Disaster Resilience. Topic Guide

Émilie Combaz

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


Over the past decade, there has been an increase in the frequency and severity of hazards such as droughts, flooding and cyclones. The impacts of disasters on development, poverty and vulnerability have led to calls for improving disaster resilience – meaning the capacity of households, communities and countries to cope with and adapt to the shocks and stresses associated with natural hazards. There is emerging evidence that disaster resilience has been effective in saving lives and protecting infrastructure, livelihoods, social systems and the environment, and that building disaster resilience is more cost-effective and sustainable than the present combination of disaster relief and development aid. While the terminology of disaster resilience is relatively new and remains debated, it is already embedded in international policy frameworks for humanitarian action. This topic guide focuses on resilience to natural hazards, with emphasis on humanitarian action, in fragile and conflict-afflicted states as well as in other contexts. Although some principles are common to both contexts, there remains a high level of uncertainty about how to build resilience in adverse political economies. In practical terms, resilience is neither an alternative to intervention nor a new paradigm that stands alone, but an increasingly important component of a holistic approach to reducing the impact of disasters on the most vulnerable. Evidence suggests that the following tools and approaches can be useful for building disaster resilience: - Analysing and measuring resilience: A number of tools are available, including DFID’s (2011a) framework which highlights the relevance of exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity; and Twigg’s (2009) indicators for governance, risk assessment, knowledge and education, risk management and vulnerability reduction, and disaster preparedness and response. - Supporting the enabling environment and government action: Disaster resilience can be strengthened when donors and governments adopt a multi-level, multi-stakeholder approach to risk governance. Connecting interventions that take place at different scales and levels has proven essential. National policies need to support equitable access to resources, strong risk management, long-term plans for resilience, and advocacy for the interests of at-risk populations. - Supporting adaptive capacities: Experience suggests that practitioners can draw on communities’ disaster resilience most successfully when they tailor interventions to local contexts, ensure the meaningful participation of at-risk groups, and mainstream gender in programming. Inclusiveness and participation can be challenging and require a keen understanding of the opportunities and risks for less powerful social groups. - Adapting to context: Different types of crises will involve different challenges and opportunities for intervention. However, common elements that enhance resilience include good governance, gender equality and engagement with a broad range of social groups, conflict resolution, livelihood diversification, and access to infrastructure and public services. - Financing resilience: A range of flexible funding mechanisms for support before, during and after hazards – insurance, borrowing, dedicated funds, remittances and multi-year aid – can be useful; their respective effectiveness varies by context.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationBirmingham, UK
PublisherUniversity of Birmingham, GSDRC
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Publication series

NameTopic Guide
PublisherGSDRC, University of Birmingham


  • armed conflicts
  • crisis states
  • fragile states
  • governance
  • military and security
  • paramilitary groups
  • political economy

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute


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