Resilience in Practice

Although ambiguous in definition, interpreted differently by different people, reliance as a concept is extremely relevant in policy making. Particularly in policy related to climate change and extreme weather events.

International agreements in three 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 – all call for resilience.

Many policy documents, such as those from the Asian Development Bank, European Union, Government of the Netherlands and UK Environment Agency refer to resilience as a concept to pursue in policy making. Yet, too often the concept is relegated to the realm of buzzwords without enough practical implications.

To enhance the resilience of societies to cope with floods, droughts and other extreme weather events, there are five principles that help address those aspects that are missing in risk approaches currently being used. These principles are:

1. Adopt a system’s approach. A system’s approach means that the system is studied as a whole and that different subsystems, areas and processes within the system are viewed as interlinked. The 2011 Thailand flood affected for instance production processes around the globe through linked supply chains.

2. Look at beyond-design events. A resilience approach considers the entire possible spectrum of events – below and above the resistance threshold and up to and beyond the recovery threshold – as opposed to a risk approach which often focuses on design events derived from relatively short data records. Think about and prepare for worst cases.

3. Build and prepare infrastructure according to ‘remain functioning’ principle. ‘Remain functioning’ refers to designing systems in such a way that consequences of failure are not catastrophic, but manageable. Instead of collapsing, build dams that allow slow flooding of an area if they fail.

4. Increase recovery capacity. The long-term impact of an event partly depends on the time it takes to recover, which in turn depends on the recovery capacity. Recovery capacity is thus a function of 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).

5. Remain resilient into the future. It is important to realise that the current resilience of a system may be exhausted due to gradual geophysical developments such as climate change or subsidence, and socio-economic developments such as migration, conflicts, urbanisation and economic growth. This may call for adaptation or transformation in order to be able to cope with future extreme weather.

The paper illustrates how these principles are applied to two case studies. One is the flood risk management strategy in Dordrecht, the Netherlands, a municipality in the tidal area of the Rhine-Meuse delta surrounded by rivers and canals. Two, the drought risk management in the Vu Gia – Thu Bon river basin, located in Central Vietnam.

The authors conclude that as societies face increasing complexity and uncertainty, decision making to cope with extreme weather events should evolve from an oversimplified risk approach to a much richer resilience approach. This requires further development of resilience-based models and frameworks, additional decision criteria beyond common cost-benefit related criteria, as well as communicating these with policy makers.

This summary is based on the paper Resilience in practice: Five principles to enable societies to cope with extreme weather events (Open Access)

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