Resilience and Resilient Community

What is Resilience?

The term ‘resilience’ occurred on the surface of discussion regarding human security and disaster. In everyday usage, John Twigg states that, resilience often mean the same as ‘capacity’ and ‘coping capacity’ [of community, emphasize by the author] (John Twigg, 2007). United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction defines resilience as, “[t]he ability of a system, community or society exposed to hazards to resist, absorb, accommodate to and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner” (United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction as cited by UK Department for International Development, 2011).

While Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change describes resilience as, “[t]he ability of a social or ecological system to absorb disturbances while retaining the same basic structure and ways of functioning, the capacity for self-organization, and the capacity to adapt to stress and change” (Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change as cited by UK Department for International Development, 2011). Similar articulation is also given by The Resilience Alliance in understanding resilience as, “[t]he capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change” The Resilience Alliance (UK Department for International Development, 2011). In my own opinion, resilience related to coping capacity of individual and community to absorb, accommodate, withstand, resist, recover and adapt the changes that occur as result of disaster, hazard, climate change or globalization[1] by their capability and resources.

The idea of resilience is also linked to human security approach to disaster as mentioned above. As noted by Nathan, in term of disaster, human security attempts to place people at the center and provides flexible solutions, adapted (emphasize mine) to local realities such as natural disaster (Nathan, 2004: 5). The idea of adaptation basically also becomes the foundation idea of resilience. To be resilient is the matter of to be adaptive to changes that may occur. Adaptation can has meaning as absorb, learn, accommodate, withstand and resist to the changes, in this term natural disaster. From this viewpoint, the idea of human security and resilience are linked.

On the practical way, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) has adopted a working definition of disaster Resilience as, “the ability of countries, communities and households to manage change, by maintaining or transforming living standards in the face of shocks or stresses – such as earthquakes, drought or violent conflict without compromising their long-term prospects” (The UK Department for International Development, 2011). The UK Department for International Development’s resilient understanding mainly focus on immediate response to the shocks or stresses without compromising the long-term prospect. In this term, resilient means the here and the now. State, communities and households need to be aware the threat potency of change by attempting a better living standards. Likewise as stated by Reid, that “[r]esilience is a useful concept, the proponents of sustainable development argued, precisely because it is not a capacity of states, nor merely of human populations, but a capacity of life itself” (Reid, 2011: 71). The capacity of life itself should be enhanced as well as the living standards.

Similar understanding as stated by John Twigg, resilience approach could be used in a system and community. System or community resilience, as points out by Twigg is: [1] capacity to absorb stress or destructive forces through resistance or adaptation; [2] capacity to manage, or maintain certain basic functions and structures, during disastrous events; [3] capacity to recover or ‘bounce back’ after an event” (Twigg, 2007). Furthermore, Twigg asserts that, focus on resilience means put greater emphasize on what community can do for themselves and how to strengthen their capacities, rather that concentrating vulnerability to disaster or their needs in an emergency (Twigg, 2007). Twigg pays more attention on capability of community itself that they have their own capacity to resist, adapt and cope for the changes, for instance, disaster or natural hazards.[2] Twigg asserts the point on community’s own capacity. Twigg seemingly believe that communities have their own capability to resist on disaster, regardless the external role to help them in an emergency situation.

Therefore, resilient necessarily rely on local community. To build people resilience is to build community resilience. As Roger Wilkins points out on the common characteristic of disaster resilient community as: [1] functioning well while under stress; [2] successful adaptation; [3] self-reliance; and [4] social capacity (Wilkins et. al., 2009). From this viewpoint, Twigg’s understanding of resilient community is seemingly on the similar articulation of Wilkins characteristic of disaster resilient community. It is relied on strengthening community or social capability to withstand and adapt for the changes, in this term, disaster.


“Ganbarou, Ishinomaki!” Carry on, Ishinomaki! A memorial site to strengthen people of Ishinomaki in Miyagi prefecture for the recovery process after earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 (personal collection)


The Resilient Community

Wilkins emphasizes on the importance of social support systems on building resilient communities. Social support systems that need to be involved on building resilient communities are: neighborhoods, family and kinship networks, social cohesion, mutual interest groups, and mutual self-help groups to strengthen functionality of resilient community itself (Wilkins et. al., 2009). Furthermore, Wilkins points out what people should know to be resilient community, as follows; [1] people understand the risks that may affect them and others in their community. They have comprehensive local information about hazards and risks, including who is exposed and who is most vulnerable. They take action to prepare for disasters and are adaptive and flexible to respond appropriately during emergencies; [2] people have taken steps to anticipate disasters and to protect themselves their assets and their livelihoods, including their homes and possessions, cultural heritage and economic capital, therefore minimizing physical, economic and social losses; [3] people work together with local leaders using their knowledge and resources to prepare for and deal with disasters. They use personal and community strengths, and existing community networks and structures; a resilient community is enabled by strong social networks that offer support to individuals and families in a time of crisis, and [4] people work in partnership with emergency services, their local authorities and other relevant organizations before, during and after emergencies.

