Guidance Notes on Reducing Risk and Building Community Resilience

Guidance Notes on Reducing Risk and Building Community Resilience


Community vulnerabilities and increased disaster risk are in so many cases a direct result of skewed or inappropriate development practice over the decades. Climate Change is just the latest resultant manifestation of such environmentally exploitative development practices which is leading to a range of new, yet difficult to predict, risk and vulnerability scenarios.  These growing scenarios of extreme vulnerability pose a major threat to the world’s poorest communities.

Against such a backdrop, reducing community vulnerabilities, building resilience and adapting to new potential risks cannot be considered as a mere “add-on” that we do if we have enough resources, but an integral and vital component of development practice that cannot be ignored when considering our aspirations for the sustained increase in the wellbeing of children.  The following paper outlines some of the basics for WV development practitioners when considering risk reduction, adaptation and resilience building.

 1.   How WV Understands the Nature of Risk

In order to build community resilience and reduce risk it is necessary firstly to be clear what we mean when we talk about risk.  Once we have a clear understanding of the nature of risk and how it comes about we can start to look at how to reduce that risk and build up “layers of resilient development practice” through our interventions with vulnerable communities. 

Risk  -  Different communities have different hazards, vulnerabilities and capacities dependent on their context.  The combined and accumulative effect of these three components determines what is traditionally classified as risk.  Determining actual risk and how to address it is however not just a simple scientific calculation; it is a complex matter requiring an understanding of local culture, social / spiritual norms and perception, history, education and personality.  Whilst much risk analysis is backward looking based on the occurrence of previous events, the advent of climate change however requires us to invest far more in analysis of potential future risk scenarios with an emphasis on speculative scenario mapping and adaptation planning.  Below are the standard definitions that accumulate in what we call “risk”:

  • Hazards  -  A hazard is a natural or manmade situation or event which has the potential to adversely impact the lives and livelihoods of communities.  Hazards are generally understood as events such as volcanoes, floods, cyclones, civil conflict or any other kind of event that endangers human life.  They can be single, sequential or combined, in origin and effects. Each hazard is characterized by its location, intensity, frequency and probability. Understanding the nature and likelihood of such hazards is critical to individual and community safety and security.
  • Vulnerabilities  -  The conditions determined by physical, social, economic, and environmental factors or processes, which increase the susceptibility of a community to the impact of hazards. For example, a community’s vulnerability can increase over time as a result of cyclical exposure to hazard events on an annual basis.  Similarly the lack of investment by local government in providing access to clean water in a community can also expose people to risk of water borne disease thus making them more vulnerable.  Another example of vulnerability would be through a lack of investment in business opportunities or financial safety nets whether individual or institutional, thus exposing communities to greater risk in terms of livelihood income.  Both examples have the effect of eroding community resilience and making people more vulnerable to “collapse” in the event of unexpected hazard events.
  • Capacities  -  Individuals, communities and institutions have acquired latent and potential capacities that can be used productively to reduce risk and build up resilience.  The greater the capacity of a community and its people and institutions, the more resilient to risk they become.  As such, the process of strengthening and developing capacities at an individual and institutional level is vital to the sustainability of development interventions within hazard prone communities.

 2.   Disaster Risk Reduction Practice

The conceptual framework of elements considered that minimize vulnerabilities, hazards and risks throughout a society, to avoid (prevention) or limit (mitigation & preparedness) adverse impacts of hazards, while building resilience within the broad context of sustainable development.  In an institutional context, this includes the systematic development & application of policies, strategies and practices that reduce risk before disaster as well as throughout disaster response management.

In its simplest form the practice of Disaster Risk Reduction requires one or a number of the following activities in order to build community resilience:

DRR Component


Sample Community Level Interventions

  1. Reduce Vulnerabilities
  • Build social, economic, natural, physical, political and spiritual resilience through a livelihoods approach.
  • Protect natural environment from degradation
  • Develop micro finance institutions
  • etc.
  1. Mitigate the impact of hazards
  • Early Warning systems
  • Disaster preparedness and response planning
  • Evacuation and planning mechanisms
  • Develop hazard resistant infrastructure
  • etc.
  1. Develop and enhance capacities
  • Strengthen and build community institutions
  • Education of children in good disaster management practice
  • Strengthen coordination with local institutions and government bodies.
  • etc.

 3.   What is WV’s definition of Resilience?

The capacity of a system, community or society potentially exposed to hazards to adapt, by changing or resisting in order to reach and maintain an acceptable level of functioning and structure. World Vision adds that resilience is also the capacity of a community to grow through disasters, or “bounce-back plus”.  Resilience is determined in part by the degree to which the social system is capable of organizing itself to increase its capacity for learning from past disasters for better future protection and to improve risk reduction measures. 

 4.   What is WV trying to achieve through reducing risk and building community resilience?

The overarching aim is to build household and community resilience through the reduction of underlying risk factors such that development gains are not lost but enhanced thus ensuring a sustained improvement in child wellbeing.

