A practical approach to resilience

by Karin de Bruijn and Marjolein Mens
Societies face increasing complexity and uncertainty in decision making to cope with extreme weather events. Therefore oversimplified risk approaches should evolve to much richer resilience strategies. Yet, resilience is often more a policy buzzword or topic for theoretical debate than an actual operational paradigm. It is often not clear for policy makers and practitioners how they can translate the main notions of resilience thinking into practical implementation.

A team of researchers have translated the scientific debate on resilience into practical principles. These five principles can be used by policy makers and practitioners to develop strategies that enhance resilience to extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods and typhoons.

  • The first principle stresses the importance of a systems approach. Understanding of the entire system under risk of extreme weather events – including the physical, environmental, social and economic aspects and how they are connected – is required to define societal effective measures.
  • The second principle calls for an additional focus on beyond-design events. Rare events with disastrous and lasting consequences may call for protection against higher costs than justified by a standard cost-benefit analysis. A resilience approach considers the entire possible spectrum of events as opposed to a risk approach which often focusses on design events. It stimulates thinking about the worst case, or even unimaginable scenarios.
  • The third principle focuses on ensuring infrastructure will remain functioning once an extreme weather event occurs. The consequences of failure are not catastrophic, but manageable e.g. because critical infrastructure remains in service. Making sure that a system remains functioning during extreme events acknowledges the fact that the possibility of failure cannot be eliminated altogether, and is typical for resilience thinking.
  • The fourth principle advises to increase the recovery capacity of a society. The long-term impact of an extreme event partly depends on the time it takes to recover. The capacity to recover depends on social capital (the individual ability of people to recover), institutional capital (the ability to organise repair and reconstruction), and economic capital (the ability to finance repair and reconstruction).
  • The fifth principle emphasizes to remain resilient into the future. Flexibility, the ability to learn, the capacity to adapt and the willingness to transform if necessary are crucial to cope with gradual but uncertain changes.  It is important to realise that the current resilience of a system may be exhausted due to gradual geo-physical developments such as climate change or subsidence, and socio-economic developments such as migration, conflicts, urbanisation and economic growth.

Three important global post-2015 agendas – the Sustainable Development Goals, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change- made an inspirational call for resilience. The paper Resilience in practice: Five principles to enable societies to cope with extreme weather events aims for these agenda’s to benefit from this practical approach to resilience. The findings were published in the international peer-reviewed journal ‘Environmental Science & Policy’ in April 2017 by the Institute of Water Policy of the National University of Singapore, the Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management of the Delft University of Technology and Deltares, the independent institute for applied research in the field of water and subsurface collaborated on this research.

Wateroverlast in Colombo Sri Lanka


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