The next step: resilience of livelihoods to natural disaster

Authors: Dr John Duncan, Dr Jadu Dash and Dr Emma Tompkins

Delegates from Asian and Pacific governments met in Thailand from the 24th June to review the current state of disaster risk reduction, the implementation of the Hyogo Framework and to produce a consensus for the post-2015 approach to disaster risk reduction. One of the high-level panel sessions at the meeting discussed how the post-2015 framework can enhance disaster resilience at the local level. This is an important step forward in recognising that the root causes of disasters are locally situated and that the impacts and response to disasters occur at a local level. Recent fieldwork in disaster prone Odisha, eastern India, highlights the importance of these discussions and the pressing need to address disaster vulnerability at a local scale to deliver effective outcomes.

Odisha is a state where rural poverty is prevalent and natural hazards ranging from intense cyclones striking intermittently to frequent droughts; heat waves and stagnant flooding consistently impede agricultural development. Here we see a rural population struggling to use agriculture to enhance their well-being, step out of poverty and reduce their underlying vulnerability to an increasingly variable climate. At the same time such climatic hazards are limiting agricultural growth, reinforcing and accentuating disaster vulnerability in the coastal regions.

1Water logging in rice fields preventing planting of a rice crop this season.

Odisha is an interesting case study for the Asia-Pacific region as in some senses it has developed a progressive, decentralised, disaster management infrastructure over the past decade under the guidance of Odisha State Disaster Management Authority (OSDMA). Policy has focussed on creating a dense coverage of cyclone shelters in vulnerable regions and developing local level community response plans. The success of this effort was illustrated in October 2013 where the institutional machinery from the state to the village level responded effectively to cyclone Phailin when there were less than 50 fatalities. This should be contrasted to the 1999 cyclone which struck Odisha when the disaster response was less organised and 10,000 lives were lost. Given cyclones in Asia still cause dramatic loss of life such as cyclone Nargis in Mynamar and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines there are lessons to be learnt from Odisha’s focus on local level responses to reducing fatalities.


3Above, a cyclone shelter in coastal Odisha and below, a vulnerability map prepared as part of community disaster response.

However, Odisha also exemplifies the need for a fully holistic, locally sensitive approach to disaster risk reduction to be adopted. By this, disaster management should recognise that development will not be secured unless livelihoods are resilient to natural hazards and disaster vulnerability will not recede unless livelihoods enable people to accumulate assets and step out of poverty. For the majority in rural Odisha, agriculture is a major livelihood strategy, 70% of the state’s population are engaged in agriculture, the majority are small and marginal farmers excluded from functioning markets. Agriculture only contributes 16% to the state’s GDP and rural poverty rates stand at 39%, well above the national average. Agriculture in Odisha is exposed to climatic and environmental stresses ranging from waterlogging due to untimely rains, flash flooding, droughts, extreme heat and cyclones. Poverty alleviation, food security and development in rural Odisha will not be secured or achieved without effective and inclusive agricultural development which builds local disaster resilience and adaptive capacity to climatic stresses. On this note, the PREFUS project has undertaken two field trips to coastal Odisha this year exploring how to build the resilience of agriculture in coastal communities to disasters.


PREFUS stakeholder meeting held in Bhubaneswar, June 2014, with government and UN officials, NGOs, academics.

These field trips have involved visits to coastal communities discussing issues around the agriculture – livelihoods – disaster nexus with farmers, meetings with local government officials from the agriculture, development and disaster management sectors, interviews with state and local government officials and a stakeholder discussion workshop with participants from a range of NGOs, government departments, the United Nations, local academics and the media. What is evident from this fieldwork is that the government has been effective in creating an organisational structure which responds to early-warnings of impending hazards at the local level. This has also translated into an institutional awareness of the importance of disaster preparedness to save lives amongst local government officials and villagers. However, there is not the same awareness or priority given to making agriculture profitable and resilient to disasters. Also, the institutional capacity to support agriculture does not appear to be working as effectively at the grass roots level; there is a lack of resources in the agricultural sector preventing capacity building from reaching farmers, thus,  inhibiting their ability to adapt and respond to a variable and harsh climate. A common sentiment in discussions with various local stakeholders was of a spatial mismatch between state policy formulation and the needs and capabilities of local communities.

For coastal Odisha, and in many disaster prone, impoverished rural regions around Asia, it is important that discussions surrounding post-2015 framework for enhancing local level resilience to disasters provide the impetus and motivation to fully integrate disaster management and resilience building into the livelihoods sector. This research project will seek to contribute to this agenda identifying pockets of low agricultural resilience across Odisha, best practice for resilience building and how institutions with limited resources can facilitate disaster resilient rural development most effectively.




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