Reformation of the Curricula on Built Environment in the Eastern Neighbouring Area

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Practice questions

  1. What factors are likely to contribute to the vulnerability of a community?

  1. Who and where are exposed to the greatest level of disaster risk?

        1. Lecture 2- Disaster Resilience

Disaster resilience

Disaster resilience is one of the catchphrases to have recently entered the disaster discourse, but its entrance could be seen as a birth of a new culture of dealing with disasters. The outcomes of the 2005 World Conference on Disaster Reduction (WCDR) confirmed that the concept had been gradually finding more space in both theory and practice in a wide range of disaster risk reduction discourse and some interventions.

Terms like “sustainable and resilient communities” “resilient livelihoods” and “building community resilience” have become common terms in journal articles and programme documents. Yet the definition of resilience remains a contested one. Because of the multidisciplinary nature of the concept, several definitions have been coined, especially from geography, sociology, engineering, health, environmental studies and disaster fields. However, most of the definitions view resilience as both a process and outcome (see Table 2).

The concept of resilience in disaster fields has arisen from an amalgamation of historic developments in the disaster planning process, which focused on concepts of risk management, vulnerability, and disaster preparedness, response and recovery. Resilience addresses the ability of a community to withstand, and recover following the impact of, a disastrous event (Fox, 2003). Douglas and Wildavsky (1982) define resilience from the perspective of risk as, “the capacity to use change to better cope with the unknown: it is learning to bounce back.” More recently but in a similar vein, Dynes (2003) associates resilience with a sense of emergent behaviour which is adaptive, while Kendra and Wachtendorf (2003) draw parallels with the creative actions of organisations in the aftermath of disasters. Creativity, they argue, is a vital element in emergency response and emphasis should be placed on better preparation and training employees, to enhance creativity at all levels of responding organisations.

Table 1: Some definitions of resilience

“Resilience determines the persistence of relationships within a system and is a measure of the ability of these systems to absorb change of state. and still persist.” (Holling 1973)

“…Resilience for social-ecological systems is often referred to as related to three different characteristics: (a) the magnitude of shock that the system can absorb and remain within a given state; (b) the degree to which the system is capable of self-organization, and (c) the degree to which the system can build capacity for learning and adaptation” (Folke et al. 2002)

“The capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and re-organize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity and feedback.” (Walker et al. 2004)

What determines community resilience?

The capacity of a system, community or society to cope with, adapt, or “bounce back” is determined by the degree to which the social system is capable of organising itself to increase the capacity for learning from past disasters for better future protection and to improve risk reduction measures (UNISDR, 2005). The main defining characteristics of resilience include:

• coping with the impacts of disasters;

• recovery from disasters and “bouncing back”; and

• adaptation to cope better with future risks

The World Disaster Report (2004) identifies a number of key success factors for building disaster resilient communities: building on the knowledge, capacities and priorities of people; mainstreaming gender issues in disaster risk reduction; public awareness of disasters; community based disaster reduction and creation of partnership and collaboration, to mention just a few. However, since disasters are, in most cases, a manifestation of unresolved development problems, the development approach to disaster risk reduction, is one of the conduit through which the resilience agenda could be delivered.
Resilient communities

Resilient communities take deliberate action to reduce risk from hazards with the goal of avoiding disaster and accelerating recovery in the event of a disaster. They adapt to changes through experience and applying lessons learned (Figure 4).

Figure 1: Role of resilience in determining community response to a hazard event [Source: United States Agency for International Development]


1. The y-axis represents the condition or state of the community’s economy, society, and environment.

2. Hazard events can be either episodic, such as cyclones and tsunamis, or more chronic, such as erosion or sea level rise.

3. Resilient communities are able to absorb or avoid impacts of hazard events. Enhancing resilience decreases the magnitude of impacts of hazard events on the community.

4. A community crosses the threshold between a hazard event and a disaster when it cannot function without considerable outside assistance.

