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Some thoughts on community resilience

Jan 06, 2015

Antony Gnanamuthu examines different definitions of ‘resilience’ as followed by various authors and organizations.

New Delhi: I tried to compile some of the aspects of resilience into a conceptual model. I feel that some examinations on resilience are useful to understand it more. There is no absolute definition on resilience. Different authors and organizations have given different definitions. Let’s have a look on some definitions;

“DEFINITIONS OF COMMUNITY RESILIENCE: AN ANALYSIS”; A report[1] by Community and Regional Resilience Institute (CARRI) states there is no commonly accepted definition of resilience that is used across all disciplines. It is also noted in the same report that definitions which are most valuable in terms of improving the ability of communities to recover after disasters explicitly or implicitly contain the following five core concepts:

Attribute: resilience is an attribute of the community.

Continuing: a community’s resilience is an inherent and dynamic part of the community.

Adaptation: the community can adapt to adversity.

Trajectory: adaptation leads to a positive outcome for the community relative to its state after the crisis, especially in terms of its functionality.

Comparability: the attribute allows communities to be compared in terms of their ability to positively adapt to adversity

However, different organizations involved in humanitarian and development fields have their own definitions;


“Community resilience is the capability to anticipate risk, limit impact, and bounce back rapidly through survival, adaptability, evolution, and growth in the face of turbulent change”.

There is a comprehensive compilation of definitions of resilience from 1996 to 2013 in;

As cited in this document, following are some of the definitions;

IFRC (2012)

“Resilience is defined as: The ability of individuals, communities, organizations, or countries exposed to disasters and crises and underlying vulnerabilities to: anticipate, reduce the impact of, cope with, and recover from the effects of adversity without compromising their long-term prospects”…

EU (2012)

“Resilience is the ability of an individual, a household, a community, a country or a region to withstand, adapt, and quickly recover from stresses and shocks such as drought, violence, conflict or natural disaster”.

U S Agency for International Development (2012,)

“The ability of people, households, communities, countries, and systems to mitigate, adapt to and recover from shocks and stresses in a manner that reduces chronic vulnerability and facilitates inclusive growth”.

BMZ –Federal Ministry of Economic Development and Cooperation, Germany (2013)

"Resilience is the ability of people and institutions – whether individuals, households, local communities or states – to withstand acute shocks or chronic stress caused by fragile situations, crises, violent conflict or extreme natural events, and to adapt and recover quickly without compromising their medium and longer-term prospects”.

As cited in , following are some of the definitions;


“Community resilience is a measure of the sustained ability of a community to utilize available resources to respond to, withstand, and recover from adverse situations”

IPCC-Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

“The ability of a social or ecological system to absorb disturbances while retaining the same basic structure and ways of functioning, the capacity for self-organization, and the capacity to adapt to stress and change”

The Resilience Alliance

“The capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change”

UNISDR (2009)[2]

“The ability of a system, community or society exposed to hazards to resist, absorb, accommodate to and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner, including through the preservation and restoration of its essential basic structures and functions”.

DFID (2011)[3]

DFID has adopted a working definition:

“Disaster Resilience is the ability of countries, communities and households to manage change, by maintaining or transforming living standards in the face of shocks or stresses - such as earthquakes, drought or violent conflict - without compromising their long-term prospects”.

If you look at these definitions, there are some common words; to resist, absorb, withstand, adapt, cope, and recover, from shock, disturbances, adversities, and disasters…

What is most fascinating to me is the DFID definition; look at …” by maintaining or transforming living standards” ;

Doesn't it mean the sustainable development? Without sustainable development, none of the communities or countries can achieve the true resilience.

When we discuss on the community resilience, there are six capacities (that need to be developed)

  • Social capacity
  • Physical Capacity
  • Financial capacity
  • Human Resources Capacity
  • Natural Resources capacity
  • Governance Capacity

These are six pillars of the resilience.  What is the main pillar? It is the governance.  Without good/democratic governance, communities are unable to participate meaningfully in the development process.  They are unable to be benefited by the outcomes and impacts of development. If the communities are unable to participate in the development process and unable to draw the benefit of development, that development is not sustainable.  So, how can communities be resilient? When there is absence or government system to reach the community, no government representation at community level, and there is no representation of community in the government development planning, when government systems are not accountable to communities and corrupted, can you expect the community resilience just by working at the communities?

Projects can develop best CBDRM models and claimed to be accepted by the government, but after the project can we expect those CBDRM models will be replicated and roll out?  Community resilience building programs cannot be stand alone at communities.  Any resilience program should address the failures of the governance. Without addressing the failures of governance, none of the CBDRM programs are sustainable and I do not believe those programs will improve the resilience of communities significantly. Most of the interventions would not be sustainable in the weak governance system.  (This statement is open for the discussion and debate).

Community resilience is a function of many factors; community capacity/adaptive capacity, vulnerabilities to natural disasters, climate change impacts, efficacy of the governance system in the country and community, externalities[4] of economic activities within the community and outside of community and so many.

