Pathways for building resilience: Some lessons based on research in natural resource management

Event: Sustainable Development Transition Forum
Date: 30 October to 1 November 2017

This presentation derives few resilience messages based on the ongoing research in the field of natural resources management at IGES in Japan. Resilience is considered as a unifying concept for stakeholders working in the fields of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. While resilience refers to bouncing back to normalcy without severely impacting the integrity of the system in terms of its long-term wellbeing, approaches differ in the way in which resilience can be obtained. Resilience is achieved either through risk reduction based approaches or through vulnerability reduction based approaches. Both approaches are applicable for achieving the resilience in the social, economic and environmental systems in question. For example, in the risk based approach, the emphasis is on reducing the risk as a function of state of the socio-economic system to reduce impacts of the stress it is being put to. For example, communities that are provided with hazard and risk maps will be able to prepare well in advance and may be able to modify their physical environment so that their resilience is increased for the same level of stress that they were put to when compared to when they were not provided with such tools. In this case, the resilience of the system came from external intervention without having undergone transformative changes in their existing socio-economic conditions. Here, the emphasis appears to be in addressing the hazard and mostly in the physical and infrastructural elements. On the contrary, the vulnerability-based approaches address the underlying causal factors that are predisposing communities to be affected by the stresses such as natural hazards. The vulnerability-based approaches aims at directly addressing the resilience through modifying livelihoods and other social support systems that were otherwise are readily affected by the stresses that communities are facing. Typical examples of such vulnerability-based approaches are microfinance programs that help communities with additional finances along with necessary skills that help diversify livelihoods to an extent that are no longer critically affected by the stress being posed to the communities. It is not the question of which approach is better i.e. whether the risk-based approaches are better or vulnerability-based approaches are better since both these approaches are required in ample to address the diversity of conditions in which resilience can be obtained in the current rapidly changing development contexts and uncertainties. For example, risk-based resilience building approaches may do well when the risk is well known and it can be addressed with a high confidence. On the other hand, vulnerability-based resilience building measures are required when risk is not fully known. In other words, vulnerability-based resilience building measures help provide sufficient room to address uncertainties that societies are increasingly facing. In terms of which approach is efficient, expressed in terms of units of resilience achieved per unit of investment made, there are no concrete studies made but theoretical assumptions could be made that the risk-based resilience building measures could work well in specific contexts while vulnerability-based measures could work in a variety of contexts. In a way, risk-based tools such as insurance may not be able to compensate fully all kinds of losses, for e.g. non-economic loss and damages, while vulnerability reduction-based measures could mitigate even the non-economic loss and damages. For this reason, probably vulnerability reduction-based resilience building measures could have high return per unit investment due to their large spill-over and co-benefits. Nevertheless, there is a need for an ecosystem of such interventions to work in tandem with each other so that there is an ample scope for building experience, continuous learning and improvements in interventions towards sustainable development.