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Coping capacity

Complementing vulnerability is the capacity of individuals and communities to cope with and recover from disaster.

There is a distinction between capacities and capabilities. People may have capacity but this can only be translated into capability if conditions allow:

…they are not just abilities residing within a person but also the freedoms or opportunities created by a combination of personal abilities and the political, social and economic environment.

(Nussbaum 2011, page 20, quoted in Wisner 2016)

Any assessment of context needs to not only measure vulnerabilities and causes but coping capacities and limitations on capabilities.

Contrary to what many disaster headlines might suggest, most disaster-affected families recover from disaster relying on their own coping capacities and local resources, with little or no external assistance.

The extent to which people are able to respond and recover successfully, drawing on their own coping capacities, is dependent on a number of factors:

  • The governmental, economic, environmental and socio-cultural contexts in which self-recovery takes place. Socio-economic circumstances and levels of community organisation have an effect on access to, and use of, resources.

  • The changing needs and priorities of families and households, the demands of securing a livelihood, psychosocial effects of a disaster, and available skills and knowledge

  • The complexity of decision-making and prioritisation by affected individuals and households influenced by external resources, support and regulations

  • An interdisciplinary approach by actors to interventions that recognise and support rather than undermine community coping capacities and self-recovery

(Twigg et al. 2017)


Twigg et al. (2017) Self-Recovery from Disasters. London: ODI

Wisner, B. (2016) ‘Vulnerability as Concept, Model, Metric, and Tool’ [online]. available from https://oxfordre.com/naturalhazardscience/abstract/10.1093/acrefore/9780199389407.001.0001/acrefore-9780199389407-e-25?rskey=B3jSWh&result=2 [17 March 2020]

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This article is from the free online course:

Community Preparedness, Recovery and Resilience: An Introduction

Coventry University