In his 2007 best-seller, The World Without Us, Alan Weisman explored what would happen to the planet if the human race suddenly vanished – the gradual deterioration of the built environment, the geologic fossilization of our everyday stuff, and the ecological processes that would rebound and thrive without continual and growing human pressure. [Video Below]
As climate change upends established patterns of life, resilience – the ability of social and ecological systems to mitigate, endure, and adapt to short-term shocks and long-term stressors – has become a buzzword in development and humanitarian circles. [Video Below]
Disaster Risk Reduction Important to Preserve Development Gains, El Niño May Becoming More Frequent, Powerful›
As climate change threatens more extreme weather, it is becoming more important to incorporate disaster risk reduction into poverty-reduction efforts, writes the Overseas Development Institute in a new report. The authors of The Geography of Poverty, Disasters, and Climate Extremes in 2030 argue that the hard-won gains of development are threatened by vulnerability among the poorest to climate change disasters, especially droughts. “Up to 325 million extremely poor people will be living in the 49 most hazard-prone countries in 2030, the majority in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa,” write Andrew Shepherd et al. Using an index measuring the risk of a nation’s exposure to natural disasters as compared with a nation’s vulnerability to extreme poverty (income less than $1 daily), the report singles out 11 nations at high risk in both categories.
›October 17, 2013 // By Wilson Center Staff
Today approximately 44 percent of the world’s 7.2 billion people are under 24 years old – and 26 percent are under 14. Of those 7.2 billion people, a staggering 82 percent live in less developed regions of the world – primarily sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Currently, the global median age is 29.2 years old, a sharp contrast to Europe, for example, where the median age is 41.
›July 30, 2013 // By Wilson Center Staff
The original version of this article, by Natalia Machuca, appeared on USAID’s Impact blog.
A newly released nationwide health survey of Haiti shows continuing positive trends on key health-care indicators in particular those of Haitian women and children. The latest survey, undertaken by the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population, was conducted in 2012 and compares with the prior survey done in 2006. It shows steady improvements among key indicators despite significant health challenges in Haiti due to the 2010 earthquake and cholera outbreak. Of note were improved indicators for child vaccination and malnutrition, infant and child mortality, women’s health, and contraception use. The report indicated no increase in HIV prevalence, which remained steady.
When Superstorm Sandy slammed into the U.S. East Coast last October, it was the latest in a series of “teachable moments” about our growing vulnerability to climate change.
›Recent history has shown that no country, developed or developing, is immune to the effects of a natural disaster. The catastrophic tsunami that struck Indonesia in 2004, the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck Japan in 2011, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and Hurricane Katrina in the United States in 2005, are all reminders of the deep and long-lasting impacts that disasters can have from the local neighborhood all the way up to the national level. Each of these disasters also garnered international attention and response, showing that globalization is a game-changer in the worldwide response to community or regional-level crises.
And yet, as evidenced by the continued challenges faced by each of the places above, the disaster response community still struggles with how to contribute most effectively to local level recovery. Recognizing this, the Wilson Center’s Comparative Urban Studies Project and Environmental Change and Security Program, and the Fetzer Institute recently brought together an international group of practitioners, policymakers, community leaders, and scholars to identify best practices and policy in disaster response that are based on community engagement. A subsequent publication, After the Disaster: Rebuilding Communities, highlights the complex nature of disaster response and explores ways to overcome the inherent tension between those responding to disasters and the local community.
Voice, Space, Safety, and Time
A key theme that emerged during the workshop was the importance of identifying the strengths of the post-disaster community and building responses based on those. So how can one identify the strengths of a community? In a previous Wilson Center/Fetzer Institute workshop on community resilience, participants emphasized the importance of civil society voice; the creation of space, both physical and political; and the assurance of safety and time.
Not surprisingly, all of these aspects of resilience emerged in the post-disaster response discussion as avenues to access the strengths of a community. Finding and listening to the voices of the community, identifying the physical spaces or “centers of gravity” around which the community operates (often spiritual and cultural activities, or gatherings that bring women together), and providing safe and sustained support for healing, are necessary steps to engage with and meet the needs of communities.
Having a voice means that people “feel that they have some way to participate meaningfully in decisions that are being made about their lives…[that] they have access, points of influence, and conversation,” explained John Paul Lederach, professor of international peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame.
Key to listening to the voices of the local community is acknowledging them as first responders. “An involvement and control of the relief and rehabilitation process empowers communities,” wrote Arif Hasan, founder and chairperson of the Urban Resource Centre in Karachi, Pakistan. “It improves their relationship with each other, makes it more equitable with state organizations, and highlights aspects of injustice and deprivation that have been invisible.”
Technology is playing a growing role in giving local communities voice and helping relief workers to identify those centers of gravity. “Whether in conflict or even post-conflict reconstruction, technology gives us a possibility of having a collective history but also collective memory,” noted Philip Thigo, a program associate at Social Development Network in Nairobi. “I spoke in a conference where communities were able to map what was important for them and bring it to the public domain: This is who we are and what we are saying, therefore you, the government, have to interact with us within this space. In that sense technology begins to enable communities to say we exist.”
Connecting to Community Points of Power
At the same time, new technology isn’t paramount to connecting with a community, and just having the technology is not sufficient. Leonard Doyle, country spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), shared the story of a simple but effective effort to encourage a national conversation in Haiti by enabling “a flow of information between affected communities, humanitarian actors, and local service providers.”
IOM set up more than 140 information booths, complete with suggestion boxes, among the 1,300 camps where more than 1.5 million homeless people were housed after the 2010 earthquake. There was some doubt that the suggestion boxes would attract letters in a country with just a 50 percent literacy rate, but it didn’t take long for the letterboxes to fill up. In just three days, 900 letters were dropped into a booth in one of the poorest communities, Cité Soleil.
“Amid the flotsam of emails and text messages that dominate modern life,” wrote Doyle, “these poignant letters had an authenticity that is hard to ignore….Urgent cases received a quick response; others became part of a ‘crowd-voicing’ effort to listen to those who had been displaced by the earthquake.”
In the end, “the problem is when we NGOs [or other outside bodies] try to create new systems,” observed Thigo. “We do not look at what exists in the community as knowledge. We do not see how to plug our formal thinking into a structure that we may not understand but that we could perhaps simply try to enhance, to provide better services. We think power doesn’t exist in those communities. But there’s a structure of power. It could be leadership that is not necessarily within the formal context that we understand. The fundamental point is: How can we, even during disasters, connect to these points of power?”
Download After the Disaster: Rebuilding Communities from the Wilson Center.
Women and girls living in displacement camps in post-earthquake Haiti are “the most vulnerable of a very vulnerable population,” according to Amanda Klasing, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. Klasing was joined by Leora Ward, technical advisor for women’s protection and empowerment at International Rescue Committee (IRC), and Emily Jacobi, executive director of Digital Democracy, for a November 15 panel discussion at the Wilson Center on gender-based violence in Haiti. “Unless we address the violence – the actual experience of violence that women and girls continue to experience at very high rates in Haiti – we [aren’t] going to be able to create a general environment for women and girls to participate in the rebuilding of their country,” Ward said.
Join the Conversation
- The Year Ahead in Environment and Energy Friday, January 23, 2015
- Scaling the Mountain: Women, Health, and the Environment in Nepal Wednesday, January 7, 2015
- Emerging Priorities for Maternal Health in Nigeria (Abuja and Washington, DC) Friday, December 5, 2014