistribution through growth
Construction of risk
Climate change adaptation
Environment and sustainability
Climate change adaptation
Environment and sustainability
Disaster risk reduction (DRR)
Roughly from the 1970s onwards, it became increasingly accepted that disasters are a combination of nature’s forces (the hazard event) and (political, social, economic, cultural) vulnerabilities, endogenous to society (Cannon 1994). A disaster in this view can be defined as “the outcome of a physically uncompensated interaction between a natural unleashing event and a social system” (Albala-Bertrand2000, p. 188). This has serious implications for the activities covered by the field of disaster management. Since, if disasters are inevitable, measures could only be directed at preparing people for a possible disaster to come. Hence, along with prevention and response, disaster management now also covers mitigation, adaptation, transformation, and livelihood support.
This trajectory poses problems for humanitarian actors operating within disaster management spheres. As codified in the humanitarian principles, humanitarian action seeks to deliver aid on the basis of need alone. When taken to their logical conclusions, vulnerability and resilience paradigms that acknowledge the human causes of disasters can provide justification for using emergency aid either in a way that reduces disaster risk or in a way that does not increase disaster risk. This argument gained traction in the 1990s following a number of incidents where aid was viewed as leading to dependency and reducing capacity, or contributing to or prolonging conflict, including, most notably, the displacement of populations following the genocide in Rwanda (Storey 1997; Uvin 1998; Macrae and Leader 2001; Eriksson 1996). It is associated with a number of concepts such as ‘new’ humanitarian approaches, among others exemplified by Anderson (1999), who reviewed ‘how aid can support peace – or war’ to argue that aid should be used towards longer-term peace and stability. While some have argued that humanitarian aid should contribute to longer-term positive change and acknowledge and act on the larger web of risk within which it operates, traditional humanitarian approaches suggest that this would risk subsuming needs-based humanitarian action into a political agenda, so threatening humanitarian principles and, consequently, space and access in the process.
2.3 Resilience as the Answer?
As a continuation of the above-mentioned trends, resilience currently tops the agendas of disaster academics and practitioners. Indeed, it has become a common feature in humanitarian and development arenas since the adoption of the 2005–2015 UN Hyogo Framework for Action: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters, a policy framework that sets out a country-level DRR agenda for signatories.
The term resilience stems from the Latin word resilio, which means ‘to bounce back’ (Klein et al. 2004). The Oxford English Dictionary defines resilience as (1) the act of rebounding or springing back and (2) elasticity. It is unclear from where exactly the field of disaster management derived the concept (Manyena 2006), however, in the sciences the notion of resilience is historically believed to originate from applied physics and engineering (Alexander 2013). From this purely mechanical point of view, the resilience of materials refers to the quality of being able to store strain energy and deflect elastically under a load without breaking or being deformed (Boyden and Cooper 2007; Klein et al. 2004). In the 1940s, the study of the concept evolved in the disciplines of psychology and psychiatry and, since the 1970s, the term has been employed in a more metaphorical sense. In this line, resilience refers to structurally enhancing the adaptability and capacity of individuals, communities and/or structures to bounce back, and/or transform and move forward in reaction to adverse conditions following a hazard (Gaillard 2010; Levine et al. 2012; Manyena 2006; Plummer 2011).
In using this broad definition of resilience, it bears the following features. First, echoing DRR thinking that has evolved over the past decades, resilience adopts a holistic understanding of risk and disaster. It views disaster as a combination of a hazard event and risks embedded in local economic, political and social institutions. Resilience approaches seek an integrated assessment, combining different fields of expertise. Activities are increasingly multi-sectoral, with communities bearing responsibility for risk reduction, with help and assistance from (local) governments and stakeholders, meaning the governance of disasters is increasingly organised bottom-up. The latter implies that communities bear ownership, and local stakeholders are expected to jointly contribute to risk reduction. This builds on the assumption that the best possible results are achieved through the pooling of knowledge and experience and the inclusion of all stakeholders, many of whom have different viewpoints and needs (Frerks et al. 2011; Manyena 2006; McEntire et al. 2002).
