Will We Ever Truly Measure Resilience?

I try to keep up to date on developments and trends on a variety of international development topics – my ties to the Pacific mean that I spend a significant amount of time exploring ideas and opportunities around climate resilience. So there’s a backlog of articles on the topic bookmarked on my computer. This morning I sat down to go through a few of them and was less than impressed. So much of what is discussed in terms of climate resilience focuses on how advanced government plans and programmes are. In truth, government plans, programmes and financing make a huge difference in the lives of the most vulnerable and in the most climate-vulnerable countries like the Pacific and other LDCs. Good points were made in the article I read this morning, breaking down the essentials, keeping it simple.

The problem, for me, was that it didn’t touch on the human element. Those of us working in international development sometimes forget that – caught up as we are in our own plans and budgets and donor reporting on our capacity building and assessments. As I read through the article I was conscious of the fact that there was not one mention of the human element: implying somehow that climate resilience and DRR are the prerogative and responsibility of the government (national and local) and not of individuals.

In reality, much of what is considered ‘DRR’ and ‘climate change adaptation’ at the household and community level takes place in the absence of government programming. While responses to crises are far from perfect, people generally have a plan on what to do. In fact, over the years, the increasing reliance of households on government interventions has done more harm to community resilience than anything else. In the Pacific, communities have for centuries had strong local traditions in place to prepare for and adapt to crises, but community self-reliance has been undercut by international disaster response. And while the effects of current climate change will be more dramatic than anything humans have experienced to date, necessitating technological responses as well as traditional, it is nonetheless sad that we repeatedly fail to account for what people are already doing to reduce disaster risk and increase resilience to climate change because it’s not part of some official plan or programme.

We cannot measure resilience by policies, plans, programmes and budgets alone. How people and households prepare for a crisis or adapt to climate change will always be at the heart of ‘resilience’. Will it be something we will ever be able to measure, and predict? That is difficult to say, but it is worth underscoring just how critical the ‘human’ variable is in DRR and climate adaptation. Because if we measure it by government readiness alone, we will continually be left asking questions like ‘but the government was so well prepared, what happened?’ or ‘in spite of government weakness, somehow the affected communities have recovered well. How come?’

Bring on the superfluous justifications in either case.

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