These relationships ensure community resilience activities are informed by local knowledge, can be undertaken safely, and complement the work of emergency service agencies (Wilkins et al., 2009). As a result, from this viewpoint resilient community might has deep understanding of disaster or hazards risk and includes them in socio-education of risk that may occur to broader members of society. And, as pointed out by Wilkins, the communities also need to work in partnership with local authorities and relevant organization (national board on disaster) before, during and after emergencies time. This partnership is very important since the communities also need to receive comprehensive information about the disaster risk that may affect them. While, the experts assistance is also considered as prominent due to their expertise will enhance the communities’ readiness on facing disaster.

Meanwhile, critique for resilience understanding above is came from Furred as cited by Pupavac, as it is stated that, “[t]he new resilience paradigm tends to replicate the assumptions of the vulnerability paradigm, which involves top-down approaches relying on professional interventions to make people resilient, instead of encouraging communities to act independently and build their resilience” (Furred, 2005 as cited by Pupavac, 2012: 90). In this viewpoint, ‘resilience’ mainly only focused on the capability of individual and community to adapt with changes, nevertheless the role of system that supported people safety or government board on disaster assistance is seen as the second point. From my point of view, both approach; from the bottom or community capability enhancement and from above or government board for disaster or experts assistance must be seen as balance in preparing and to be resilient on disaster. Both, the communities’ capability and preparedness, and the role of government board on disaster and experts are highly important on facing disaster.

In term of Disaster Risk Management (hereafter, DDR), resilience concept also occurs. The main focus of DDR is in reducing risk of disaster that potentially harms the people. Concept of resilience is interwinded by the DDR approach in minimalizing risk of disaster. As can be seen in UNISDR and WMO (World Meteorological Organization) understanding on DDR and resilience as follows, “Disaster Risk Reduction is the concept and practice of reducing disaster risks through systematic efforts to analyze and manage the causal factors of disasters, including through reduced exposure to hazards, lessened vulnerability of people and property, wise management of land and the environment, and improved preparedness for adverse events. Resilience [emphasize mine] is the ability of a system, community or society exposed to hazards to resist, absorb, accommodate to and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner, including through the preservation and restoration of its essential basic structures and functions” (UNISDR WMO, 2009). DDR and resilience are seen as un- separate part in preparedness of community facing disaster and how to resist with it. The disaster risk might be reduced by community’s resiliency.

Likewise, as stated by UNISDR and WMO, the outcome of the Rio+20 Summit, the post-2015 development agenda, climate change negotiations as well as the consultations on the post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction will shape the future on reducing the risks of and building resilience to disasters (UNISDR WMO, 2009: 10). The concept of disaster risk reduction and resilience are actually intertwined. []



[1] One case study on rural China education system that reported by BBC, 12 February 2014 might be very good case studies on resilience regarding to education and globalization. Andreas Schleicher OECD special adviser for education writes an evolving article entitled “Rural China’s tough lessons in resilience”. Schleicher states that, “[e]ducation systems around the world want to make children “resilient”, so that they can persist in a changing world, trying, failing, adapting, learning and evolving”.

[2] In addition, Twigg emphasizes that “[t]he ‘disaster-resilient community’ is an ideal. No community can ever be completely safe from natural and man-made hazards. It may be helpful to think of a disaster-resilient or disaster-resistant community as ‘the safest possible community that we have the knowledge to design and build in a natural hazard context’, minimizing its vulnerability by maximizing the application of DRR measures” (Twigg, 2007). []




BBC. Rural China’s tough lessons in resilience, February 12, 2014, retrieved from on February 12, 2014, 18:00.

Commission on Human Security. (2003). Human Security Now: Final Report of the Commission on Human Security, (New York: Oxford University Press).

Jimba, Masamine, Susan Hubbard, Eriko Sase, Tomoko Suzuki, and Keiko Otsuka. (2011). “Human Security Approaches for Disaster Recovery and Resilience” in International Medical Community Great East Japan EarthquakeA message from Japan IJMAJ, September/October 2011 — Vol. 54, No. 5 339.

Nathan, Fabien. (2004). “Disaster and Human Security”, as a presentation at the Montreal ISA conference, 18th of March 2004.

Pupavac, Vanessa. (2012). “Global Disaster Management and Therapeutic Governance of Communities” in Sörensen, Jens Stilhoff and Fredrik Söderbaum (Eds), “The End of the Development Security Nexus? The Rise of Global Disaster Management” in Development Dialogue no. 58, april 2012.

Twigg, John. (2007). Characteristics of a Disaster-resilient Community: A Guidance Note, retrieved from communitydrrindicators/community_drr_indicators_index.htm on January 27, 2014 at 20:05.

UK Departement for International Development. Defining Disaster Resilience: A DFID Approach Paper, retrieved from…/defining-disaster-resilience-a- dfid-approach-paper on January 27, 2014, 21:00.

UNISDR, WMO. UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda: Disaster Risk and Resilience, retrieved from…/3_disaster_risk_resilience.pdf at January 27th, 2014, 20:00.

Wahlström, Margareta. (2009). “Disaster Risk Reduction, Climate Risk Management and Sustainable Development”, WMO Bulletin 58 (3) – July 2009.

Wilkins, Roger & Margot McCarthy. (2009). “National Strategy for Disaster Resilience: Building our nation’s resilience to disasters”, Coag National Disaster Resilience Statement, released December 7, 2009.

Wisner, Ben, J.C. Gaillard and Klan Kelman (eds). (2012). The Routledge Handbook of Hazards and Disaster Risk Reduction, London & New York: Routledge.


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