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Resilience: Recovery Requires Reflection

February 3, 2010

The responses to last week’s post were a bit different from what I expected. But they raised some important questions about resilience that warrant careful consideration in light of this concept’s prominence in the proposed DHS budgetrequest to Congress.

Conventional models of disaster resilience, like the one developed by Michel Bruneau and Kathleen Tierney, characterize resilience as a function expressed over time and domains – physical/technical, organizational, social, and economic – as robustness, redundancy, and resourcefulness. Others add a fourth element – re-design or re-engineering – to express the extent to which resources have to be reprioritized or repurposed to achieve the goals of a given recovery.

In the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake, many people are wondering how anyone, much less a whole society, can overcome such a catastrophe. This question strikes at the heart of resilience.

From a distance, Haitian infrastructure, government, civil society, and the economy have looked decidedly non-robust. The apparent dependence on outside aid suggests no real redundancy or resources beyond those available in the form of international aid and institutional relief.

Most of Haiti’s institutions and much of its infrastructure were either primitive or in poor condition before the disaster struck. But evidence has already begun to emerge that Haitians are getting on with their lives in a social and economic sense despite the institutional and physical devastationthat surrounds them.

The limited and focused effort to grasp recovery so soon suggests something important about Haiti (if not human nature itself) and offers insights into what we can expect from its people in the short-term. This nascent recovery requires little re-engineering or reprioritization on the part of Haitians: Most will do their best to take care of one another, as they always have.

These people, so accustomed to deprivation and loss, given few options besides continual struggle will strive to make the most of any opportunity. The question for the international community and Haiti’s leaders is more complex. How much control will they cede to engage the Haitian people in a recovery effort that addresses the fundamental technical, organizational, social and economic vulnerabilities that created the current catastrophe?

Haiti’s recovery is not just a question of how long it will take to clear debris, restore services, and rebuild infrastructure. In Haiti, as elsewhere, recoveryrequires reflection. What kind of country does Haiti want to become? What will it take to get there? How can the Haitian people turn this challenge into an opportunity to move beyond their past? What is the international community willing to do to foster sustainable development that engages the Haitian people in determining and achieving their aspirations?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 12, 2010 7:41 am

    Below is an exert from my blog that I think maybe worth discussing.

    The recent report in Time: Scientists: Why Haiti Should Move its Capital is one of those decisions. As scientists and outsiders providing assistance to the Haitians it is easy to make grand recommendations. However from my own personal experience, relocating disaster victims from their “normal” is a challenge. A challenge in which no amount of money, arm twisting or common sense will influence those that chose to resist the idea that somewhere else is better than rebuilding what was lost. There are a number of issues that must be taken into account as those leading the efforts attempt to influence the reconstruction effort:

    There is a societal wide rush to return to normal with little thought on how to prevent future issues. Self recovery is already well underway and unless the national recovery effort catches up, the momentum of self recovery will surpass the inertia of government decision making and the potential for a rift in the efforts increases.

    To offset the rush to self recovery, there will be a segment with victim paralysis. These folks will be unable to make decisions and even when pressed to contribute to their own recovery, will find even the simplest decision beyond their grasp.

    Finally, I have found that without including the local population in the major recovery issues you will only create resentment. It is very easy to foresee the Haitian people getting fed up with outsiders telling them what is best for the country and society. The best solutions are those that come from the grass roots and are adopted by the local leadership.

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