The Humanitarian Challenge

pp 17-30


Resilience: The Holy Grail or Yet Another Hype?

  • Cecile de MillianoAffiliated withUniversity of Groningen
  • , Marijn FalingAffiliated withWageningen University
  • , Aaron Clark-GinsbergAffiliated withCentre for Humanitarian Action, School of Agriculture and Food Science, University College Dublin
  • , Dominic CrowleyAffiliated withConcern Worldwide
  • , Pat GibbonsAffiliated withCentre for Humanitarian Action, School of Agriculture and Food Science, University College Dublin Email author 

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Disaster risk is globally on the rise, mainly as a result of the complex interplay of environmental, demographic, technological, political and socioeconomic conditions that are expanding hazard and vulnerability profiles (Peek 2008). The inevitability of climatic change at both the global and the local level is generally accepted to be a fact, and various sources predict its dramatic impact on the planet and on humankind (Jones et al. 2010; UNICEF 2007; UNISDR 2004; Save the Children 2007). The field of disaster studies has consequently experienced a significant shift concerning both the nature of disasters, and ways to contend with them. Over the past few decades it has become accepted that disasters occur at the intersection of a natural hazard and people’s vulnerabilities, i.e. the organisation of society, with implications for the activities undertaken under the denominator of disaster management. That is, if disasters are inevitable, measures could only be directed at preparing people for a possible disaster to come—disaster preparedness—and assist them once a disaster had hit—disaster response. Approaching disasters as an intersection between nature and humankind on the other hand implies targeting underlying factors equally, including enduring vulnerability and people’s capacities. Following this trend, resilience thinking currently tops the agenda of disaster risk reduction, and yet the challenge in the coming period is to overcome the teething troubles of this approach. Indeed, resilience has the potential to become the next battleground for on-going debates on the purpose of humanitarian aid; i.e. whether it should be provided solely on the basis of identified needs, linked with development objectives, as part of broader coherence/whole of government agendas for wider change, or simply be a means of preserving the status quo—what Walker and Maxwell (2009) label as the ‘3 Cs’, compassion, containment, and change. To establish resilience as a useful approach to interventions rather than a political tool or point for debate, it is consequently valuable to pursue a mapping of the current discussions with regard to its promises and pitfalls. This chapter therefore provides an examination of the approach, without claiming to present an exhaustive list of issues. Rather, it is a careful exploration of experiences, both in theory as in practice of a resilience approach. The next section starts by discussing in more detail the shift that has taken place in thinking on disasters and their management.