Use current strengths to build resilience

by Fiona Silke

 

Reflecting on the flood events in Queensland, both in January 2013 and December 2010, a question that arises in my mind is how our towns and cities are going to build their capacity to respond to climate change events and thrive? In some instances, some people and businesses in Bundaberg and surrounding areas, will be rebuilding for the second time in just over 2 years. A recent statistic*, said that of small businesses that experience a disaster and have no emergency plan, 43% never reopen, and of those that do reopen, only 29% are still operating two years later. This would be great loss to the local community.

After emergencies, there is the potential for the rebuilding to simply reflect how the town was shaped previously, with no thought to future changes. This really misses a great opportunity; an opportunity to develop and create a future more lively and resilient to future changes.

An example comes to mind, Greensburg, Kansas**. The town was completely decimated by a Tornado in 2007. During the rebuild, the community decided to go green, despite this never being a priority prior to the tornado. Now all of the government buildings in the town are cutting edge sustainable buildings, and all other buildings have implemented energy saving designs. The ‘go green’ decision has assisted the town to not only save energy, but also attracted much attention and, what I think is most important, provided something for the township to be proud of.

Learning from this example and knowledge of building resilience, the key actions I believe are important include:

  • Foster a collaborative approach, involve government agencies, local businesses, community organisations, all expertise will be needed.
  • Ensure that the community takes ownership for the actions that are decided upon; therefore any success will be the community’s success.
  • Plan for a vast range of climate related impacts and design as many adaptive responses as possible. For example, one response might be to accept that flooding will happen, and modify planning regulations to develop a response plan for when the risk arises in the future. Importantly, local businesses and households need to be involved as they are the key to the town bouncing back from an emergency.
  • Focus on vulnerable segments of the community and economy, this will ensure local people don’t just give up and leave.
  • Build something that the community can be proud of. I believe this is most important, and will help build a strong, vibrant and engaged community.

This approach is not easy in the face of disaster recovery and takes a fair bit of effort. However, often emergencies help to generate a greater sense of community: this is currently occurring in Bundaberg, where the community is coming together to clean up and rebuild the local area. This sense of community, which often comes to the forefront in times of emergency, is a key input into resilience. The sense of community can be built into something even stronger.

For more information and free resources on how to approach climate change adaptation and building resilience, see our website.

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* Business Civic Leadership Report, 2012, The role of business in disaster response

** Thanks to Chuck Berger, from the Australian Conservation Foundation for providing this example in one of his inspiring talks.

Fiona Silke is a Associate of Net Balance (fiona@netbalance.com), 
one of the world’s leading sustainability advisory firms.
Fiona is based in Melbourne.