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Cordaid NL
Humanitarian Aid Resilience

Resilient recovery: breaking the disaster cycle

When disasters strike governments and aid-agencies tend to rely on top-down and output driven delivery programs with limited participation of communities. When disaster strikes again, communities in the flooded or typhoon hit areas, can only hope for aid to come their way once more. To break this cycle of repeated disasters and dependency, Cordaid is developing a new approach, by putting local communities and their recovery capacities in the lead at an early stage of the process. We call it ‘resilient recovery’ and this approach will be shared at the World Reconstruction Conference in Washington, organized by the World Bank.

Cordaid’s recovery experience in Indonesia, Haïti and especially in the Philippines after typhoon Haiyan, shows that local capacities to withstand hazards need to be mapped at the earliest possible stage in the recovery process. Experience shows that the outcome of this mapping can be the starting point of an innovative bottom up recovery approach. A disaster like a typhoon provides an opportunity to analyze with people what happened and how they can reduce the impact of the next typhoon. Jan Willem Wegdam, recovery specialist at Cordaid: “Interventions should not just replace damaged assets. They should strengthen the collective capacity to bounce back after a next typhoon strikes.”

Making recovery more democratic

Community resilience has been on the international agenda for a while, but in recovery programming it isn’t current practice yet. Cordaid and Nassa (Caritas Philippines) are one of the first to move beyond abstract discussions to put recommendations of disaster response evaluations into practice in post-Haiyan Philippines. By considering local capacities as well as needs and putting the emphasis more on cooperation and less on assistance, we are trying to make the recovery process more democratic.

“Interventions should not just replace damaged assets. They should strengthen the collective capacity to bounce back.”

Putting communities in the lead

“The switch from leaving people on the receiving end towards putting them in the lead is automatically made when local people are made responsible”, says Athena Banza from Nassa. The resilient recovery process starts with meetings where communities sit together and – facilitated by an expert – analyze their situation before, during and after the disaster. They assess disaster impacts, share their problem solving capacities and the capacity lacks they experienced. This then leads to a community designed recovery plan. “The project in Guiuan learns that local communities are very capable of deciding what needs to be done and what is needed”, says Athena Banza.

Making the switch from leaving people on the receiving end towards putting them in the lead.

Our resilient recovery program in the Philippines has a wealth of life enhancing and life-saving initiatives, all of them initiated in community meetings. In Guiuan for example, on Samar island, 74 men were trained as carpenters by a local skills development institute. Today it allows them to assist in repairing damaged houses and infrastructure. It boosts local economy and increases the income security for 74 households.

No more swimming in the mud

Or take the footbridge that was constructed in Coron. This idea came up in the community of Banuang Daan. This bridge provides an important evacuation passage for isolated villages when typhoons and flooding hit the area. 12 year Argel of Banuang Daan says: “With this bridge we don’t need to go down the cliff and swim in the mud anymore to get to school.” It is only one of many community infrastructure projects, others include sea-walls for coastal protection, boat landings and evacuation foot paths.

Top-down recovery programs would never have come up with this smart solution.

Saving a boat by sinking it

In one of the communities where we conducted impact assessments, fishermen came up with surprising solutions. What they were most in need of, in times of big storms, were axes. Floating boats are extremely vulnerable when typhoons hit. By making a hole in the boat with a small axe and letting it sink in not too deep waters and repairing it after the typhoon has hit, a lot of damage can be prevented. Only an experienced fisherman can identify the need of an axe in times of storm. Top-down recovery programs would not have come up with this smart solution.

Bridging gaps, reversing systems

These experiences show that communities can provide a host of innovative solutions themselves. But they lack the funds and networks to fill in resource gaps and start implementing. This is where international NGOs like Cordaid come into play. Jan-Willem Wegdam: “We assist communities in mapping hazard impact and local capacities. We also play a role in bridging the gap between national recovery plans and local realities. And finally there is a role for us in establishing links between local communities and regional sources of funding and expertise.”

Usually, in the Philippines as in many other areas, national government agencies issue memoranda for communities on how to implement directives. Resilient recovery reverses this top down system.

Way forward

There are many challenges in putting resilient recovery into practice. Experience shows us that we are on the right track. Jan Willem Wegdam: “Our program in the Philippines has taught us that it is possible to build community resilience early on in the recovery process. There are many opportunities to break the disaster cycle together. The first step is to allow communities to take the lead.”

By sharing local resilient recovery experiences in an international setting such as the World Reconstruction Days in Washington, Cordaid and Nassa are taking a further step in reversing top-down recovery programs into bottom-up resilient recovery that allows communities to design their own solutions to prepare for future hazards.


The World Reconstruction Conference takes place on 10-12 September. Read more about this event.

Read more resilient recovery stories from Guiuan. Or from Coron.