4 Sept 2014

Alpine views on resilience

It was again a great experience to be in Davos and participate in IDRC 2014. High up in the Swiss alps the views were good and so were insights provided into disaster resilience by an again very international group of participants. Margaretha Wallström, Assistant Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction of UN, gave an inspiring plenary on the process towards the upcoming Sendai 2015 conference where the new Disaster Risk Reduction framework will be discussed.

As our research project Public Empowerment Policies for Crisis management (PEP) will deliver a roadmap by the end of 2014, we may also have a modest contribution to this global process, though with a focus on Europe. Nowadays, the latter may make less of a difference than one might think. Disasters are not just a problem of poor countries, although risks are not divided equally, as demonstrated also by statistics presented by prof. Ortwin Renn in the same conference.

A community approach seems a more natural choice in the case of development countries, but its actual application often depends on involvement of NGOs. In western countries taking care of disaster preparedness has been delegated, for a long time already, to specialized rescue organizations. However, nowadays disasters are not seen as events needing primarily the attention of trained first responders, but rather as a longer process involving more actors including also civil society.  

A whole community approach needs different capabilities, including communication among diverse organizations and citizens, in order to enhance resilience on the individual, community and societal level. The legal tasks of response organizations do not include all of this. So where do such responsibilities belong? They seem to be a joint responsibility of various actors with unclear leadership and risk of negligence.  

A broad integrated approach connecting community resilience with e.g. health care and education would fit municipalities well.  However, research shows that local volunteer groups often feel their input is not welcomed by the administration. Municipalities have multiple tasks competing for attention. National authorities delegate more and more tasks to the local level, but the process often coincides with budget cuts. Moreover, Margaretha Wallström stated that it is unclear how activities of national authorities contribute to those of local authorities concerning Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). Activities on all levels, local as well as national, are important to enhance resilience. So are activities by diverse organizations and citizens groups. Recent cases of river flooding showed that citizen initiatives were created faster than authority response.  Activities of all actors are needed, as well as strong facilitation of cooperation. Resilience is a network characteristic, needing evolving cooperation and well-functioning links.

Contribute to the Roadmap of Public Empowerment Policies for Crisis Management by joining the discussion FORUM on www.projectPEP.eu ! We now also have a Crisis communication WIKI for professionals, for you to check out.