Natural Disaster

Why heeding the voice of at-risk populations is crucial to resilience

By Mark Toldo, Communications Specialist at HHI’s Program on Resilient Communities

Since the establishment of the United Nations (UN) International Strategy for Disaster Reduction in 1999, awareness of and response to disasters has grown globally. Governments, nonprofit organizations, academic institutions, civil society groups, and even the private sector now often converge to conduct collaborative projects aimed at mitigating the impacts of disasters and climate change to vulnerable...

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Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. 1/2010. From Rapid Response to Sustainable Solutions: Disaster Response and Recovery in Post-Earthquake Haiti.Abstract

On the one-year anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, HHI released this report, chronicling eleven months of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative's disaster response and recovery efforts in Haiti.  The report offers a brief overview of the establishment of the Disaster Recovery Center, the transition from complex disaster response to recovery phase operations, and the impact of HHI's medical and public health programming through outpatient medical clinic "Klinik Lespwa."

Brett D. Nelson, Timothy P. Williams, Jay Lemery, and Satchit Balsari. 3/2010. “Protecting the Children of Haiti.” The New England Journal of Medicine. Read PublicationAbstract
Published in the New England Journal of Medicine by the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights and the Harvard Medical School, this report co-authored by a number of HHI fellows covers the security situation of children in Haiti.
Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. 1/2011. Disaster Relief 2.0: The Future of Information Sharing in Humanitarian Emergencies.Abstract

This report analyzes how the humanitarian community and the emerging volunteer and technical communities worked together in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and recommends a four-part framework to improve coordination between these two groups in future emergencies. The report was researched and written by a team at HHI, in partnership with Vodafone Foundation, United Nations Foundation, and UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Michael VanRooyen, Arnold Howitt, Laurence Ronan, and Herman Leonard. 3/2011. 2011 Roundtable Executive Summary .Abstract

On March 23-24, 2011, we held a roundtable discussion, “Earthquake Relief in Haiti: Inter-Organizational Perspectives and Lessons for the Future” at Harvard University. We convened this meeting to provide a forum for discussing successes, challenges, and strategies for improving disaster response based upon the lessons learned from the Haiti earthquake. The summary at left highlights some of the key themes discussed during each focal topic and throughout the roundtable meeting. We hope this will be useful to a diversity of players in the disaster response sphere.

Jr. Frederick M. Burkle, P. Gregg Greenough, and Gerald Martone. 1/2014. “The Changing Face of Humanitarian Crises .” Brown Journal of World Affairs, 20, 2, Pp. 19-36.Abstract

The scale and cadence of crises that demand international humanitarian response is increasing. The cumulative frequency and severity of climate change on large populations, rapid and unsustainable urbanization, decreasing biodiversity, and the impending realities of resource scarcities and the armed conflicts they might catalyze are only some of the challenges that loom ahead. It is ironic that while human civilization today possesses the most advanced technologies, global prosperity, and abundance, we face the greatest absolute number of people lacking access to clean water, food, shelter, and basic healthcare.

Tilly Alcayna. 1/2016. “Slum socio-ecology: an exploratory characterisation of vulnerability to climate-change related disasters in the urban context”.Abstract

As cities, especially coastal megacities, continue to grow often through rapid unplanned urbanization, populations are increasingly concentrated in climate change-affected hazard-prone spaces. How these populations interact with their environments will ultimately influence their vulnerability to climate-related disaster. Yet the interdependence between human and environmental systems, especially in the urban slum context, is under-researched and represents an important gap in our understanding. Using a socio-ecological system approach provides a holistic framework to understand vulnerability.

Ziad Al Achkar, Isaac L. Baker, and Nathaniel A. Raymond. 3/2016. Imagery Interpretation Guide: Assessing Wind Disaster Damage to Structures.Abstract

At present, accepted methodologies for wind disaster damage assessments rely almost exclusively on responders having ground access to the affected area to document damage to housing structures.  This approach can prove both time consuming and inefficient, and does not support the use of drones and satellites.

Geospatially-based damage assessments offer potential improvements to this process in terms of providing responding agencies with previously unavailable information about hard to reach, often non-permissive environments, at a scale and speed not possible through ground-based counts of damaged structures.

This guide provides the first standard method for conducting these types of damage assessments through the analysis of drone and satellite imagery. The “BAR Methodology” has been developed by the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at HHI to address this critical gap in this evolving area humanitarian practice.

Tilly Alcayna, Vincenzo Bollettino, Philip Dy, and Patrick Vinck. 9/2016. “Resilience and Disaster Trends in the Philippines: Opportunities for National and Local Capacity Building.” PLOS Currents Disasters. Read PublicationAbstract

The Philippines is one of the top countries in the world at risk of climate-related disasters. For populations subsisting at the poverty line in particular, but also the nation as a whole, daily lives and wellbeing are routinely challenged. The Philippines government takes disaster risk seriously and has devoted significant resources to build disaster capacity and reduce population exposure and vulnerability, nationally and locally. This paper explores the policy and institutional mechanisms for disaster risk reduction management and research which have been conducted in the Philippines related to disaster preparedness, management and resilience.  

Tori Stephens. 3/2016. The Typhoon Haiyan Response: Strengthening Coordination among Philippine Government, Civil Society, and International Actors. Read PublicationAbstract

Typhoon Haiyan devastated the central Philippines in November 2013, claiming more than 6,300 lives, displacing more than 4 million people, and disrupting the economy and livelihoods in some of the country’s poorest regions for years to come.

