World Disasters Report: Resilience: saving lives today, investing for tomorrow

Chapter 1: Making the case for resilience

Fall seven times, stand up eight
Japanese proverb

The year 2016 may well prove to be a turning point in how humanitarian aid responds to crises. Firstly, the need is great: forced migration from conflict is at its highest since World War II (IDMC, 2016); the number and scale of disasters triggered by natural hazards are increasing (UNISDR, 2016); 2015 was the hottest year ever recorded (NASA, 2015). Secondly, the current aid sector, largely unchanged in 75 years, is struggling to cope. The first-ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), convened in May to ‘rethink’ aid, acknowledged that “woefully under-resourced humanitarian response” has to “do much more far better” (UN, 2016, 2). To achieve this, some argue that radical change is needed, because “the formal system faces a crisis of legitimacy, capacity and means, blocked by significant and enduring flaws that prevent it from being effective” (Bennett, 2016, 7).

At such a dramatic time, then, what meaning does resilience have? Do we really need another concept?

There are many definitions and understandings of resilience. IFRC’s definition of resilience is “the ability of individuals, communities, organizations or countries exposed to disasters and crises and underlying vulnerabilities to anticipate, reduce the impact of, cope with, and recover from the effects of shocks and stresses without compromising their long-term prospects” (IFRC, 2015).

A ‘good enough’ understanding…

Critics argue that the lack of a commonly agreed definition is a weakness. This however is to miss the point – the chief benefit of a resilience-based approach lies in its broad understanding and not in the detail of minor differences between definitions. This, then, is important given the limited success of previous efforts to convey what is in essence the necessity to engage in pre-disaster actions at least as much as post-disaster response, and in so doing hope to diminish the need for relief in the long term. Previous notable attempts at this (in reverse sequence, and perhaps also in descending order of achieving sufficient traction) include: disaster risk reduction (DRR); sustainable livelihoods; linking relief, recovery and development (LRRD); and disaster mitigation and preparedness (DMP).

…and convening power

Aid workers, donors, businesspeople and, importantly, politicians are comfortable to stand alongside efforts that build resilience in ways they might not have done so if the rallying cry was a rather more negatively-toned ‘less vulnerability’. The word itself has, for the most part, positive connotations (certainly compared to the bleak language of disasters) – synonyms and related words for ‘resilience’ include ‘animation’, ‘adaptability’ and ‘flexibility’. This matters, as how issues are framed is vital, because “words are prisons, as well as searchlights and pigeonholes, for what we see” (Manyena, 2006, 436).

Here to stay

At a policy level, resilience is here to stay for some years to come. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in place from 2015-2030, comprise two resilience-related goals. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030’s Priority Three calls for “Investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience”. And, IFRC’s ambitious “One Billion Coalition for Resilience”, a ‘coalition of coalitions’ aims to improve the resilience of one billion people by 2025 (IFRC, 2015).

Spanning the development-disaster divide

Resilience helps to improve links between disasters and development in two ways. Firstly, a good understanding of resilience confirms that developmental actors need to consider disasters, and engage in efforts to mitigate or even prevent them. Secondly, a ‘resilience approach’ forces emergency response actors to consider time-frames beyond the immediate provision of relief. Decisions made in immediate response can have dramatic effects on long-term recovery, such as in deciding where to locate a relief camp which in time may become a permanent neighbourhood of a city (Davis, 1978).

The need to act now

Pre-disaster investments must be taken more seriously, to stem the increase in the number of crises. Putting into practice effective resilience lies in the domain of governance, at policy level, where decision-makers across the board – including governments, aid agencies and the private sector – need to take action. It also lies within communities and civil society, where individuals and neighbourhoods need to be better prepared.

Resilience works. With current massive need, and with more and greater challenges on the horizon, evolving approaches to crises that include greater preparation, prevention, transformation, adaptation, transparency and collaboration is vital. A resilience approach provides a means to achieve this.

1 Billion Coalition

Creating the change needed: the One Billion Coalition for Resilience

The One Billion Coalition for Resilience (1BC) is an unprecedented commitment from individuals, communities, organizations, business and governments. It is a vehicle to mobilize the potential of our collective networks, our shared resources and our ability to work at scale. It is an opportunity to create the change needed in humanitarian response, and ensure a world where people are safer, healthier and can thrive, even in the face of adversity.

