Good Practices for Community Resilience.
by Clarissa Ruggieri, FAO, ROME (Italy), based on “Good practices for community resilience”, edited by Barkat Ullah, Farida Shahnaz, Pieter Van Den Ende.
Good Practices for Community Resilience, Practical Action-Bangladesh, 2009.
Applied Participatory Approaches:
- Community Based Disaster Preparedness (CBDP)
- Community Based Disaster Management (CBDM)
- Livelihood-Centred Approaches to Disaster Management
This initiative describes significant achievements in disaster risk reduction made since the World Conference on Disaster Reduction (WCDR) in Kobe, January 2005 and in making progress towards implementing the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005–2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities (HFA). Specifically, the project being implemented in several Unions of Bangladesh, demonstrates that increasing the resilience of poor communities’ livelihoods reduces their vulnerability to disaster risks while contributing to poverty reduction. Evidence of the impact of participatory approaches is used to influence local government officials and policy makers to be more responsive to the needs of the poor. As a project result, district officials indicated their willingness to try to incorporate a livelihoods approach into local development and DRR planning. Other outcomes include strengthened community cohesion, an increased capacity to make informed decisions regarding their well-being and increased self-confidence amongst the poorest and most vulnerable families.
The activities described in this article are part of the Bangladesh component of the project “Mainstreaming livelihood centred approaches to disaster management” funded by the Department for International Development Conflict and Humanitarian Fund (DFID CHF).
Practical Action Bangladesh has been working on reducing vulnerability particularly to disasters, food insecurity and livelihoods as part of its strategy to reduce poverty in Bangladesh since the last decade. The five year multi country project entitled “Mainstreaming Livelihood-centred Approaches to Disaster Management” has been implemented in Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Peru with the active participation of local partners.
In Bangladesh the project focuses on two main components: i) community level activities aimed at reducing the impact of particular hazards by increasing livelihood opportunities, reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience and preparedness; and ii) linking these community-based experiences with local, district and national institutions through advocacy and capacity building in order to influence policy.
The project activities were aimed at the following specific goals: Community based disaster preparedness; Ensuring secure homestead; Ensuring safe drinking water; Facilitating employment generation .
The practical application of a livelihoods approach to risk reduction work can help to identify the extent and nature of the full range of peoples’ livelihood assets and their vulnerability to hazards and other external forces. This makes it possible to identify entry points to protect the assets that are most at risk or most valuable in times of crisis. It gives insights into peoples’ choice of strategies – why they live in fragile and potentially risky situations and how they cope in “normal” circumstances. Activities which strengthen livelihoods and increase resilience will reduce vulnerability.
The project interventions focus on livelihood and preparedness with equal emphasis. In terms of preparedness, the project is mobilizing 6000 households in three project locations with active assistance from 300 community volunteers, 300 youth volunteers, CBOs and various committees. Participatory VCA and Contingency Plan has been completed, and a Community-Based Disaster Management Plan is under process.
The overarching goal of the “Mainstreaming livelihood-centred approaches to disaster management” project is a disaster risks reduction in the target areas (DRR) which contributes towards sustainable development and poverty reduction.
The project area in Bangladesh includes a total of five Unions of Gaibandha Sadar Upazila (Kamarjani Union) under Gaibangha District, Sariakandi Upazila (Sadar and Narchi Unions) under Bogra District and Kazipur Upazila (Sadar and Maizbari Unions) under Sirajganj District. All three Upazilas are in the floodplain and situated on the western bank of the mighty river Jamuna. The project locations are vulnerable to recurrent river flooding and river erosion. A large number of the population and communities settled in project area, are vulnerable to the repeated (almost every year) and frequent (some times twice in a year) flooding and erosion, in addition to their pre-existing economic and social vulnerabilities.
The annual flood means that even those who are able to cope and recover suffer the loss of their few assets, including their crops and their means of earning a living. They struggle to regain control of their livelihoods. The poorest, with few assets, are worst affected, each shock driving them further into poverty.
The Practical Action approach to disaster management is based on experience gained over several years in South Asia, Africa and Peru where it has been convincingly demonstrated that secure and sustainable livelihoods reduce both susceptibility to disasters and poverty. Poor communities have been facilitated to undertake activities which increase their resilience to the impact of hazards while strengthening their livelihood options using local knowledge, capacities and resourcefulness, coupled with innovative and appropriate technologies. Increasing the asset base and the diversity of livelihood options available increases the resilience of the poor.