5. Resilient communities are able to recover from hazard events quickly. Enhancing resilience accelerates recovery time.

6. Resilient communities are able to adapt to changing conditions. Enhancing resilience builds the capacity of communities to learn from experience.

Disaster resilience as capacity building

Work on disasters in the last ten years has been increasingly focused on the capacity of disaster-affected communities to recover from a disaster with little or no external assistance. This advocates a stronger emphasis on approaches to humanitarian work, risk reduction and development work, which put resilience, rather than just need or vulnerability, at the nucleus of the debate. The adoption of the disaster resilience strategy for the decade 2005-2015 by United Nations Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) also known as “The Hyogo Declaration” is widely seen as a positive move in which increased attention will be given to what affected communities can do for themselves and how best to strengthen them (World Disaster Report, 2004). This can be contrasted with vulnerability reduction strategies that are often orientated towards creating an environment of human coping.

It is recognised increasingly by development practitioners that interventions are more likely to be successful, leading to genuinely positive impacts on human well-being, where the emphasis is on building on local knowledge and existing capacity. The term ‘capacity building’ is open to a variety of interpretations. Its origins are often associated with the beginning of the modern era of international development cooperation during the 1950s. Efforts of capacity building in this period focused on two main areas: completing basic institutional infrastructure in countries and improving the ability of development organisations to implement donor funded projects. In this context the emphasis appears to be on international activity and intervention by an organisation in one country to help those in another. More recent definitions appear to broaden the definition away from just international activity and development policy objectives.

The UNDP (1997) defines 'capacity building' as, “the creation of an enabling environment with appropriate policy and legal frameworks, institutional development, including community participation, human resources development and strengthening of managerial systems.” They also caution that, capacity building is a long-term, continuing process, in which all stakeholders participate. In a similar vein, the UNISDR describe the term as, “activities which strengthen the knowledge, abilities, skills and behaviour of individuals and improve institutional structures and processes”, but also emphasise its ultimate purpose: “to ensure that the organisation can efficiently meet its mission and goals in a sustainable way”. These latter definitions are similar to that adopted by Rugumamu and Gbla (2003) in their study into reconstruction and capacity building in post-conflict countries, who define capacity – including knowledge and technology – as the ability of organisations, individuals and societies to identify constraints and to plan and manage development effectively, efficiently and sustainably. They also describe theme dimensions of capacity building: the process of creating new capacities (capacity creation); effectively mobilising and utilising existing capacities (capacity utilization); and, sustaining the created capacity over time (capacity retention).

It is worth noting that the term ‘capacity building’ is sometimes referred to as ‘capacity development’ or ‘capacity enhancement’, as ‘building’ has the undertone of starting something from the beginning, whereas in practice, as Rugumamu and Gbla suggest, such activity often involves utilizing, improving or sustaining existing capacity.

Case Study 3: Toward a Disaster-Resilient Built Environment: Creating a Culture of Safe Buildings, Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society (SEEDS)

[Source: ISDR (2007) Building Disaster Resilient Communities Good Practices and Lessons Learned: A Publication of the “Global Network of NGOs” for Disaster Risk Reduction]

Following the devastating 2001 earthquake in Gujarat State, Western India, rehabilitation programmes incorporated several Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) features. Among them was an initiative by the Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society (SEEDS) to create a pool of masons trained in earthquake-resistant construction. The cadre of trained masons was expected to address the immediate need for reconstruction and a long-term need for a culture of safe buildings.

Over the years, the SEEDS Mason Association (SMA) has expanded to an 800-member organization, of which 200 have been certified by the Government for having reached internationally accepted standards in construction skills. The masons are now serving their local communities, educating fellow masons in other regions at similar risk, as well as responding in disasterhit areas for shelter reconstruction and capacity building.