The 1BC is inspired by the experiences of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, led by a diverse group of stakeholders, owned and implemented by those taking action to build resilience. Together, partners will strengthen and expand existing networks, support one another’s efforts to build resilience for everyone, everywhere, and implement practical initiatives to address locally-identified risks and hazards, to protect lives and promote development.

Why invest now?

Raising more money to meet ever-increasing need is not the answer. Counting the number of people we reach is no longer a sufficient measure of success. Something must change. The most vital measure of success today is a decline in the need for humanitarian relief, where there are fewer lives to save because the threats and vulnerabilities are reduced.

The world of humanitarian action is at a tipping point, and the 1BC is a mechanism to seed and champion new partnerships, technology and investment models to achieve success. The 1BC is nothing short of the global paradigm shift – called for by the WHS and essential to reaching the sustainable development goals.


A world where people are safer, healthier and can thrive, even in the face of adversity.


One billion people taking action to strengthen community resilience everywhere.

Measure of success

Number and percentage of people reporting increased awareness of local risks and solutions.

How does the 1BC work?

Individuals, organizations and institutions that are members of the 1BC will be supported by tools to connect to one another, to kick-start initiatives and to break down obstacles to building resilience. At the start, these tools to enable action include:

  1. Digital ecosystem for public engagement that connects individuals, organizations, experts and governments to each other and 1BC tools that help them to create opportunities to collaborate and take action to assess risk and design local solutions to build resilience.
  2. Private sector platform that provides an entry point for businesses of all sizes to participate in community-level actions that build resilience, and suite of tools and services for small and medium-sized enterprises to accelerate recovery time from shocks, forge more resilient supply chains, promote stronger linkages to government and communities, and provide greater coverage of potential losses through insurance.
  3. Civil society organizations’ partnership platform facilitates connection and information-sharing between 1BC partners within communities by increasing visibility, transparency, accountability and capacity, leading to more effective partnerships at the local level, providing important insight into the local networks and community structures that can support building resilience.
  4. Advocacy platform enhances the capacity of communities and partners to speak out as one, increasing their influence on decision-makers and opinion leaders to create or change government policies, legislation or practice that promote resilience.
  5. Operations platform helps to convert the connections and learning among coalition members to map local risks, design local solutions and implement community initiatives to address the highest-priority risks in their communities.

What does the 1BC offer coalition members?

The 1BC will deliver value to its partners, the IFRC, communities, households and individuals, civil society and the public sector. As a coalition member, you or your organization will have access to the expertise and networks of others. By adapting existing tools and technology and sharing common measures of success, coalition members will drive resources to current projects that are under-reported or ready for scale. You will create and benefit from the collective impact of coalitions at global, national and local levels, reach into remote and difficult-to-access communities, connect to community-level partners, tools and mechanisms for greater visibility, transparency, accountability and impact.


Chapter 1 was written by David Sanderson, Professor and inaugural Judith Neilson Chair in Architecture at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney, Australia, and Anshu Sharma, Co-founder and Chief Mentor, SEEDS, Delhi, India. Box 1.1 was written by Jessica F Carlson, Head of Office, Danish Demining Group, Severodonetsk, Ukraine; Box 1.2 by Ilan Kelman, Reader in Risk, Resilience and Global Health at University College London (UCL) Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction and UCL Global Health Institute, London, UK; Box 1.3 by Jane McAdam, Scientia Professor of Law, UNSW, Sydney, Australia; Box 1.4 by Robert Kaufman, Advisor, One Billion Coalition for Resilience, IFRC, Geneva, Switzerland; and Box 1.5 by Andrea Rodericks, International Development Consultant, Goa, India.

Sources and further information

Bennett C (2016) Time to let go: remaking humanitarian action in the modern era. ODI, London, UK.

Davis I (1978) Shelter after disaster. Oxford Polytechnic Press. Oxford, UK

IDMC (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre) (2016) Global report on urban displacement. IDMC, Geneva, Switzerland.

IFRC (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies) (2015) Framework for Community Resilience. Geneva, Switzerland.

Manyena S B (2006) The concept of resilience revisited. Disasters 30(4):434-450.

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) (2015) NASA, NOAA analyses reveal record-shattering global warm temperatures in 2015. NASA, Florida, USA

UN (2016) The Grand Bargain – a shared commitment to better serve people in need. Istanbul, Turkey. 23 May 2016. UN, New York.

UNISDR (UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction) (2016) 2015 disasters in numbers.