As poor local communities are worst affected and likely to suffer most from the impact of stresses and hazards, Practical Action has focused on building the resilience of these communities. But community-based approaches tend to be small-scale, location-specific, and operate in isolation to wider national initiatives. They usually fail to be considered in wider development planning with the result that local level environmental, conflict and other hazards are not incorporated into national plans. These community-based approaches need to be scaled up and linked into wider national agendas and institutional structures and not viewed in isolation. While communities may be able to cope under normal circumstances, at times of extreme crisis they need access to external resources and expertise.
The project has two main components:
1. Community level activities which reduce the impact of particular hazards by increasing livelihood opportunities, increasing resilience, reducing vulnerability and promoting preparedness to deal with the hazard and its aftermath.
2. Linking community-based experiences with local, District and National level institutions through exposure, advocacy and capacity building. The impact of community activities are documented and used to promote the adoption of the livelihoods approach to disaster management in Government institutions.
Community level activities
Poor people living in exposed situations are not helpless victims waiting for inevitable disaster to strike. Flooding and erosion are annual on-going events for which people have evolved strategies to cope and recover. Avoiding disaster is part of their livelihood strategy, but all too often their coping strategies are inadequate and their livelihoods are overwhelmed by the strength and severity of the flood or the extent of the erosion. Community based disaster management (CBDM) must therefore take account of how people make their living and must involve the people themselves in identifying the constraints under which they live and the measures which can be implemented to reduce their vulnerability.
Community participation is thus the most important component of the project, ensuring commitment, ownership and sustainability of the activities undertaken. It is vital to ensure “buy-in” from all sections of communities, local authorities and service providers. The implementation of the project in partnership with local NGOs goes some way to ensure that impacts are sustained beyond the life-time of the project and that a reservoir of expertise is locally available.
The situation existing in the target communities was assessed using participatory vulnerability and capacity analysis (VCA or V2R), an analytical tool widely used in development. Communities are facilitated to identify local hazards, their strengths and weaknesses, their assets and deficiencies as well as activities which build on their existing coping strategies, resources and skills, to reduce their exposure to disaster risks while increasing their livelihood security. Based on the VCA findings, local development plans which incorporate risk reduction, increase resilience and the diversity and sustainability of livelihood strategies are formulated.
In all the targeted communities, people have come together voluntarily to form community based organisations (CBOs) who provide a lead for the identification and implementation of local development activities.
Community Based Disaster Preparedness (CBDP): some examples of good practices
Community Based Disaster Preparedness (CBDP) recognizes that people in high risk areas have developed their own coping mechanisms and strategies to reduce the impacts of disasters. It is important to appreciate this local knowledge and to build on it in order to improve local capacities to withstand and respond to the impacts of disasters. The inhabitants of exposed communities are always the first to respond to a disaster. They are usually involved in search and rescue activities as well as providing treatment and relief to their families, friends and neighbours. CBDP seeks to improve these skills through training in preparedness measures, rescue techniques and first aid.
The DRR project of Practical Action focuses on strengthening the capacity of local communities and local government officials (Union Parishad), to cope with hazards through the building of community resilience, while at the same time promoting preparedness planning. Livelihood strengthening and diversification is enhanced through the provision of appropriate technologies and information.
Capacity building and training on DRR issues, including preparedness is provided to Community based organizations (CBOs), community volunteers, school students and teachers, religious leaders and Union and Upazila (sub-district) Disaster Management Committees in all the target areas. 300 community members and 300 youths (school children), half of whom are women, were motivated to volunteer for training on disaster risk reduction strategies at family and community level. Training included search and rescue, first aid and the dissemination of early warning messages.
Specifically, community volunteers conducted courtyard meetings, a kind of community meetings that have been shown to be an effective tool for building a culture of safety; raising awareness and providing appropriate information on how to reduce individual and community vulnerability to locally prevalent disasters. The volunteers also perform social welfare activities with the help of the local administrations, NGOs, Union Disaster Management Committees, educational and religious institutions and other agencies.
Information, education and communication (IEC) materials such as posters, leaflets, brochures, rickshaw tinplates, festoons and bill boards have been produced in Bengali. These convey vital life saving messages on how to prepare for and survive natural hazards. Together with the community risk and resources map, the seasonal calendar, contingency plan and community based disaster preparedness plan developed through the vulnerability and capacity assessment (VCA) with community and stakeholder participation, the knowledge and confidence of communities to respond appropriately to disasters has been enhanced.
The project has facilitated the formation of Community Based Organizations (CBOs) in the targeted communities. The mobilization of communities around disaster preparedness activities has reinforced community cohesion and stressed the value of collective action during times of adversity.
