Building links between disasters and development - the communitys role
The best results in linking preparedness, vulnerability
reduction and development are obtained by involving members of the
communities-at-risk from the start.
The role of the community
Underlying all these development initiatives is the need for
community involvement in mitigation. Ultimately, the victims of disasters and
the beneficiaries of development programs are individuals in local communities
in affected countries. Failing to involve individuals and communities in
designing and implementing programs will cause the programs to be inadequately
conceptualized and less than fully implemented. The best results in linking
preparedness, vulnerability reduction and development are obtained by involving
members of the communities-at-risk from the start.
The uneven results of long term grassroots empowerment schemes
linked with the mandates of international development funding institutions
result in a preference for comparatively large projects, in which interest
groups that lack political and economic power are seldom fully represented.
Governments, too, find it easier to operate from a centralized position, rather
than to have programs with grassroots consultation, especially at the initial
stages. As a result, most disaster related development programs have a top down
approach, with community involvement serving primarily as an aid to
implementation instead of providing input to program planning. However, research
as well as practical experience indicates that individuals are most committed to
implementing programs that they have helped to conceive.
It is important that vulnerable communities receive the
benefit of community development programs before a disaster
Unfortunately, local governments, communities and individuals
rarely have the luxury of uncommitted resources that can be deployed to achieve
disaster related development goals. In poorer communities, which are often
particularly affected by disasters, the problems of day-to-day existence tend to
outweigh prospects of more remote risks. Consequently, outside assistance in the
form of programmatic ideas, capital and technical assistance is usually
necessary to promote such initiatives.
Well designed public education programs can build the necessary
attitudes to create a belief that preparedness is important. Over time,
attitudes can be shaped without extraordinary costs to individuals. For example,
individual farmers can be taught not to breach embankments in a flood prone area
once they realize that their land will flood even if the existing flood waters
are drained into a neighbors fields. However, structural mitigation initiatives
will normally require multiple goals to appeal to individuals. For example,
people will build hazard-resistant structures because they want better houses or
because there is a wage subsidy involved rather than because it will give good
protection from a disaster that may or may not occur.
The best hope for a communitys recovery from or
preparation for a disaster is to have a history of strong organization and well
developed community leadership with experience in mobilizing community members
to coordinate and implement programs. Therefore, it is important that vulnerable
communities receive the benefit of community development programs before a
Nevertheless, even in areas without a strong local history of
organization, the recovery period from a major disaster provides unique
opportunities to build vibrant community organizations. It is well documented
that disaster victims demonstrate natural organizing efforts in response to an
emergency situation. During this period, new leaders emerge and act in ways to
inspire community trust. These new leaders can and often do serve to promote
long term empowerment for their fellow citizens. Response and recovery programs
that build on this emerging leadership can be useful not only for building
mitigation into recovery but for promoting long term community involvement in
Community involvement can be fostered in a variety of ways in
those communities where vulnerability is the greatest. A disaster may impact
more heavily on some sectors of a community than others. For development
purposes, experienced workers feel that mitigation activities should involve
entire communities, not just the direct victims of a previous disaster.
Community involvement, whenever possible, should be fostered by indigenous
groups and organizations. Organizations with pre-existing links to the community
are most likely to be trusted and are usually close enough to the community to
remain involved to monitor implementation. Outside assistance, then, can take
the form of training, research and information sharing, and financing of
Disasters aside, in most cases vulnerability derives from
Q. Provide an example of a successful attempt
to involve potential disaster victims in designing and implementing a prevention
or mitigation program.
Disasters aside, in most cases vulnerability derives from
poverty. Families settle on unstable hillsides because the land is cheap. People
crowd their living spaces because they cant afford other options.
Countries allow hazardous industrial development projects because they fear no
development if they impose restrictions. The overriding goal of development must
be the removal of the social and economic factors which predispose whole
communities, indeed whole countries, to destitution and which place them at risk
from their environment. Disasters multiply and expose the effects of poverty.
Development programming must take account of disasters. This focus and this
module is aptly summarized by Mary Anderson:
Even the most efficiently managed disaster
recovery operation, if it is focused on getting things back to
normal, leaves a society no less vulnerable to natural hazards.
Preparedness/mitigation, on the other hand, produces benefits, in addition to
those that are equivalent to the savings of disaster damage, that are completely
unrealizable through the recovery option. These are the promotion of a stable
environment which provides incentives for investment and entrepreneurial
activity, the potential development of a sense of efficacy on the part of the
broader population, and the development of improved management and planning
skills. Only if these are promoted and strengthened can we expect that
sustainable long-term development can ever be achieved. Thus, disaster
prevention, incorporated into development planning, is one important area for
investment to achieve sustainable
1 Mary Anderson,
Analyzing the costs and benefits of natural disaster responses in the
context of development. Environment Working Paper No. 29. World
Bank. Washington D.C., May, 1990.