The SMA initiative is an effort in consolidating training and research on good quality safe construction practice at grassroots level. The Association also acts as an information centre for dissemination of modern technologies in construction through newsletters and public meetings.


This is a disaster risk reduction programme aimed at creating a culture of safe buildings under the following vision: "A Disaster-Resilient Built Environment". Training activities were initiated in Gujarat State, Western India, in 2001, but the SMA was formed in 2004. The first members of the Association were from communities affected by the 2001 Gujarat earthquake. They were trained by engineers and architects from SEEDS. It was their wish to sustain their learning and share it with more like-minded individuals. Over the years, the SEEDS Mason Association (SMA) has expanded to an 800-member organization, of which 200 have been certified by the Government for reaching internationally accepted standards in construction skills. It is expected that the Association, which has now a countrywide presence, will continue to grow and serve the needs of the burgeoning building industry in the country. It would focus its efforts in creating resilience among communities at risk to natural disasters.
Goal and Objectives

Following the devastating 2001 earthquake in the Indian State of Gujarat, the Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society (SEEDS), an NGO with a focus on DRR, resolved to create a pool of masons trained in earthquake-resistant construction. The trained masons were expected to address the immediate need for reconstruction and a long-term need for a culture of safe buildings. The programme's objectives are:

  • To respond to the shelter needs of communities affected by disasters;

  • To address the needs of trained construction workers in the fast growing construction industry; and

  • To promote disaster-resistant building technologies among communities in high-risk areas.
Outcomes and Activities

The masons are now serving their local communities, educating fellow masons in other regions at similar risk, as well as responding in disaster hit areas for shelter reconstruction and capacity building. The Association also acts as an information centre for dissemination of modern technologies in construction through newsletters and public meetings.

The Association has received recognition and support from the Government. Donor support has come in the form of specific reconstruction projects. Members of the Association also pay regular membership fees.

In regions where activities have been carried out, there is clear evidence of communities learning from the training imparted by the SEEDS Mason Association.

The SEEDS Mason Association is currently active in five locations across the country:

  • In tsunami-affected Andaman & Nicobar Islands, it has promoted bamboo-based demonstration housing. The Association constructed temporary shelters for 354 families.

  • Following the Kashmir earthquake in 2005, the SMA constructed shelters for 404 families. A local chapter of the SMA was launched. The local chapter is now imparting training in local communities as part of the rehabilitation exercise.

  • The SMA is training local building contractors and masons in Shimla on retrofitting of school buildings.

  • The SMA is involved, in the Western State of Barmer, in the reconstruction of 300 shelters.

  • In Gujarat State, which was affected by the 2001 earthquake, SMA members sat exams and have been certified by the Government through a unique internationally designed certification programme.

This initiative: (1) has been mainstreamed into development from the very beginning; (2) addresses an important need for safe buildings; (3) has a grassroots reach; (4) is very accessible to the poor and to vulnerable households.

It is also innovative as it promotes peer learning as well as a single-point access for disseminating information related to safe buildings. A key success factor of this initiative is that the Association is supported by SEEDS, an NGO with a focus on DRR. SEEDS ensures that the Association is partnered with in every related initiative. Overall, such a grassroots movement has tremendous potential as over 57 per cent of India's national territory is prone to earthquakes, and vulnerabilities to other disasters put India's one billion people at risk.

Lessons Learned

The key lessons learned from this initiative are:

  • Disasters are opportunities for bringing in change such as disaster-resistant construction as part of reconstruction;

  • Peer-level exchange and learning at grassroots level has proved to be effective in building capacity; and

  • Institutionalization of efforts is important for promoting building safety.

The major challenges of this initiative are:

  • Difficulty to overcome the inertia among existing construction workers to absorb new technologies;

  • High demand from the building industry and limited supply has led to poor quality that characterizes the building sector - which has increased disaster risk; and

  • Recognition and acceptance by communities that have not been affected by disasters yet, has been sluggish.
Potential for Replication

Such models exist in other parts of the world, though not necessarily focused on disaster reduction. Moreover, they seldom look into training and up-gradation needs. Such models can be introduced where they do not exist.