I would like to explain the resilience as …“the ability of households/communities/country to adopt/internalize the negative impacts of adversities/externalities without compromising their progress in social and economic well-being”.

This report has compiled the definitions of resilience by different authors in different domains. Some of them are mentioned in the following table.


First author, year



Comfort, 1999


The capacity to adapt existing resources and skills to new systems and operating conditions

Mileti, 1999


(The ability to) withstand an extreme event without suffering devastating losses, damage, diminished productivity, or quality of life without a large amount of assistance from outside the community

Bruneau, 2003


The ability of social units to mitigate hazards, contain the effects of disasters when they occur, and carry out recovery activities in ways that minimize social disruption and mitigate the effects of future earthquakes

Godschalk, 2003


A sustainable network of physical systems and human communities, capable of managing extreme events; during disaster, both must be able to survive and function under extreme stress

Timmerman, 1981


A system's capacity to absorb and recover from the occurrence of a hazardous event; reflective of a society's ability to cope and to continue to cope in the future

Wildavsky, 1991


The capacity to cope with unanticipated dangers after they have become manifest, learning to bounce back

Brown, 1996


The ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or sustained life stress

Sonn, 1998


The process through which mediating structures (schools, peer groups, family) and activity settings moderate the impact of oppressive systems

Paton, 2001


The capability to bounce back and to use physical and economic resources effectively to aid recovery following exposure to hazards

Center for Community Enterprise, 2000


Intentional action to enhance the personal and collective capacity of its citizens and institutions to respond to, and influence the course of social and economic change

Chenoweth, 2001


The ability to respond to crises in ways that strengthen community bonds, resources, and the community's capacity to cope

Ganor, 2003


The ability of individuals and communities to deal with a state of continuous long term stress; the ability to find unknown inner strengths and resources in order to cope effectively; the measure of adaptation and flexibility

Kofinas, 2003

Community social resilience

Two types of social resilience: (1) a social system's

capacity to facilitate human efforts to deduce the trends of change, reduce vulnerabilities, and facilitate adaptation; and (2) the capacity of a [social-ecological system] to sustain preferred modes of economic activity

Quinlan, 2003


Resilience consists of (1) the amount of change a system can undergo and still retain essentially the same structure, function, identity, and feedbacks on function and structure, (2) the degree to which a system is capable of self-organization (and re- organize after disturbance), and (3) the degree to which a system expresses capacity for learning and adaptation

Ahmed, 2004


The development of material, physical, socio-political, socio-cultural, and psychological resources that promote safety of residents and buffer adversity

Kimhi, 2004


Individuals’ sense of the ability of their own community to deal successfully with the ongoing political violence

Coles, 2004


A community’s capacities, skills, and knowledge that allow it to participate fully in recovery from disasters

Allenby, 2005


The capability of a system to maintain its function and structure in the face of internal and external change and to degrade gracefully when it must

Gunderson, 2005


The return or recovery time of a social-ecological system, determined by (1) that system's capacity for renewal in a dynamic environment and (2) people's ability to learn and change (which, in turn, is partially determined by the institutional context for knowledge sharing, learning, and management, and partially by the social capital among people)

Pfefferbaum, 2005


The ability of community members to take meaningful, deliberate, collective action to remedy the impact of a problem, including the ability to interpret the environment, intervene, and move on

Subcommittee on Disaster Reduction, 2005

Community Society

The capacity of a system, community, or society potentially exposed to hazards to adapt, by resisting or changing, in order to reach and maintain an acceptable level of functioning and structure

UN/ISDR, 2005


The capacity of a system, community or society potentially exposed to hazards to adapt, by resisting or changing in order to reach and maintain an acceptable level of functioning and structure

Perrings, 2006


The ability of the system to withstand either market or environmental shocks without losing the capacity to allocate resources efficiently

Liu, 2007


The capability to retain similar structures and functioning after disturbances for continuous development

Norris, 2008



A process linking a set of adaptive capacities to a positive trajectory of functioning and adaptation after a disturbance

Rose, 2007


(Dynamic) Resilience: the speed at which an entity or system recovers from a severe shock to achieve a desired state

Static economic resilience: the ability of an entity or system to maintain function (e.g., continue producing) when shocked

Inherent resilience: the ability to deal with crises Adaptive resilience: the ability (of an entity or system) in crisis situations to maintain function on the basis of ingenuity or extra effort

Masten, 1990


The process of, capacity for, or outcome of successful adaptation despite challenging or threatening circumstances Individual

Egeland, 1993


The capacity for successful adaptation, positive functioning, or competence…despite high-risk status, chronic stress, or following prolonged or severe trauma

Butler, 2007


Good adaptation under extenuating circumstances; a recovery trajectory that returns to baseline functioning following a challenge

The writer has more than 12 years of extensive experience in DRR, CCA, livelihood development, environment, naturalresource management, IDP’s (disaster induced forced migration) and youth development in Asia, and Africa; with Governments, Red Cross National Societies and RC/RC movement and non-governmental sectors.

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