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To build resilience, listen to people's needs

by Juliette Perche | Overseas Development Institute
Thursday, 3 May 2018 16:34 GMT

Household survey via mobile phones in Myanmar, June 3, 2017. Photo by Lindsey Jones, Overseas Development Institute

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

What do people think makes them more resilient?

Supporting resilience to climate change and disasters is a key development priority. Yet we know little about what works best in helping communities stand on their feet in the face of increasing climate risk. We know even less about what people themselves think will help them become more resilient.

This is where the Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED)’s Rapid Response Research (RRR) hopes to shed some light.

Using mobile phones to collect information on household resilience in Myanmar, the RRR effort is investigating the many factors that influence resilience at the local level, as perceived by rural populations themselves.

As part of the latest round of the survey, we sought to understand what people think are the solutions to increasing their community’s resilience.

When asked about resilience factors most people (38 percent) said that protecting the community’s most valuable assets (like safeguarding agricultural land or reinforcing housing) was essential.

Many respondents also identified emergency planning (22 percent) – including evacuation preparation and emergency storage – as well as early warning systems (14 percent) as instrumental to mitigating the impacts of natural disasters.

This underlines the relevance of improving village-level planning and access to climate information to enhance resilience in remote areas such as the research’s target villages in Hpa-An district.

Few respondents however – even among farmers – thought that harvesting crops before a disaster would support the community’s resilience. By contrast, farmers often chose adapting their cropping patterns as the key factor for their community’s resilience – perhaps looking to longer term changes in the climate or changing demand for crops.


Interestingly the importance given to early warning systems varies substantially depending on the level of education of the household head.

A large share of respondents with higher education seem to perceive such systems as a major route to resilience, while a much smaller share of respondents with little or no education (11 percent) chose this measure.

Although this could be explained by various factors, it might be that education enhances the understanding and awareness of early warning systems, therefore increasing the likelihood of its adoption as a resilience measure.

It could also suggest that access could be uneven with educated people accessing information more easily than people with no education, thus not benefitting the community equally. Enhancing the accessibility to warning information is indeed one of the many challenges of resilience-building initiatives.

Various early warning systems have been trialed in Myanmar, such as flood warnings through mobile networks with UNESCO, the U.N.’s cultural agency.

Across other indicators of community resilience, levels of education for the household head appeared to heavily influence perceptions of how well the community is able to deal with natural disasters.


Indicators of solidarity, such as the sense of community and the ability to draw on outside support in time of needs, seem to be closely linked to individuals’ perceptions of their own resilience.

This suggests that households who can rely on their community’s support perceive themselves as more resilient to natural disasters. It further emphasises the importance of community-based measures to enhance resilience at both the individual and village levels.

For instance, in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis which battered Myanmar in 2008, the Community-Based Disaster Risk Reduction initiative supported the establishment of shelter construction committees in affected villages to help rebuild homes.

In a previous round of the RRR surveys in Hpa-An, most respondents gave positive answers about their community’s solidarity and were confident in their village’s capacity to cope with natural disasters.

However, strong discrepancies exist between villages. This is especially true for how people perceive the resilience of their infrastructure and services, as well as how they compare to other villages.


We certainly need a better understanding of the factors that shape people’s perceptions and the drivers of village-level resilience. However, it is clear that one’s perceptions of their community’s resilience can be heavily influenced by their socio-economic background, in turn affecting people’s resilience strategy and adoption of resilience measures.

The methods trialed by the RRR effort, including both mobile phone data collection and subjective measures of resilience, are offering new ways of collecting bottom-up information that can help resilience-building interventions.

We have also set up a data visualisation website, the Resilience Dashboard, that allows anyone to play with the RRR data and explore trends in the drivers of resilience for themselves.

The hope is that innovations like these, and others to come, may offer invaluable ways of ensuring that people’s voices are heard and, if used together with development actors, can help to ensure more bottom-up delivery of resilience-building interventions.