The Haiyan response has been held up as a largely effective humanitarian operation, and the transition from response to recovery phases was swift. However, evaluations have also found that the international operation failed to adequately join with national systems and overlooked civil society coordination opportunities.

With these coordination gaps and potential opportunities in mind, this discussion paper examines factors that affected the Philippine government’s ability to coordinate the Haiyan response and the international community’s ability to participate. 

Vincenzo Bollettino, Tilly Alcayna, Patrick Vinck, and Philip Dy. 1/2016. DisasterNet Philippines: Scoping Study Report.Abstract

This scoping study maps government, community-based organizations, national and international non-governmental organizations, private sector initiatives, and research and academic institutions working on disaster preparedness and response in the Philippines.

The study provides the basis for undertaking a series of research studies to designed to identify the leading contributing factors that determine effective disaster preparedness measures and the antecedents of high measures of community-based disaster resilience.

Vincenzo Bollettino, Patrick Vinck, Tilly Alcayna, and Philip Dy. 9/2017. “Introduction to Socio-Ecological Resilience.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Natural Hazard Science. Read PublicationAbstract

In recent years, the notion of resilience has grown into an important concept for both scholars and practitioners working on disasters. This evolution reflects a growing interest from diverse disciplines in a holistic understanding of complex systems, including how societies interact with their environment. This new lens offers an opportunity to focus on communities’ ability to prepare for and adapt to the challenges posed by natural hazards, and the mechanism they have developed to cope and adapt to threats. This is important because repeated stresses and shocks still cause serious damages to communities across the world, despite efforts to better prepare for disasters.

Scholars from a variety of disciplines have developed resilience frameworks both to guide macro-level policy decisions about where to invest in preparedness and to measure which systems perform best in limiting losses from disasters and ensuring rapid recovery. Yet there are competing conceptions of what resilience encompasses and how best to measure it. While there is a significant amount of scholarship produced on resilience, the lack of a shared understanding of its conceptual boundaries and means of measurement make it difficult to demonstrate the results or impact of resilience programs.

If resilience is to emerge as a concept capable of aiding decision-makers in identifying socio-geographical areas of vulnerability and improving preparedness, then scholars and practitioners need to adopt a common lexicon on the different elements of the concept and harmonize understandings of the relationships amongst them and means of measuring them. This article reviews the origins and evolution of resilience as an interdisciplinary, conceptual umbrella term for efforts by different disciplines to tackle complex problems arising from more frequent natural disasters. It concludes that resilience is a useful concept for bridging different academic disciplines focused on this complex problem set, while acknowledging that specific measures of resilience will differ as different units and levels of analysis are employed to measure disparate research questions.

Ronak B. Patel and Leah Nosal. 1/2017. Defining the Resilient City. United Nations University Centre for Policy Research. Read PublicationAbstract
This background note is part of the United Nations University project on Resilience and the Fragile City and is meant to complement the paper ‘Conceptualizing City Fragility and Resilience’ (de Boer, Muggah, Patel 2016) which formally presents the fragile and resilient cities assessment framework. As resilience has become a more prominent and pervasive concept, this paper explores its application for urban environments in contexts of fragility (i.e. urban zones characterized by complex crises that often involve high levels of violence, extreme poverty, and disaster simultaneously) (see de Boer 2015). The paper reviews dozens of resilience frameworks and highlights a number of important findings: 1) the majority of existing resilience frameworks are useful for assessing resilience to natural disasters, yet few are effective in understanding resilience in contexts of fragility; and (2) many existing frameworks have yet to be empirically tested and largely rest on a Theory of Change. This means that very few indicators have been independently derived based on empirical data of what works. To fill these gaps, the paper concludes by proposing an approach to assessing resilience in contexts of urban fragility, which is then fully developed in the framework paper mentioned above.
Ronak B. Patel and Kelsey Gleason. 10/2017. “The association between social cohesion and community resilience in two urban slums of Port au Prince, Haiti.” International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction. Read PublicationAbstract
Multiple recent global agendas have advanced the case for resilience to underpin humanitarian action and disaster risk reduction. These agendas have been incorporated into multiple efforts but evidence to guide action has lagged behind. This study examines a specific link, often cited through qualitative research, between social cohesion and community resilience in two urban slums of Port au Prince, Haiti. Scales to measure social cohesion and resilience are applied to these communities to develop a quantitative measure of these two characteristics. These two characteristics are then analyzed with various other demographic variables of community members to quantitatively explore associations among them. The results show that a higher social cohesion score is statistically associated with a higher resilience score and among the variables tested, social cohesion had the greatest impact on the community resilience as measured by these scales. and shows a statistical association between the two. The findings add to the growing but nascent literature on empirical evidence for resilience characteristics. Further examinations are drawn out of the findings and future investigations should tackle the inductively derived characteristics of resilience to further guide programs and policy.
Program Resilient on Communities. 9/2018. Cordillera Administrative Region: Household Preparedness.Abstract
Typhoon Ompong (Mangkhut) has had a major impact on the north of the Philippines displacing more than 50,000 people in Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) and resulting in over PhP 14 billion in agriculatural damages (equivalent to approx. USD 270 million). The Philippines government and many national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will be involved in the response. To help tailor the response it is useful to know what the level of preparedness for disaster was in Cordillera Administrative Region before the storm hit. The following statistics, compiled by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, were gathered between March and April of 2017.