Through exposure to the community based planning process and other project activities, the local government disaster management committees (UDMC) have been motivated to move from focusing on relief to a preparedness approach. Capacity building has resulted in their adoption of a comprehensive DRR plan which includes specific measures including provisions to evacuate the most vulnerable such as children, the elderly, people with disabilities and pregnant women during disasters and the promotion of flood-resistant WATSAN facilities in the flood and erosion-prone river bank areas.
Working at the individual, household and community level, the Practical Action DRR project has demonstrated that reducing the vulnerability of communities to natural disasters by improving their living conditions has increased their resilience. More secure and sustainable livelihood strategies, coupled with preparedness and contingency planning has enabled communities to efficiently manage hazardous situations and recover more quickly. Losses of lives and livelihoods have been reduced.
While the comprehensive control of water-related natural hazards is not entirely possible and vulnerable populations will have to continue to live with the associated disasters which they bring, continuing effort is required in the development of a national disaster management plan that takes account of the needs of exposed rural communities.
Project strengths and outcomes
The strengths of this project, which are highlighted below, had a concrete and positive impact in terms of results achieved. they can be summarized as follows:
- Active participation and cooperation of the local government disaster management committees (UDMC), volunteers, CBO members, WDMC during project implementation.
- Upazila administration is positive to Practical Action activities.
- Project activities are religiously acceptable in the areas.
- Local acceptance of the involved NGOs.
- Easy acceptance of new technology by the community.
- Activities are based on community needs that are identified by the communities themselves.
- Women are specially targeted.
The project outcomes can be summarized within the following three achievements:
- Alternative livelihoods:
Reducing the vulnerability of people and the environment depends on the ability to cope with and respond to adverse and changing circumstances. Many traditional coping strategies are inadequate and unable to cope with extreme events. Innovations are needed to ensure that development is sustainable and resilient to current and future local hazards. To be sustainable, such innovations must be both socially acceptable and build on the capacity and experience of the communities concerned. While the impacts of flooding and erosion cannot be prevented, alternative livelihood options coupled with better preparedness increase community resilience allowing households to “bounce back” quicker when the hazards have passed.The project approach adopted reflects community knowledge and priorities and builds on locally perceived needs and traditional practices. The community has engaged in analysing their own vulnerabilities and capacities in the light of the hazards they are exposed to. New alternative livelihood opportunities, many of which were previously unknown in the area, have been created. The direct beneficiaries of the project who have carried out different livelihood activities promoted by the project believe that many of these activities will continue in future without external support. These include floating gardens, garlic cultivation, nursery production, vegetable gardening, livestock rearing, tailoring, etc.
- Participatory assessment and planning:
The project has designed disaster risk reduction activities based on data and information collected through baseline studies, participatory action plan development (PAPD), vulnerability and capacity assessment (VCA) along with participatory risk assessments of existing livelihood strategies. It has also assessed the needs of different occupational groups and designed capacity enhancement activities based on their existing coping strategies and practices. The project has increased the awareness of communities to the disaster risks they face and increased their capacity to plan for and cope with these risks. Local contingency plans to prepare for, react to and respond to disasters have been prepared and rehearsed by communities.
- Involving local authorities:
Links to local service providers for both development and emergency response have been strengthened. Union Parishad (an elected tier of local government), government officials and departments have participated in all aspects of the planning and implementation of the project. Communities do not exist in isolation. They are dependent on important linkages with local government and local service providers. Without the excellent support and professional advice of these, the project would not have been possible.
If one clear message can be drawn from this project it is that communities living in fragile, hazard prone environments are not helpless victims waiting to be rescued after the impact of floods, droughts or other calamitous events. They are poor, their poverty being reflected in their lack of resources and knowledge. Their livelihood options are extremely limited. Being helped to analyse their particular situation, the hazards they face, and their vulnerabilities and capacities stimulates them to identify opportunities to improve their situation. Given opportunities, their enthusiasm, ingenuity and dedication ensure positive outcomes. Very few beneficiaries selected for training or skill development fail to use their new skills to improve their well being.
Particularly impressive is the level of volunteerism encountered and the strength and commitment of the community-based organisations (CBOs) formed in the target communities. Their role in guiding the development and implementation of community based development plans which incorporate disaster risk reduction and contingency plans encourages cohesion and contributes to the sustainability of community based disaster management (CBDM).
The outcomes achieved by the project and the good practices highlighted may help to stimulate a valuable and productive exchange of ideas and lessons learned and promote the replication and adaptation of some of the practices which have proved successful in this context.