The realities and challenges of strengthening community resilience
The brief review of the national strategies identifies some of the practicalities and realities of implementing high-level strategies at a community level. Let us take a closer look at some of these.
Working with limited resources
For many communities, wherever they may be in the world, one of the key issues is in regard to the expectations and realities of external support.
In recent decades there have been significant improvements in emergency preparedness and disaster management, which has saved many lives. But communities are also experiencing more frequent, intense and, sometimes, unpredictable hazards due to major destabilising influences. This includes the climate crisis and – in areas experiencing conflict – displacement, loss of lives, homes and livelihoods.
This requires many communities, from rural Australia to South Sudan, to be self-sufficient and resilient for prolonged periods of time. Workable strategies to strengthen community resilience are therefore essential.
A criticism of the community resilience concept is that it is a convenient way of transferring the responsibility for risk from government to communities and businesses (Chandler 2014). This may be seen by some communities as offloading responsibility, which may give rise to suspicion and a reluctance to engage. Care must be taken, therefore, for it to be a true collaboration between communities and agencies. In such a situation, trust and confidence-building is crucial.
While many of the stated principles to guide practitioners are laudable, the ability to follow through at a local level are restricted by the resources, staffing and time, for practitioners to actively support communities. To ‘develop trust and overcome barriers to engagement through a consistent but responsive approach’ (Cabinet Office 2016) requires sustained effort over a period of time.
If the approach is turned around such that communities, and individuals in communities, seek support from local emergency responders, then the question is still whether the resources are available to respond adequately, beyond providing literature and signposting to website links.
A poor response to requests can lead to disillusionment which can result in a lack of further motivation. Perhaps one of the most helpful principles for both responders and communities is to ‘work through existing channels, groups and networks’ (Cabinet Office) to make best use of what already exists.
Aligning the perception of need
Another area where there may be differences of perception is aligning community and agency assessment of risks, capabilities, needs and priorities.
What if communities at risk have a very different view of their needs to those of the supporting agencies?
Reconciling such differences is a process that can lead to greater understanding, trust and a collective ability to be prepared and in a better position to respond and recover effectively. This does, however, need skills and attitudes on the part of individuals in communities and in agencies to listen and work with each other.
Finally, we often work in silos. Those agencies that work most closely with the community and are trusted by them are not always the agency tasked with developing resilience to disasters. Since policy themes are separate, funding streams are often segregated – there may be public health, economic development, crime, sustainability and education-themed interventions all going on in a community led by a variety of agencies and working with various community groups, but the strategic system does not allow an integrated community-based approach.
If we are to be truly adaptive and transformational, everyone needs to be prepared to change and sometimes that can be the hardest part.
How might communities be proactive in overcoming the barriers to strengthening their own resilience?
Chandler, D. (2014) ‘Beyond Neoliberalism: Resilience, the New Art of Governing Complexity’. Resilience, 2 (1), 47-63
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