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Putting people power into disaster response

19 Sep 2016

On a worldwide scale, disasters such as earthquakes, floods, and droughts kill fewer people than a decade ago, but cost increasingly more from a social and economic perspective. Although it is common sense that the first responders to disasters are inevitably the survivors, capacity building efforts tend to target government officials and local leaders without sufficient attention to ‘ordinary’ citizens. Understanding the challenge this poses and looking at how to engage in a much broader capacity building perspective has the potential to mitigate these costs.

The response to disaster by local communities and their resilience can be understood as the degree to which communities are able to learn about and adapt to a difficult situation and deal with future uncertainties. Knowing what exacerbates disaster risk is a starting point. The World Bank emphasises three causes: vulnerability due to poverty and environmental degradation; exposure to disaster risk due to poorly planned development; and natural hazards due to climate change.

Despite decades of lesson learning, the list of lessons not learned following disasters is still too long. These lessons may range from communication, leadership and coordination, logistics and planning, to resource management, health, and education. From a local community perspective, those challenges fall in three areas: missing data, missing guidelines and missing the boat.


Caroline Brassard is Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. This article was first published in Policy Forum on 20 September 2016.

Caroline Brassard

Caroline Brassard

Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP), National University of Singapore