Building Community Resilience in the Changing Environment

Congratulations everyone on World Environment Day 2013 which is being celebrated worldwide today (5th June) in order to raise awareness on the need to take positive environmental actions and revitalize our commitment towards saving environment to protect the mother planet for ourselves and the generations to come.

Natural environment is currently a well-recognized endangered sector and has now been a hot topic in the national and international policy discourse. Environmental degradation is escalating rapidly at the national and global level.

We should definitely like to see Pakistan an environment friendly territory but currently there are lots of challenges. As in fact we are growing in numbers at an alarming rate, this is also building up stress and implications on environment. Everyone has the responsibility for the protection, conservation, rehabilitation and improvement of the environment; the prevention and control of pollution; and promotion of sustainable development in the country.

The Governments worldwide, particularly the industrialised countries, must show scores of commitment to guarantee pleasant and healthy environment where we grow and live a quality life. However, the developing countries and more especially the local communities are now destined to adapt to the changing climates and increase their capability to cope with environmental issues and climatic disasters. Such an adaptive capability of communities is called community resilience which requires proactive mitigation and planning that includes the full fabric of the community. Community Resilience is about communities using local resources and knowledge to help themselves during an emergency in a way that complements the local emergency services.

Many civil society organizations have worked out Community Resilience Models (CRMs) in order to train community members to not only help themselves but to help others within their community in adverse environmental and climate change impacts.

Shirkat Gah – Women’s Resource Centre, for instance, has worked with flood prone communities and conducted field research on Gender dimensions of Climate Change in diverse ecological zones in Pakistan. Shirkat Gah has developed eight Community Resilience Models (CRMs) with an objective that the community is better prepared to cope during and after an emergency when everyone works together using their local knowledge. Knowledge and better preparedness could help in reducing the potential impact on the wider community.

Examples Community Resilience Models

Based on Shirkat Gah’s field experience, eight Community Resilience Models (CRMs) are mentioned below to raise awareness and understanding amongst other communities, who may seek to adapt these to suit their own local need.

Women Empowerment – This seeks to empower grassroots women to build resilient communities. Women are particularly vulnerable to climate change because they are more prone to the adverse impacts. Their limited adaptive capacities arise from prevailing social inequalities and ascribed social and economic roles that manifest itself in differences in property rights, access to information, lack of employment and unequal access to resources. Women are often the designers and builders of community resilience in poor communities. The leadership role played by women figured strongly in Shirkat Gah’s research on climate change also reveals that women’s empowerment is a key ingredient to resilience building. It has been found that disaster response programmes were opportunities for women to become active participants in shaping the futures of their communities. Shirkat Gah established Women Friendly Spaces (WFS) in deprived flood prone areas to provide women a platform to build their resilience through information, participation and diverse livelihood activities. Through their participation, grassroots women have developed innovative solutions that address practical problems of shelter, credit, livelihoods and basic services – all of which lie at the intersection of resilience and development. What is unique about these grassroots solutions is that they also re-position women in the eyes of their families and communities.

Networks and Collective Actions: The resilience of communities is dependent on social bonds and collective action based on networks of relationships, reciprocity, trust, and community norms. To cope with any environmental or climatic disaster, individual community members or a single organization cannot manage the entire response alone. Local actors necessarily must work together in the form of networks to carryout collective actions and achieve the shared goal of timely and effective response. Women participation is crucial for successful networks and collective actions.

Contingency Planning: Being prepared and able to respond to an emergency can often help people recover more quickly. This illustrates how successful community resilience can be and why many communities are already engaged in the contingency planning. Community members and local community based organizations (CBOs) have to sit together and plan steps and roles/responsibilities before any environmental or climatic disaster. The contingency plan must at least answers following 3 questions; how much you are aware of the risks you and your community might face? How can you help yourself and those around you during an emergency? What can you do to get involved in emergency planning in your community? Women participation is crucial for successful contingency planning.

Also Read : Top 10 Environmental Friendly Products

Keeping Environment Friendly Homes and Place of Work: It is an important component of community resilience. Keeping environment friendly homes and place of work keeps the community members fit health-wise and retains green cover (trees) around homes that protect the community against all climatic odds. Women participation is crucial for keeping environment friendly homes and place of work.

Safe Drinking Water: Capacity of the community to filter or purify available drinking water is another very important aspect of community resilience. Community members can better survive in an emergency if they know and are trained in making safe drinking water through a simple water filtration (i.e.  bio-sand filtration) or purification (i.e. boiling or using Alum) process. Women role in making safe drinking water is crucial and can never be ignored.

Livelihood Diversity: Increasing the asset base and the diversity of livelihood options available increases the resilience of the poor. As poor local communities are worst affected and likely to suffer most from the impact of environmental or climatic disaster. Diversification of livelihood means that community members have the capacity and skill to switch to other occupations during any emergency. This involves training in practical technologies and skills for farming activities, such as livestock (cow, goat, sheep) rearing, poultry (duck, hen, pigeon) rearing, beekeeping/apiculture, kitchen gardening, nursery establishment, etc. Women participation is crucial for keeping environment friendly homes and place of work.

Food Security:  Building on people’s capacity to ensure food security is must for community resilience. Work must be focused with food insecure communities to help them become more resilient. Food security starts at the household and community levels. Being food secure alone is not enough, as disasters can quickly wipe out hard won development gains. Building family resilience and savings is essential to the sustainability of food security interventions. Improving nutrition for mothers, infants and children give rise to a healthy family who could resist any emergency situation.

Safe & Alternate Energy Options:  Efficient use of current energy resources and knowledge and skill in alternate energy options is also an important aspect of community resilience. Small scale renewable energy options such as biogas plants and wind or solar energy panels can be useful for sustaining communities in add times.

Author: Tahir Hasnain is a veteran researcher, writer and development practitioner serving the non-government development sector consistently from two decades. Currently he works with Shirkat Gah as Programme Manager, Environment & Livelihood. He can be contacted at – tahir@khi.sgah.org.pk

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