Daniel P. Aldrich, Michelle A. Meyer, and Courtney M. Page-Tan
The impact of disasters continues to grow in the early 21st century, as extreme weather events become more frequent and population density in vulnerable coastal and inland cities increases. Against this backdrop of risk, decision-makers persist in focusing primarily on structural measures to reduce losses centered on physical infrastructure such as berms, seawalls, retrofitted buildings, and levees. Yet a growing body of research emphasizes that strengthening social infrastructure, not just physical infrastructure, serves as a cost-effective way to improve the ability of communities to withstand and rebound from disasters. Three distinct kinds of social connections, including bonding, bridging, and linking social ties, support resilience through increasing the provision of emergency information, mutual aid, and collective action within communities to address natural hazards before, during, and after disaster events. Investing in social capital fosters community resilience that transcends natural hazards and positively affects collective governance and community health.
Social capital has a long history in social science research and scholarship, particularly in how it has grown within various disciplines. Broadly, the term describes how social ties generate norms of reciprocity and trust, allow collective action, build solidarity, and foster information and resource flows among people. From education to crime, social capital has been shown to have positive impacts on individual and community outcomes, and research in natural hazards has similarly shown positive outcomes for individual and community resilience. Social capital also can foster negative outcomes, including exclusionary practices, corruption, and increased inequality. Understanding which types of social capital are most useful for increasing resilience is important to move the natural hazards field forward.
Many questions about social capital and natural hazards remain, at best, partially answered. Do different types of social capital matter at different stages of disaster—e.g., mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery? How do social capital’s effects vary across cultural contexts and stratified groups? What measures of social capital are available to practitioners and scholars? What actions are available to decision-makers seeking to invest in the social infrastructure of communities vulnerable to natural hazards? Which programs and interventions have shown merit through field tests? What outcomes can decision-makers anticipate with these investments? Where can scholars find data sets on resilience and social capital? The current state of knowledge about social capital in disaster resilience provides guidance about supporting communities toward more resilience.
Collaboration and Cross-Sector Coordination for Humanitarian Assistance in a Disaster Recovery Setting
While known to be important and essential for improved effectiveness and efficiency, cross-sector coordination and collaboration among different actors engaged in postdisaster recovery is fraught with complications. Among the challenges are (a) who leads, and how; (b) the capacity and roles of the host government; (c) governance structures within organizations (which may differ a great deal); (d) assumptions of power; (e) the trade-off between valuing relationships and “getting the job done”; and (f) the varying constraints (and opportunities) of accountability. Recognizing the need to improve joint actions for a better response, the Humanitarian Reform Agenda (HRA), begun in 2005, led to the remolding of collective models of disaster response and the adoption of the global cluster system, which is essentially organized around the delivery of goods and services (sectors) by traditional aid actors such as the United Nations (UN), nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. While the cluster system has largely been acknowledged as an improvement in collaboration among actors, a perennial challenge of cross-sector coordination remains. One of the opportunities for improvement lies in better and more predictable leadership, one of the key areas identified by the HRA. Another opportunity lies in changing the focus from a supply-driven approach of prioritizing what aid providers deliver to a demand-driven understanding, such as that offered by area-based approaches, wherein sectors are more closely aligned.
A common form of collaboration within aid is partnership between various actors (e.g., the United Nations or NGOs). Partnerships assume more than a constructing relationship: Effective partnerships emphasize the need for transparency and equity, along with being results-oriented and competent. Recognizing this, the Grand Bargain, resulting from the World Humanitarian Summit, noted that aid providers should engage with local and national responders in a spirit of partnership and aim to reinforce rather than replace local and national capacities.
Partnerships, however, fall short all too often, especially when one partner has power over the other, which is often the case. The report Time to Let Go, by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), notes, for instance, that “the relationships between donor and implementer, aid provider and recipient, remain controlling and asymmetrical, and partnerships and interactions remain transactional and competitive, rather than reciprocal and collective.” The challenge remains to achieve the task at hand, while at the same time engaging in effective collaborative mechanisms that value the nature of the relationship. If this is not achieved, effective postdisaster recovery can be jeopardized.