Community initiatives can arise in response to threats from external forces – for example to challenge development plans or environmental damage. This is an important consideration in the context of DRR, for unsustainable development processes can increase or even create hazard threats. Community participation must be underpinned by recognition of these external forces and their implications.
Community-level activity does not take place in a vacuum: communities are not isolated from the rest of society and there are no neat boundaries between one community and its neighbours. All communities depend to some extent on external resources of one kind or another, particularly emergency management agencies but also other administrative, infrastructural, social and economic services. Other actors, such as government, the private sector and civil society organisations, must also be considered stakeholders. External actors can have a decisive impact on community-level initiatives. The involvement of local government is essential, be it as a partner, facilitator or enabler. Many kinds of community organisation may be active, such as peasants’ associations, gardeners’ clubs, community kitchens, burial societies, irrigation committees and neighbourhood committees. The relationship between these different actors is dynamic, changing as a result of new knowledge and shifts in attitudes, resources and political power.
Facilitating these often complex relationships effectively is essential for the success of any DRR initiative. Considerable time, effort and diplomatic skill may be needed for this task. Supporting agencies, governmental or non-governmental, may have to assume the role of intermediaries or brokers, facilitating links between community-level organisations and other local, national and international actors. Their brokerage functions might include assisting communication between project beneficiaries and governments, supporting participation and group formation, training and building the capacity of local organisations, channelling resources and helping to identify and voice community needs.
Creation of multi-stakeholder DRR groups or committees at local and higher levels, involving a range of government, non-government and community organisations, can provide a platform for ongoing planning and action, and a space for discussion about CBDRM policy and practice. Such platforms, groups or committees can take a variety of forms (see Case Study 6.3: Integrating CBDRM with official development planning). DRR should also be linked to development programmes and the organisations and groups that implement them: too often, it takes the form of stand-alone initiatives.
In the districts of Chitwal and Nawalparasi in Nepal, Practical Action has been working with 59 Village Development Committees (VDCs) and municipalities, the lowest administrative units of government, to prepare DRM plans. Ward- and community-level vulnerability assessments were carried out in each VDC and municipality. Their findings formed the basis of local DRM planning workshops with representatives of government, civil society organisations and communities, as well as technical experts. The final plans, agreed by the various stakeholders, were endorsed by the respective VDCs and Municipal Councils, and included in their local development plans. They were then endorsed by District Development Committees (DDCs) for inclusion in District Development Plans. From the local vulnerability assessments, priority DRM plans and projects were also identified at district level. This process was coordinated by local government officials and steered by a task force involving DDCs, other government development agencies and NGOs.
D. Bhandari, Y. Malakar and B. Murphy, Understanding Disaster Management in Practice with Reference to Nepal (Kathmandu: Practical Action, 2010), http://practicalaction.org/nepal/docs/nepal/understanding-disaster-management-in-practice.pdf.
Local and community CBDRM groups should also be connected to one other, both to share experiences and to enable them to lobby government and other agencies collectively. Strong local organisations, formal and informal, are essential for successful DRM, not only in managing and implementing changes on the ground but also in lobbying or negotiating with other institutions. Governments and official disaster management organisations often ignore community organisations and capacity, or resent them because they are outside their plans, systems and, above all, control. Whilst it is essential to empower communities in their relationships with external actors, in many countries articulating demands and asserting rights may be seen as subversive by the authorities.
Early advocates of community-based DRR emphasised its important function in challenging official agencies to support communities or change policies and practices. Nowadays, a less adversarial and more collaborative approach is usually recommended, although the tactics adopted depend on the specific governance context and the prevailing nature of state–civil society relations. In a state where government responsibilities are being decentralised – which is happening in many countries – there may be new opportunities for more equal dialogue between communities and officials. With the retreat of the state from many aspects of socio-economic development, the need for active and influential civil society organisations has grown rapidly and massively, extending the scope for community-level work (see Chapter 4).
In any case, enhanced community knowledge and negotiating skills are an important element of DRR capacity. Government agencies may seek to take over successful non-governmental initiatives: sometimes this helps them to scale up, but there is a risk that bureaucratic influence will undermine the values and relationships that generated the initial success. Government is also more likely to take a compartmentalised, sector-based approach to resilience-building, whereas communities are more aware of resilience as a holistic issue encompassing and connecting many aspects of local development and DRR.
Over the years, the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) has put increasing emphasis on preparedness and mitigation, as well as attempting to move beyond its traditional role of service provider to one of facilitating community-driven initiatives. One of the main vehicles for this shift was an Integrated Community Disaster Planning Programme (ICDPP). A study of one ICDPP project, in Tigbao on the island of Leyte, highlighted some of the challenges it faced in doing so. The project gave training in first aid and disaster management, established a community disaster action team and implemented several structural measures (building a seawall, strengthening a river dike, dredging and diverting a stream and planting mangroves). The initiative required considerable coordination with communities as well as members of local government.
As an intermediary body or facilitator, the PNRC faced several challenges and constraints. It had to consider how far it should fill gaps in the disaster management systems that were not being covered by government agencies – yet this meant adopting a traditional service delivery role. To reduce vulnerability, livelihood-support initiatives were needed, but the project’s agenda was limited to more conventional disaster management. The PNRC played an advocacy role, helping communities lobby appropriate agencies, especially for funding. However, this could potentially bring it into conflict with the core Red Cross principle of political neutrality. Donor conditionality and the organisation’s own standardised systems for project design and implementation ran counter to the flexibility required for community-based work. In addition, other stakeholders came into the project with their own expectations of what the PNRC should do, based on its traditional roles as an auxiliary service to local government, distributor of relief goods and charitable organisation. Despite expectations to the contrary, in this project the PNRC did become significantly more of a facilitator of local actors and less a giver of aid.
K. Allen, ‘Vulnerability Reduction and the Community-based Approach: A Philippines Study’, in M. Pelling (ed.), Natural Disasters and Development in a Globalizing World (London: Routledge, 2003), pp. 170–84.