While a resilience orientation offers a number of promising features, there is a danger that it can become subsumed as a means of maintaining the status quo or furthering coherence discourses. As a means of maintaining the status quo, the concept of ‘bouncing back’ from a disaster can be used to advocate for a return to the previous structural conditions that caused the disaster in the first place; Manyena (2006) suggests resilience should instead be thought of as ‘bouncing forward’, a view that implies building adaptive capacity for positive change. When it comes to enactive positive change, however, the question must be asked: change for whom? Positive change can sometimes be a zero-sum game, meaning that certain actors benefit at the expense of others. From a governance perspective, the potentially contentious nature of this change can be disguised by the vagueness of resilience terminology. Brand and Jax (2007) argue the term is a powerful ‘boundary object’ to foster communication across sciences and disciplines and bring them together towards a common outcome. Similarly, the term might also function as a boundary object for aid actors—including governments and humanitarian organisations—as has occurred with community-based DRR rhetoric (Heijmans 2009), and new humanitarianism that fostered coherence arguments in the 1990s (Macrae and Leader 2001). Indeed, resilience offers a number of benefits but must be used carefully to ensure it does not get politicised in a harmful manner.
The previous approach towards resilience usually refers to the resilience of communities, societies, organisations or systems. A resilience approach which orients the term to support individual agency can offer a counter to the potential of resilience as an excuse for the status quo. Throughout time and place, societies have been fascinated with how individuals overcame adversity and succeeded in life, or human (individual) resilience. Three general ‘waves’ of resilience research can be identified in psychology, social and behavioural sciences, that form the basis of a human perspective to resilience. The first wave included research in the behavioural sciences, which sought to understand and prevent the development of psychopathology (Masten 2011). Studies focused on individual and individually mediated factors associated with positive outcomes. To gain basic descriptive data, scholars focused on fundamental issues of defining and operationalising concepts. Later, the focus shifted when scholars set out to understand process and change, test emerging theories, and develop strategies to actively promote resilience (Masten and Obradovic 2008). The second wave focused on research that emphasised the temporal and relational aspect of positive development under stress (Ungar et al. 2007; Masten 2011). Masten explains that the work attempted to move beyond description and to probe the processes that might account for differences observed in the first wave. Finally, the third and more recent wave of research has taken a more ecological interpretation of resilience, which includes perceiving resilience as an outcome of processes influenced by one’s context and culture. Moreover, researchers began designing and implementing experimental research and more frequently started offering suggestions for practice and policy, with warnings concerning the limited state of the knowledge at any given time (Ungar et al. 2007; Masten 2011). Although resilience research in the field of social and behavioural sciences has been common practice, the focus in relation to natural hazards is limited. Resilience from a human perspective could be helpful for the field of disasters, since it can benefit from the insights gained through previous research. Moreover, it provides a more tangible and applied understanding of the concept. But what does human resilience actually entail?
2.3.1 Human Resilience
Human resilience requires focusing on the extent to which individuals navigate their way through the tensions and stresses caused by adversity. This includes personal capabilities and psychological resources (internal level) as well as wider capitals and resources made available to individuals by their environment (external level). When exploring the concept from an individual perspective, the focus lies on understanding risk and protective factors that moderate outcomes and impacts of hazards on individual people. These moderating factors are variables that strengthen or weaken the effects of stressors on humans (Boyden and Cooper 2007). Risk and protective factors are characterised as internal and external (ecological) in which the first refers to the combination of characteristics that make up an individual, and the second refers to the outcome of environmental factors, which affect an individual’s well-being (Montgomery et al. 2003; Boyden and Cooper 2007). The interplay between the internal and the external factors, according to Boyden and Cooper (2007), is dependent on how each of the factors is transmitted and to what extent the options are accessible. In addition, the effects of adversity are highly influenced by both individual and collective (familial, communal, institutional, etc.) processes and therefore it is important to identify how these different mechanisms correlate and reinforce one another. It is believed that the greater the number of risks humans face (internal and external), the greater their vulnerability.1 On the other hand, Montgomery et al. (2003) explain that human resilience tends to increase with the presence of protective factors that help the individual to cope with misfortune. In other words, the way individuals cope with, and even in some cases respond positively to, adversity is seen as a combination of positive personality traits as well as a supportive environment.
Although the scope of this chapter does not allow for in-depth discussion on possible factors that enable human resilience, research shows that resilience is multifactorial and thus that interventions should focus on multiple factors rather than single ones (de Milliano 2012; Ungar 2008