Understanding Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience

Shino Nishizawa | August 15, 2023

Discussing disaster-risk areas in the target community

In 2021, tropical cyclone Seroja struck various communities in Indonesia and Timor-Leste. CWS Indonesia and CWS Japan carried out a response to the disaster by providing supplies and shelter kits, assisting in the cleaning of wells contaminated by the disaster and engaging communities in educational sessions about maintaining hygiene post-disaster in Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT), Indonesia. The CWS team also conducted a disaster risk assessment, created a hazard map and developed a disaster risk reduction (DRR) action plan to decrease the threat and impact of potential future disasters in collaboration with our local partner, Community Association for Disaster Management, and Japanese DRR experts.

Through the response, were able to deliver supplies to 1,011 households, 327 more than originally planned. A total of 60 wells in the six target villages were repaired and cleaned, providing 684 households with access to clean and safe water. Our efforts were a team effort and included 180 members of affected communities who joined us in the process of disaster risk assessment, hazard map preparation, and DRR action plan preparation.

In a field survey conducted about half a year after the end of the emergency response, we were able to visit three villages out of six villages to conduct interview surveys. We confirmed the impact of cooperation between CWS Indonesia and CWS Japan. When developing the DRR activities, we ensured the most vulnerable members of the community were involved. Involving vulnerable peoples and integrating their voices into the DRR action plan was carried out in all three villages. They were assigned roles that would enable them to contribute to disaster reduction in their villages so that their involvement could be ensured not only at the planning stage but also in the implementation of the plans, and their participation could be continued after the project was completed.

Community member with relief supplies

In one of my interviews with a project participant named Modesta, I asked, “What was the most important thing you’ve learned so far?” She said, “Through my participation in CWS activities, I learned the importance of planning evacuation routes for livestock and what to do while evacuating. We discussed the provision of a house on stilts and also the emergency evacuation of those who live nearby to my home since it’s relatively safe.” Hendrickus, another project participant said the most important thing he gained was “an understanding on the importance of communicating flood risks between residents upstream and downstream of rivers during disasters.”

We spoke with our local partner regarding DRR activities. They said, “With regard to DRR activities, it is conventionally easier to raise funds during normal times than when emergency response is required. Sometimes, there are a few donors who allocate funds for DRR but it is difficult to implement a full-fledged DRR program when memories of the disaster are still vivid. In normal times, people tend not to show much interest in DRR activities. However, in the DRR activities we implemented with CWS this time, the participants were very enthusiastic and serious, partly because it was almost immediately after the disaster.”

While conducting these interviews, I asked myself, “What does resilience mean for individuals in these affected areas?”

In order to find answers to these questions, we decided to visit the site again about a year after the end of the project and conduct more detailed interviews.

Conducting an interview with program participant (Shino on the left)

The survey results are currently being analyzed and compiled, but I would like to present some of the things that left an impression on me through the interviews. First of all, the word “resilience” itself is a word that came into Indonesia relatively recently. In the interviews, I began by explaining what this word means. I explained that in Japan, there are many situations in which people express themselves as “strong” or “flexibly strong”. “Like a solid stone?” interviewees asked. “Like rubber?” “Strong?” “No holes?” “You mean you can’t break it?” Various interpretations flew around, and some interviews took about an hour just because of this explanation.

I also asked the same question to the government: What is resilience for the government? As a result of the interviews, most of the answers focused on the empowerment of the community. They considered that a community becomes resilient to disasters when people in the community have an understanding of disaster risk, when people are aware of the importance of DRR, and when there are opportunities for learning how to mitigate disaster risk.

On the other hand, I also got the impression that community members were likely to recognize resilience through strengthening physical aspects, such as building breakwaters. However, what was interesting was that when asked what they should do to become more resilient to disasters, they mentioned addressing socio-economic vulnerabilities such as consideration and empowerment for the elderly and people with disabilities, improved food security and poverty.

As we work towards an effective approach to disaster risk reduction, I would like to keep asking this question: what is a disaster-resilient community like for you?

Shino Nishizawa is a Program Manager and Communication Officer for CWS Japan