For decades government, business and industry have been busy trying to ‘fix’ the problems caused by natural and unnatural disasters. They have been pushing a ‘top down’ model of disaster relief and prevention – but we, and many others working in the disaster resilience space, are now questioning whether this is really the best approach.
Disaster resilience is traditionally a top-down approach
Many of the traditional disaster interventions, such as mandatory evacuation, mass media education campaigns, and the construction of emergency infrastructure at vulnerable locations, have been widely celebrated as having saved lives and reduced property or damage.
However, we argue that this ‘top-down’ approach also creates a resilience crisis in Australia.
The failure to build up communities, cities and local systems creates economic and social costs. It’s time for governments, business and industry to acknowledge that a change in approach is needed.
People and Communities need to be at the centre
Experience has shown time and again that simply building more emergency systems does not necessarily mean we can build people and communities that can better weather and recover from severe disasters.
In the face of rising vulnerability to disasters, people and communities now need to be at the centre of any disaster resilience efforts.
That means focusing on and deeply engaging the individuals in a community, building the community social fabric, providing the community with physical access to resources and enhancing the community’s ability to work together.
What is the role of government in disaster resilience?
The government’s approach to disaster resilience needs to recognise a community’s existing knowledge, skills, structures and networks, and use them to co-design programs and projects.
The government’s role is to help create institutional and organisational arrangements alongside disaster-stricken communities to help them be more open, more resilient and better able to recover after a crisis.
We think that governments need to focus better on community engagement, dynamically collaborate with communities in order to develop plans, and assist the community with developing the skills to deliver the community’s initiatives.
For instance, that can mean providing practical assistance through supplying relevant and appropriate training materials for communities to develop their resilience and offering financial support for the capacity building for communities.
Listen to more views
To find out more about why we believe people and communities need to be the foundations of resilience, listen to our podcast interview with Dr Daniel Aldrich and our podcast interview with Mark Duckworth.