Working Paper
Reducing People’s Vulnerability to Natural Hazards

Communities and Resilience

The concepts vulnerability, resilience and community are widely used and abused in the literature on natural hazards and disaster risk reduction. This paper seeks to bring greater rigour in their use. In particular, vulnerability must be understood as a set of socioeconomic conditions that are identifiable in relation to particular hazard risks, and therefore perform a predictive role that can assist in risk reduction. Resilience is often confused as a concept, sometimes seen as the inverse of vulnerability, and by others as an independent quality. These confusions may be especially relevant in the context of policy for disaster risk reduction at the scale of community. Here there is often an idealized notion of community as undifferentiated and unproblematic. Vulnerability (to natural hazards) should be understood in the context of the individual and household as being composed of five (interacting) components: livelihood, base-line status, self-protection, social protection, and governance. The paper highlights the key problems associated with disconnections between these that result in rising vulnerability. In particular, it examines vulnerability in the context of the current expansion of interest in community based disaster preparedness (or management). For this to be effective, a clear analysis is essential of the relations between disaster preparedness and governance, especially the way that power operates at the community level. The ways in which community can operate to support, undermine or be irrelevant to disaster preparedness are analysed. It concludes by suggesting the conditions that are required for community to have any real significance as a component of risk reduction.