Resilience: An ‘idea of good currency’

It is highly anticipated that the concept of resilience will gain prominent attention in the COP21 as it has emerged in the discourse in most international processes that deal with disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

Resilience will occupy a special place in the final text of the agreement in next month’s Conference of Parties (CoP21) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris. It is highly anticipated that the concept of resilience will gain prominent attention in the COP21 as it has emerged in the discourse in almost all international processes that deal with disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation (DRR-CCA), Dr Kristoffer Berse of the National College of Public Administration and Governance in University of the Philippines-Diliman (UP-NCPAG) asserted.

The concept of resilience hangs prominent among international discussions for it is “an idea of good currency,” Berse emphasized as he borrowed the concept popularized by American philosopher and urban planning professor Donald Alan Schön to describe an idea whose time has come.

Resilience, being an idea of good currency, can shift the language of debate by establishing a new vocabulary and influences the way organizations do things, explained Berse in his presentation: “Unpacking Resilience: Global Trends, Local Implications” during the annual conference of the Center for West Visayan Studies of the University of the Philippines-Visayas in Iloilo City.

Community resiliency

Filipinos are widely recognized for their resilient character following the numerous natural disasters that hit the country in the last 10 years. Super Typhoon Yolanda two years ago further magnified this innate quality among Filipinos. International humanitarian workers were amazed of the Filipinos’ ability to afford a smile, share laughter or even crack jokes in the midst of dire situations or loss of lives and properties after disasters.

A family in the far-flung island of Higantes located in Northern Iloilo’s last municipality of Carles recounted how they shared laughter and later tears of joy after coming out of the cave where they sought shelter from Typhoon Yolanda. “There were numerous families from our community that rushed to the cave to sought shelter at the height of Typhoon Yolanda,” shared Remrod Magallanes during the peer-to-peer session conducted in the island and initiated by UP-Visayas Foundation under the Scaling-Up Resilience in Governance (SURGE) Project in October 2015.

Marina Arnado, on the other hand, also a resident of the island community, decided to direct her family in the nearby building for protection against the storm surge as she narrated how they frightened they were then as they come face-to-face with the killer typhoon. They all came out after the storm surge and saw the vast area destroyed including their house and with their belongings and clothes scattered all over the place.

Unimaginable as it may seem, but the affected family’s first reaction was to laugh upon the thought that they had survived the strongest typhoon by far recorded in history. They started calling each other’s names to check if other members of the community were fine and begun picking up things around them in the midst of doubts that hover over their minds, thinking of how they can rebuild their home again.

Manang Marina, as she is popularly called in the island, further shared how happy they were to have survived. “We cannot explain our laughter, but for sure it released all the fear and uncertainty in our hearts and offered us the needed energy to move and collect ourselves again in order to move forward,” she said.

Defining resiliency

What the affected families experienced and how they responded on the circumstances was, unbeknownst to them, something described as resiliency, or the ability to absorb, successfully adapt or recover from adverse events like typhoons or disasters.

Stories like these are aplenty in the Philippines as impacts from typhoons had become a permanent feature, especially for communities residing along coastal communities and within small islands along the typhoon corridor. These community resiliency actions – from planning, preparations, and recovery – especially on typhoons, are gradually and formally institutionalized in DRR-CCA practices.

Berse recognized that the concept of resilience is not new. In the academia, he explained by citing different studies from experts, that resilience emerged as a fusion of ideas from multiple disciplinary traditions which includes ecosystems stability, engineering infrastructure, psychology, behavioral science and disaster risk reduction.

Resilience renaissance

Today, resilience is a widely-used term to describe the concept from its definition especially among practitioners and scholars of DRRM-CCA. In 2010, the Institute for Development Studies called resilience as a practice that undergoes “renaissance” noting the use of the term in the context of discussion, policies and programming around DRR-CCA.

According to Berse, it is also acknowledged that resilience is also evolving from theory into policy and practice as demonstrated by the appropriation of support by bilateral and multilateral donor organizations into resilience initiatives worldwide.

The development of resilience as a concept and practice are likewise increasing and becoming widely accepted. The concept is becoming more mainstreamed, observed Berse.

This is best illustrated by the appropriation of resilience in the international disaster regime which started in the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters. It is the first and only document where the term itself is part of the longer document title, explained Berse.

Substantially, the Hyogo Framework catapulted resilience as a priority for action and makes resilience as an outcome by stating the use of knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels, especially in developing countries.

Resilience in the international arena

For scientists and observers of the development of DRR and CCA in international discussions, resilience is an emerging rock star, said Berse, for it has occupied centerstage in being repeatedly mentioned not only in the Hyogo Framework, but also in the Sendai Framework which was adopted in March 2015.

It can also be seen in the Addis Ababa Action Plan for Financing Development, the outcome document of the Third International Conference on Financing Development held in Ethiopia in July 2015. Resilience also became integral in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as embodied in the Sustainable Development Goals, a set of targets that succeeded the Millennium Development Goals.

These developments on resilience is anticipated to gather significance in the upcoming C0P21 in Paris and it will for sure be carried beyond this year’s events especially in the World Humanitarian Summit on May 2016.

(The article was first published in Rappler IMHO in November 25, 2015).

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