Effective risk reduction interventions will enable a vulnerable or hazard prone community to:

  • Understand the nature and potential impact of the vulnerabilities and hazards they face.
  • Identify and build the individual and institutional capacities they need to prepare for response to potential future crises. 
  • Develop appropriate adaptive strategies and capacities to address potential future climate change impacts.
  • Identify and engage the duty bearers and or service providers who can support effective risk reduction and adaptation planning.
  • Carry out development activities that reduce underlying risks, and mitigate the negative impact of crises such that their lives and livelihoods are minimally disrupted in any future disaster events that occur.
  • Understand the underlying vulnerabilities that have the potential to erode development gains.
  • Carry out development activities that mitigate the underlying vulnerabilities with the objective to build stronger financial, natural, physical, human, political, social and spiritual resilience.

 5.    What do we mean when we talk about DRR mainstreaming?

Mainstreaming at a programme design / implementation level has three purposes:

  • To make certain that all the development programmes and projects are designed with evident consideration for potential disaster risks and to resist hazard impact.
  • To make certain that all the development programmes and projects do not inadvertently increase vulnerability to disaster in all sectors: social, physical, economic and environment.
  • To make certain that all the disaster relief and rehabilitation programmes and projects are designed to contribute to developmental aims and to reduce future disaster risk[1].

 Mainstreaming at an organisational level has 6 key components

  1. Policy integration and formation
  2. Strategy development and implementation at GC, RO, SO and NO levels
  3. Geographical planning and resource allocation
  4. Project Cycle Management and IPM integration
  5. External Relations, partnership and policy influence
  6. Institutional Capacity at all levels but primarily at Community, NO and RO levels

 6.   What does a resilient community look like?

The following table is taken from a publication[2] that identifys the characteristics of a resilient comunity in line with the 5 thematic priorities of the Hyogo Framework for Action.  The table outlines the five thematic areas and the main components of resilience.For further detail on the specific components of resilience please refer to this publication referenced below.

 7.   What are the similarities and differences between Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation?

Adaptation and DRR have much in common.  Both aim to reduce the impacts of shocks by anticipating risks and addressing vulnerabilities.  Indeed, the majority of climate change impacts will materialise through climate variability (e.g. especially wet rainy season) and extreme weather events (e.g. heavy rainfall events).  Climate change is shifting the frequency and intensity of hazards, such as heavy rainfall, droughts, high sea levels, and possibly cyclones, with direct implications for disaster risk.  However, while reducing the risk of weather extremes is a substantial component of managing climate risk and of the overlap between DRR and adaptation (see figure 1), DRR does not equal adaptation, and effective disaster risk management in a changing climate is more than business as usual.


Figure 1: Overlap between DRR and Climate Change Adaptation

As illustrated in figure 1, the main overlap between the two is the management of hydro-meteorological hazards, where DRR needs to take account of changing hazards, and adaptation needs to build resilience to their impacts. Two key distinctions are that: (A) DRR tackles the risks of geophysical hazards (like volcanoes and earthquakes), whereas adaptation does not. (B) Adaptation also considers the long-term adjustment to changes in mean climatic condition, including the opportunities that this can provide, whereas DRR is predominantly interested in extremes. Table 1 further examines the differences between DRR and adaptation and considers whether there are any signs of convergence where difference is seen.

Table 1: Conceptual and Practical Differences between DRR and adaptation modified from Tearfund/IDS (2008) Linking Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction.

 8.   How does Disaster Risk Reduction & Community Resilience fit within WV’s Dimensions of Disaster Management?

World Vision’s understanding of disaster management is that it has six dimensions.  We refer to these dimensions as: Early Warning, Preparedness, Mitigation, Response, Recovery and Transition. 

It is understood that these dimensions, although defined by their own distinctiveness or definitions do not always, or even generally, occur in isolation or in precise order.  Often phases of the cycle overlap and the length of each phase greatly depends on the severity, frequency and/or complexity of the disaster.  Critically, Disaster Management is always underscored by risk reduction and can be clustered under the following goals

  1. Reduce, or avoid, losses from hazards (early warning, preparedness, mitigation)
  2. Assure prompt and appropriate assistance to those affected (response)
  3. Achieve rapid and effective recovery
  4. Manage effective transition

 WV’s approach to Disaster Management covers all operational approaches from large scale preparedness and response to more community level disaster mitigation activities.  There is however a need to identify the components of Disaster Risk Reduction as a specific discipline.   Building community resilience through reducing disaster risk is predominantly carried out in two areas of the DM dimensions:

  1. As an integral part of long-term development activity that falls into the early warning, mitigation and preparedness dimensions of DM. 
  2. During the post disaster recovery period where there is greater awareness and understanding of the impact of crises.  Crises frequently bring about openness to changed practice both at a community and governmental level.  As such, recovery operations should be designed to rebuild the social, financial, natural and physical infrastructure in a way that makes them more resilient to future shocks

[1] Tearfund – Mainstreaming DRR: A tool for development organizations

[2] Twigg J, Aug 2007: Characteristics of a Disaster Resilient Community - A Guidance Note,  published for the DFID Disaster Risk Reduction Interagency Coordination Group