Alternatively, existing institutions of construction workers should be sufficiently equipped to disseminate disaster resistant technologies at grassroots level.

In the light of many unsustainable practices of post-disaster training in safe construction, a grassroots institutionalized approach should preferably be adopted. Moreover, the larger issue of availability of skilled construction labour is key to the success of similar initiatives.

        1. Practice Questions

  1. Write a built environment specific definition of resilience

  2. What are the characteristics of a resilient built environment and how might this differ from ‘critical infrastructure protection’?

  3. Read case study 3 (Toward a Disaster-Resilient Built Environment) and evaluate SEEDS Mason Association (SMA) as an initiative to build community resilience
      1. References

Adger, W.N., T. P. Hughes, C. Folke, S.R. Carpenter, and J. Rockström (2005) Social-Ecological Resilience to Coastal Disasters. Science 12 August 2005: Vol. 309. no. 5737, pp. 1036–1039.

Christian Aid (2005) Don’t be scared, be prepared: How disaster preparedness can save lives and money. London: Christian Aid. .

DFID (2005) Disaster Risk Reduction: a development concern. London: UK Department for International Development (DFID) and Overseas Development Group (ODG).

DFID (2006) Reducing the Risk of Disasters – Helping to Achieve Sustainable Poverty Reduction in a Vulnerable World: A DFID policy paper. London: Department for International Development (DFID). .

Douglas, M. and Wildavsky, A. (1982) Risk and Culture. Berkeley, University of California Press.

Dynes, R. (2003) Finding Order in Disorder: Continuities in the 9-11 Response. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp 9-23.

Folke, C., J. Colding, and F. Berkes. (2002) Synthesis: building resilience and adaptive capacity in social-ecological systems. In F. Berkes, J. Colding, and C. Folke, editors. Navigating Social-ecological systems: Building resilience of complexity and change. Cambridge University Press.

Fox, A (2002) Montserrat – A case study in the application of multiple methods to meet a post-disaster housing shortage. Proceedings of the First International Conference on Post-disaster Reconstruction: Improving post-disaster reconstruction in developing countries, 23-25 May 2002, Université de Montréal, Canada.

Holling, C. S. (1973) Resilience and stability of ecological systems. Annual Review of Ecological Systems 4:1–23.

Keefe, K. Westgate, K. and Wisner, B. (1976) Taking the naturalness out of natural disasters. Nature, Volume 260, Issue 5552, pp. 566-567.

Kendra, J. and Wachtendorf, T. (2003) Creativity in Emergency response to the World Trade Center Disaster in Beyond September 11th: An Account of Post-Disaster Research. Special Publication No. 39, Natural Hazards Research and Information Center, University of Colorado, USA.

Rugumamu, S and Gbla, O (2003) Studies in Reconstruction and Capacity Building in Post – Conflict Countries in Africa. Harare: African capacity Building Foundation.

Small, C. and R.J. Nicholls (2003) A Global Analysis of Human Settlement in Coastal Zones. Journal of Coastal Research: 9 (3):584–599.

UNDP (1997) Capacity development, Technical Advisory Paper 2, Management Development and Governance Division, Geneva.

UNISDR (2004) Living with Risk: A global review of disaster reduction initiatives United Nations, Geneva, 430 pp.

UNISDR (2005) Building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters: Hyogo framework for action 2005-2015. World Conference on Disaster Reduction, 18-22 January.

Walker, B., C. Folke, S. Carpenter, M. Scheffer, T. Elmqvist, L. Gunderson, C.S. Holling. (2004) Regime Shifts, Resilience, and Biodiversity in Ecosystem Management. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics. Vol. 35:557–582.

World Disaster Report (2004) Focus on Community Resilience, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Geneva.

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