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The oak or the reed: how resilience theories are translated into disaster management policies

Caroline Wenger, The Australian National University; Bushfire & Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre


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Although many researchers explore disaster resilience as an ongoing process or as a measurable property with indicators, few study whether disaster resilience policies are likely to lead to outcomes that are adaptive over the longer term. Some measures intended to increase local resilience may actually decrease the ability to cope with large-scale disasters. In the context of flood management, this work looks at activities supported in the name of resilience and whether they will result in long-term adaptive outcomes. It is proposed that the interpretation of “resilience” in emergency management has been influenced by pre-existing disaster management concepts, such as the prevent-prepare-respond-recover (PPRR) framework. These have not been adequately reassessed in the light of resilience theories.
Disaster resilience was examined using the PPRR framework as a lens. With a focus on flooding, national disaster resilience policy documents from four countries and the global arena were studied to find out which activities were linked to resilience and whether this varies between countries. Subnational policies were also examined in areas that had recently experienced major flooding. Resilience interpretations in some countries were found to support resistance strategies while others were more accommodating.
The continued development of floodplains, facilitated by structural mitigation, is an example of a highly resilient but maladaptive feedback loop. This results in risk accumulation and higher consequences during extreme floods. Research explores ways interventions could alter feedbacks and transform to more desirable resilience regimes. It is proposed that negotiating long-term adaptation pathways should be the ultimate aim for planners and emergency managers rather than resilience, which tends to support the status quo. Emergency management concepts and frameworks need to be amended in the light of resilience theories to make it easier to achieve adaptive outcomes.

Key words

climate change adaptation; disasters; ecosystem-based approaches; flood management; levees; resilience

Copyright © 2017 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087