Two years into my doctoral research on disaster resilience, I am still struggling to come to terms and understand and comprehend in its entirety what resilience actually is and isn’t.
Synonymously used, or sometimes alternatively with disaster risk reduction, adaptation, coping capacity or adaptive capacity, recovery or sustainability, resilience seems to be a determining factor in many international policy discourse, humanitarian action and development discourse. Where are we headed to with a new vocabulary, or is it really something new? Often repackaging old ways of working and addressing problems with new terms and connotations provides a new perspective and challenges the old paradigms and processes, while falling short of any major transformations.
Will resilience thinking also hit a wall soon and become rehashed and reused in a new term? When used in operationalising, or policy action, or in academic circles there are agreeable nuances to the word, and many such disagreed notions of resilience. For example, by resilience do we mean returning to the previous state after a shock, or leading to a transformation? For some, resilience would mean ensuring some level of functioning if there is any shock or distress, while others draw parallels with fluctuations and redundancy.
Well then how will we ever reach an agreement on what resilience is and how it shapes our understanding and work? That is the million dollar question isn’t it then? When you translate it in simpler ways to share a mutual agreed and shared understanding of goals, objectives and aspirations with the common man who does not read academic texts and heavy-jargon newspaper articles but faces the outcomes of adhoc development and unnatural risks of naturally occurring disasters. We should learn from them, what resilience would actually mean to them? Now that will be a fruitful exercise, relevant to our work or not.
The months of June/July for emergency practitioners is the month of immediate action, for media is fodder for news and of course for the people a season that begins with rains followed by floods. The administration is often seen claiming for making adequate preparation and having everything ready for the monsoons to arrive, but often these faulty claims are washed away with the first heavy showers and downpour. In major cities like Mumbai or Delhi, gaping holes in roads, heavy traffic blocks, overflowing sewages, overflooded railway tracks, washed-down settlements are common sights of the dismal preparations by the administration. While in other regions of India, where monsoon remains a season of dread and danger such as Assam or the northern hilly regions, heavy rains and recurring floods have become a regular phenomena, integral to their lives and preparedness to deal with it. No matter how much India has moved ahead in emergency planning and disaster management, the losses and damages, as well as deaths following such ‘natural’ disasters are not validating the claims of being a ‘disaster resilient nation and people’. Where are we lacking, where do we draw our lessons and how do we implement our ideas into policy and action? These issues are debated and discussed over national television, universities, closed -door meetings, agency workshops and coordination meetings, but how close has anyone come to see any action? at any level – national or state policy, local communities or responding agencies?
How often do our lessons get lost in the complexities and interplay of politics, economics and social and administrative factors? How often are our actions rendered minuscule in the larger goals and objectives of development of regions and masses beyond any differences?
The deaths of more than 1200 people in the flash floods in Uttarakhand, variously termed by politicians as the ‘Himalayan Tsunami’ may sound as a wake-up call to many, who may discuss and promise action, but soon ignore and overlook these underlying causes and we wait another impending disaster to happen. Transforming societies in the modern age, informed and agitated youth in various other countries have showed us the power that resides in collective action for a common cause, from the Arab spring revolutions to the recent Gezi protests in Turkey. But how often is any window of opportunity maximised for a policy change and transformation within societies, agencies or nations? India has a challenging role to play, being a leader in the South Asian region, and a functioning democracy and emerging economy in the global South, how does it treat its commons and the issues they suffer in their day-to-day lives?