Peaceful Society

Submitted by Paul Born on March 1, 2011 - 10:19pm

Peaceful Society is part two of a five-part series called Community Engagement and Healing in Times of Disaster: Retreving the Wisdom of Those in Need.

Read Part One: Background.

Download the complete series.


The potential for violence and violation of human dignity in times of disaster are high. Survival is a key focus for those in need. For those in authority, the need to protect the safety of the majority of people causes a kind of “triage” mentality in which the dignity and rights of people can quickly be overlooked. However, in times of disaster, many people are prone to want to help not only themselves but also their neighbors. Amazing stories of people rising above their own fears and saving the lives of others arise from nearly every disaster.

Questions to Consider:
•    How can we respond to disaster with dignity and act in accordance with the lived experience of others?  
•    How can individuals and communities sustain a vision and practice of peace and resilience in the midst of crisis and disaster?
•    How can best practices and lessons learned be shared?


Blog 4

Community in Times of Disaster

It seems to me that places where people know and care for one another will be more resilient than places where this is not true. I suggest that place and connection cause reciprocal action. And I further suggest that collective knowing in a place would provide one of the best chances of survival, if this is acted upon. How might one build such places or prepare such places of resilience?

In his book Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam from Harvard University provides unique evidence that in American life a sense of community and the reciprocal relationships that are bonded through time and mutual interest are in decline. His work provides evidence that when people do not know each other their ability to care and be cared for diminishes.

For this reason alone, the best form of emergency preparedness is building a caring society. Not only a society of good citizens but also one of good neighbors, where people know and help each other and live together peacefully and personally in physical place.

Blog 5
Investing in People Capacity

There are many technical ways to mitigate the effects of disaster. Good infrastructure and building codes can go a long way to reduce physical damage and save lives. The effects of disaster on low-income under-serviced parts of New Orleans vs. well-supported and protected sections (i.e. the French quarter) demonstrate this result. The better the infrastructure the less damage incurred, the less damage incurred the less loss of human capital, and thus the quicker the recovery.

In addition to technical or infrastructure investments I believe we can mitigate damages through investment in human or social capital.  Where people have relationships that are important to them and when they are engaged in their communities, they will be more resilient in times of natural and human-made disaster.  If these people have been prepared to work together and given a sense of responsibility beyond their immediate situation they can become a highly effective resource to make a community more resilient in times of disaster. We can rely on the goodness of individuals and, if enabled, the collective altruism of groups for safety and support.

I further suggest that disasters be they human (wars, fires) or natural (hurricanes, floods) by their very nature are chaotic and cannot be mitigated through simple policies that promote control and order. Therefore no bureaucracy can effectively mitigate the effects of a disaster through specific emergency preparedness plans unless they build into such plans an engaged and altruist citizenry.  Only through the power of collective altruism (community action) can communities effectively respond to the chaotic and highly unpredictable circumstances enabled by a disaster.


Further Reading:

Empowering the Community to Adapt to Climate Change: This is a short paper that shares the efforts in Bangladesh to work with the citizens most vulnerable to changing weather patterns. The program aims to establish a strong community-led disaster risk reduction system and strategies to reduce flood risks. As rightly believed, steps taken to mitigate existing risks can help adapt to new or emerging ones that are posed by extreme weather conditions. Download the pdf.

Phillipines Community Based Disaster Management: This paper, written by Lorna P. Victoria, director of the Centre for Disaster Preparedness, describes various aspects of community based disaster management (CBDM) by highlighting best practices in the Philippine Disaster Management Forum. Download the pdf.

Citizens’ Participation Toward Safer Communities:
This case study, by Zenaida G. Delica, describes how community planning and preparedness in the Philippines saved many lives when an overflow of volcanic debris and molten lava destroyed the village of Talba. Download the pdf.

Community-based disaster risk management and Poverty Reduction: This paper looks at the relationship between poverty and vulnerability in times of disaster. It looks to share ideas to help poor communities to be more resilient. The paper advocates not only for the involvement of communities and local people in decision-making but also application and adaptation of indigenous risk-coping wisdom and knowledge into risk reduction. Download the pdf.

For the resource geek: Go to the resources page of the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre for a treasure trove of ideas and papers related to community based emergency preparedness issues.


Continue to Part Three: Technology and Community Engagement