Equitable Resilience in Local Institutions

Local institutions are frequently identified as important vehicles for resilience, based on the assumption that they can deliver development and disaster management decisions that are both effective and equitable. This project aims to fill vital knowledge, policy and practice gaps on how equitable resilience can be secured through local institutions.
Project status
Closed for applications

Within sustainable development debates, there is growing emphasis on the capacity of communities to be the local driver of resilience. Disaster risk reduction programmes and management are looking towards strengthening resilience, where communities can prepare, recover and respond to both natural and man-made disasters. But resilience is a dynamic set of conditions and processes, including political, cultural, social, environmental, human, economic, physical and institutional, all of which affect the possibilities available to communities and their ability to adapt. Thus, building resilience requires a diverse set of mechanisms for coping with change and crisis, where adaptive capacities – especially for those who are most vulnerable – are enhanced.  

Very often, the state is no longer considered the sole risk manager; instead risk is dispersed across the private sector, households, and individuals. Within this context local institutions have emerged as an important conduit through which development and disaster risk management decisions are to be delivered. This approach brings together different stakeholders, and can reduce risks and maximise opportunities. Yet, with a focus on outcomes, rather than the social processes through which resilience is built and maintained, resilience practice has had mixed results. In particular, the resilience of some members of communities (often those with some form of power) is supported at the cost of others. The failure to engage critically with the mechanisms through which resilience is understood and delivered can rapidly lead to inequity in outcomes.

Looking into the void – a lady who lost her home to the river (Bangladesh)

This project is focused on Equitable Resilience in Local Institutions (ERLI). It will look at how resilience practice plays out ‘on-the-ground’ through local institutions. These institutions regulate flows of knowledge and resources, and have the potential to bring about systemic transformative change. In doing so, ERLI focuses on resilience practices both as outcomes and processes, aiming to develop our understanding of the meaning and practices of equitable resilience. By reviewing past experiences reported in the academic literature, the project has identified four critical areas of engagement with equity in resilience practice. These are Transformation, Inclusion, Scale and Subjectivities. ERLI’s objective is to investigate how these different strands interact to generate equity in development and disaster outcomes.

These four individual strands draw attention to the transformative and adaptive capacities of institutions; and the inclusion of stakeholders and power relations that result in varied engagements to resilience building. In order to gain a better understanding of these power relations, the project proposes a multi-scalar approach that spans across spatial, temporal and institutional scales. Further, it looks to the subjectivities of individuals, often based on their ethnic, religious, gender or other attributes, that can both inform their social identities and subject them to discriminatory values and practices further undermining their resilience. 

To understand the way in which the four strands interact, ERLI will identify stabilising/destabilising effects, disturbances and disruptions experienced in development and disaster risk processes. These are identified in relation to ecosystem services, physical infrastructure, organisational interactions and formal and informal institutions. Equity in development and disaster risk outcomes will be identified through the degree of resilience experienced within different groups of people within communities. The four strands (TISS) will thus be used as an analytical lens to help us understand the connections between disturbances and the outcomes experienced by different groups, providing an insight on the empirical practice of securing more equitable resilience. 

Women collecting shrimp larvae at dusk (Bangladesh)

This research will focus on Bangladesh. According to the Climate Change Vulnerability Index (2015), Bangladesh is an ‘extreme risk’ country, where the risk to the economy from climate change is greater than in any other country. Thus, it is imperative to understand ways to develop and promote equitable resilience. Case studies will be carried out over nine months in two distinct socio-ecological regions of Bangladesh. These include the ethnically-diverse northern hill regions and the disaster-prone coastal areas. With a combination of household and participatory surveys, social network analysis, systems mapping and focus group discussions, the data collected will uncover different components of the system, and the role of local institutions in building resilience in their community. 

Principal Investigator: Dr Jonathan Ensor, University of York

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