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The circle of capacities

Video where El Parker describes coping capacities.
Having introduced vulnerability and vulnerabilities we’re now in a position to move on to think about capacities. Vulnerabilities potentially puts us in something of a negative space whereas capacities allows us to think about the positives and the resources that are available to a community. So let’s introduce the model and the model is called The Circle of Capacity. So we
classify resources into six different types: we have natural resources, human resources, physical resources, social resources, economic resources and political resources. All of these resources can be used by the people that live in this location to prepare, cope with and recover from the threats and disasters that may happen in this location. Simply being present doesn’t necessarily mean that the local people can use these resources. We need to know whether the local people have the ability to use them and whether they have access to them. So let’s explore each of these resources in turn.
Natural resources, no surprises we may be looking at energy, fertile soil, plants that grow and natural resources that we can then make use of in order to build and develop things. In order to be able to take, for example a tree and construct a house from that we need to have the knowledge and the skills to be able to do that. So those would be our human resources and as a result of those knowledge and those skills we then are able to construct shelter, use water, build drainage systems, water supply systems in order to harness these natural resources.
And of course, we are social animals and we’ve learnt that by coming together in social networks whether they’re family networks or whether they’re wider social networks we can expand our knowledge and our abilities to be able to make use of these natural and physical resources. That allows us then to generate systems in which we can generate cash and trade whether it’s based on sort of Western views of finance or whether it’s based on more traditional views of wealth through, for example livestock. That’s supposed to be a pig.
And finally, there are political resources now we immediately might think about politicians and elected representatives but at a more local level we might be thinking simply about the local governance systems, a social hierarchy of elders and representatives, some established institution that allows decision-making to happen and some form of leadership often. In a location we have all of these resources, but really what we need in order to be able to make use of them are an ability, so our skills and our knowledge and our access. And these resources ability and access come together to give us our capacity.
And the link here between capacities and vulnerability is that in many cases for many individuals or groups we have barriers in the way and those barriers need to be overcome in order to be able to maximize our capacity.
The circle of capacities can be categorised into political, economic, social, human, physical, and natural resources (Wisner, Gaillard and Kellman 2011).
Watch the video where El Parker describes it in detail.
The environment within which people live provides both constraints, which can be seen as greater vulnerability to hazards, and opportunities to develop capacities to manage hazards.
People may have capacities, knowledge, skills, understanding of the local environment, and traditional technologies, which will enable them to cope when faced with a hazard, but they also need the opportunities to use and build on them or they can remain vulnerable. Coping capacities, and the opportunities to maximise them, bring about ‘capabilities’. External actors can recognise and support capacities in an enabling environment to realise the capabilities of the affected community to manage their vulnerability.

Your task

From your own experience, or from the literature, can you give an example of capacities within a disaster-affected community that were, or were not, fully recognised and supported?


Wisner, B., Gaillard, J.C., and Kelman, I. (2011) ‘The Routledge Handbook of Hazards and Disaster Risk Reduction’ [online]. available from https://www.routledgehandbooks.com/doi/10.4324/9780203844236.ch3 [17 March 2020]
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Community Preparedness, Recovery and Resilience: An Introduction

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