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Asian Development Bank

Chapter 6 Communities and participation

Sustainability and external inputs

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There are many striking success stories of sustainable DRR projects (for example, see Case Study 6.6: Sustaining livelihoods against environmental change), but the challenges in making projects sustainable should not be underestimated. Successful initiatives adapt repeatedly over time to maximise their outreach and effectiveness and respond to changing circumstances. However, many DRR projects at community level never progress beyond the pilot or demonstration phase. Short-term projects that focus on immediate outputs provide poor foundations for long-term outcomes. Exit strategies are rarely discussed in agency reports, but in some cases they appear to be abrupt, premature and driven largely by donor timeframes. Ideally, a viable exit strategy should be developed at the start of a project, in discussion with other stakeholders, particularly communities (who are often not informed about what is planned). The exit strategy should plan for the security and sustainability of project progress towards its goals. Where initiatives are handed over to local organisations and communities, which is common, there must be sufficient local ownership, commitment and capacity (knowledge, skills and human, organisational and financial resources) to keep the work going.+A. Gardner , K. Greenblott and E. Joubert, What We Know about Exit Strategies: Practical Guidance for Developing Exit Strategies in the Field, Consortium for Southern Africa Food Security Emergency (C-SAFE) regional learning spaces initiative, 2005,

The level and nature of external inputs will change over time, but the need for such inputs may not go away. The Cyclone Preparedness Programme in Bangladesh may be based on a volunteer army, but depends equally on ongoing government and donor funding for its professional staff, equipment, construction of shelters and other operational costs. Obtaining such government commitment to develop and maintain initiatives may present a major challenge. The Chivi Food Security Project in Zimbabwe (Case Study 14.4) shows that, even with a strongly participatory approach, it can take years for technical and managerial capacity, and the ability to negotiate more effectively with other external agencies, to really take root. In some cases, external inputs will always be required.

Community-based initiatives depend heavily on volunteers. In many places there is a powerful spirit of volunteerism to support local actions, but there may also be a large section of the population whose daily struggle for subsistence means that they cannot afford to give their time and labour to unpaid collective activities. Moreover, continued effort is needed to maintain volunteer numbers and enthusiasm: many programmes that rely on volunteers experience high drop-out rates (see Case Study 5.4: Mobilising young volunteers for DRR). One way of overcoming this is to link volunteering to livelihoods support, such as Practical Action’s project in Bangladesh, which trained its 200 volunteers in disaster preparedness and response as well as providing them with technical skills that they could hire out in their communities (such as poultry vaccination and carpentry).+H. M. Irfanulla, S. H. Miah and M. A. Uddin, ‘“Skilled Volunteers”: An Innovative Approach to Disaster Management’, Humanitarian Exchange, 55, September 2012,, pp. 34–36.

Local community organisers, usually employed by NGOs, play an important role in community-level training, planning and action, but community involvement may drop significantly without the organisers’ continued engagement. Community motivation is essential if DRR is to take root, so CBDRM projects may need to stimulate such motivation before they attempt to implement anything. Project evaluations and research from many different settings demonstrate clearly that community ‘ownership’ of projects is vital to their success and sustainability.

A critical factor in a community’s motivation is the relevance of CBDRM to its wider development needs, such as livelihoods and food security. Where CBDRM is connected to a community’s needs in this way, community members are more likely to engage and take part. Community motivation is also likely to be higher in areas with chronic crises or frequent natural hazards, because these are problems requiring regular or ongoing attention. External agencies need to be level-headed about such long-term needs and their implications for their own commitments. They should be honest with communities – and themselves – about what they can achieve.

Case Study 6.6 Sustaining livelihoods against environmental change

In the late 1980s, the Danish Red Cross began working with Red Cross National Societies in Senegal, Burkina Faso and Mali to reduce widespread soil degradation. In Mali, this grew into a formal Environmental Education Programme (EEP), which aimed to promote better management of natural resources and increase resilience to environmental threats. Working through a variety of community groups, the EEP comprised a range of interventions in education, environmental awareness, food security and livelihood support. The programme ran for five years, between 1994 and 1999.

In 2009 it was observed that fields around villages in the Mopti region of Mali, which had been supported by the EEP, seemed to be less affected by difficult climatic conditions: they were greener and less eroded than those of neighbouring villages, even though they had received no financial support since the EEP closed. An evaluation found that activities started by the EEP were continuing in four out of the five rural communities surveyed, through individual initiative. Community members retained detailed knowledge of the practices promoted by the EEP, which was passed down from one generation to the next. Actions to prevent erosion were protecting arable land and increasing crop yields. Vegetable gardens run by women were improving nutrition and some community members were benefiting from forestry and orchards. Local drought early warning systems had been set up. EEP literacy classes appeared to have had a significant impact: many formerly illiterate people held influential positions in the community or had found new ways of generating income.

Retrospective Disaster Risk Reduction: Strengthening Community Resilience Towards the Impacts of Climate Change. Post Impact Study – Environmental Education Programme, Mali, Danish Red Cross and Mali Red Cross, 2011.

Evidence is now emerging to show the effectiveness of CBDRM partnerships between agencies working in different sectors (see Case Study 6.7: Inter-sectoral partnerships for community DRR). Community-based projects can also deliver benefits of a less tangible nature (e.g. active citizenship, awareness of rights) that contribute to making people more resilient. CBDRM should be approached in this ‘progressive’ way (i.e. process-oriented, building a range of capacities to cope with future threats, both anticipated and unforeseen); it should not be seen simply as ‘corrective’ (i.e. project-oriented, limited to implementing measures that address specific current risks).+A. Lavell and C. Lavell, Local Disaster Risk Reduction: Lessons from the Andes (Lima: PREDECAN, 2009),, pp. 11–15.

Case Study 6.7 Inter-sectoral partnerships for community DRR

Partners for Resilience (PfR) is an inter-sectoral partnership seeking to ensure that DRR incorporates ecosystem management and awareness of changing climate risks. The partnership comprises five international agencies (CARE Nederland, Cordaid, Netherlands Red Cross, Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre and Wetlands International) and 30 civil society partners in nine countries. Community facilitators from the different partners support each other at local level. In Indonesia, activities include protection of agricultural livelihoods from droughts and floods, through seed conservation and water management techniques; restoration of coastal ecosystems as flood defences by planting mangroves; loan schemes for small businesses; disaster preparedness training; and installation of a biogas unit, to reduce environmental pollution from unmanaged animal waste and reduce tree cutting for fuelwood.

Partners for Resilience: A New Vision for Community Resilience (2012) and Partners for Resilience: Putting Community Resilience into Practice (2013),; A. Heijmans and S. Sagala, Community Self-reliance Analysis: Final Report, Australia-Indonesia Facility for Disaster Reduction, 2013, pp. 44–45, 66–67.