Re-Alliance members illustrate how we can apply regenerative thinking to disaster management
The need for a revised approach to DRR
Earlier this month, the annual International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction was commemorated by the international humanitarian community. In May this year the Midterm Review of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 was held, during which the UN General Assembly adopted a political declaration to accelerate action to strengthen disaster resilience. This comes as a response to the alarming increase in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters that we are witnessing, ranging from hurricanes and wildfires to earthquakes and floods. These catastrophic events not only result in the loss of lives and livelihoods but also pose a significant threat to the environment and economies.
Traditional disaster risk reduction strategies often focus on short-term fixes and reactive measures and can no longer deal with the devastation experienced at a climatic, ecological and human level. Humanitarian organisations, who have traditionally worked through siloed clusters and who often design in a mechanistic or reductionist manner, are recognising the limitations of these approaches, and, as the number and scale of crises increases, fear they will not be able to meet the demand for support.
The destruction of land, ecosystems and communities requires an integrated and systems-based response that takes into account the parallel and equal importance of the earth and its inhabitants. Alternative approaches are needed, led by community responders who have a rooted understanding of their people, land and ecosystems. Applying regenerative principles to disaster risk reduction efforts can offer a starting point to designing holistic, integrated and forward-thinking solutions. In this article, we will explore what a regenerative approach to disaster risk reduction is, what its key principles are, and showcase some of the ways in which Re-Alliance members are putting regenerative principles into action to help enhance the resilience of both communities and ecosystems in areas vulnerable to natural hazards.
Rethinking DRR as Designing for Resilience and Regeneration
“What if we changed the narrative of Disaster Risk Reduction or DRR, into that of Designing for Resilience and Regeneration?”
While working on typhoon relief efforts, Re-Alliance member Sarah Queblatin was confronted by the amount of plastics and processed food making up the relief supplies. She questioned “how might we address problems without the same factors that caused the problem in the first place?” This questioning, coupled with the pressing needs of disaster affected communities, led to the formation of Green Releaf Initiative, an organisation working with communities in the Philippines - the country facing the highest disaster risk globally.
Green Releaf’s mission is to transform the narrative of Disaster Risk Reduction into Designing for Resilience and Regeneration. Combining permaculture and ecovillage design principles with traditional ecological knowledge, Green Releaf has created a range of programs in partnership with affected communities that enhance resilience at every stage of disaster management, from coordinating the distribution of urgent relief supplies to working with the local government to address the underlying causes of both natural hazards and community vulnerability.
A Green Releaf facilitated session of participatory 3D hazard mapping (Photo credit to Gumay Tenda, Green Releaf)
What would Regenerative Disaster Risk Reduction consist of?
The term ‘regeneration’ as we use it can be understood as a web of many intersecting movements and knowledge bases, each with their own unique framework for engaging with living systems. These movements include permaculture, agroecology, nature based solutions, traditional ecological knowledge and more. A common aim of regenerative approaches is to increase the health of ecological, social and/or economic systems, often through holistic designs employing nature inspired principles.
Viewing disaster management through a regenerative lens involves looking at the whole system and how elements are interconnected, rather than simply addressing the most visible and pressing concerns. For instance, it is crucial to remember that there is no such thing as a “natural disaster” - while there are natural hazards, such as earthquakes and droughts, disasters only occur when these hazards intersect with a community’s existing vulnerabilities. A whole systems approach to mitigating the risk of a disaster could involve regenerating the social and economic capital of a community, factors which have been proven to be instrumental in recovery.
Key principles of a regenerative approach to DRR could include the following:
Ecosystem-Based Approaches: Regenerative disaster risk reduction recognizes the symbiotic relationship between human communities and their surrounding ecosystems and emphasises the importance of preserving and enhancing the natural environment as a way to reduce disaster risks. The mutually reinforcing relationship between degradation, disasters, and climate change means that addressing drivers of degradation such as deforestation will also contribute substantially to mitigating the risks of all three.
Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS) engages communities in India in watershed management interventions, such as building earthen dams. By reviving this traditional method of dam construction, over 1000 communities have regained accessible water and are therefore much more resilient to droughts. Furthermore, as the structures allow the water to permeate the ground and recharge the groundwater, plant life is enabled to flourish, reducing soil erosion and mitigating the risk of flooding during monsoon season.
TBS works with communities facing water insecurity to build rainwater harvesting structures, like the one pictured about (Photo credit to TBS)
Resilient Infrastructure: Building infrastructure that can withstand the impact of disasters is fundamental. Regenerative approaches encourage the use of readily available materials and resilient construction techniques to reduce vulnerability and promote long-term durability.
An inspiring example of resilient infrastructure comes in the form of strawbale houses. PAKSBAB, an organisation promoting straw bale building as an earthquake resilient option for Pakistan, has tested these structures in seismic trials. The combination of the uniquely appropriate resilience of straw bale buildings to earthquakes, and of lime-stabilised soil to flood or monsoon damage, promote the possibility of a fully integrated disaster risk reduction solution for areas of high flood, monsoon and earthquake risk. Furthermore, PAKSAB estimates building costs to be about half of the cost of conventional earthquake resistant buildings, and local people have been trained in their construction, building community capacity and livelihoods.
An earthquake resistant strawbale house in Nepal (Photo credit to Bee Rowan, Strawbuild)
Indigenous Knowledge and Cultural Resilience: Incorporating traditional and indigenous knowledge is invaluable in designing a regenerative approach to DRR. Indigenous communities often have deep insights into sustainable land management, disaster resilience, and community cohesion.
To enhance their landscape approach to food sovereignty in disaster contexts, Green Releaf’s Living Story Landscapes program uses culture and creativity to document traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) in order to honour the existing practices of the indigenous communities they work with.
One of Green Releaf’s Permaculture demonstration sites is being constructed with indigenous farmers of Kalinga (Photo credit to Gumay Tenda, Green Releaf)
Community Empowerment: Communities play a central role in regenerative disaster risk reduction. Empowering them with the knowledge, skills, and resources to actively participate in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery efforts is crucial. This can involve community-based training, early warning systems, and participatory decision-making.
A great example of creatively engaging communities comes from IDEP, an NGO in Indonesia. Led by Re-Alliance member Petra Schneider, IDEP developed comic books, puppetry and films to raise awareness of the early signs of disaster and ways of responding to these. The films took care to develop characters and scenery that reflected local cultural and environmental contexts. Facilitators were trained in how to use puppets to stimulate discussion and reinforce the messages shared in the films, often using games, songs and puzzles and working with children and adult groups.
A group of children are shown one of IDEP’s short films as part of a disaster preparedness workshop (Photo credit to Petra Scneider, IDEP)
A regenerative approach to disaster risk reduction is a paradigm shift in our approach to mitigating and responding to disasters. It recognizes the interconnectedness of humans and nature, focuses on creating systems that continue to thrive beyond disaster events, and empowers communities to take an active role in their resilience. By focusing on restoration and regeneration, we can reduce the impact of disasters, protect the environment, and build more resilient and thriving communities.
As we confront the challenges of a changing climate, regenerative disaster risk reduction offers an urgently needed path forwards. It is beginning to be acknowledged by the international community that what is needed is a timely, concerted cross-sectoral and collaborative movement to avoid, reduce and reverse degradation before irreversible damage is caused, noting that restoration and regeneration will become more difficult and costly over time. The work of community led groups such as the 200+ members of Re-Alliance needs to be recognised and learned from. To join this network filled with rich expertise, find out more here, or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Green Releaf founder Sarah Queblatin explains more about Green Releaf’s work to transform DRR to designing for resilience and regeneration
Re-Alliance Case Study about Tarun Bharat Sangh's work with The Flow Partnership
More information about Pakistan Straw Bale and Appropriate Building (PAKSBAB)
IDEP’s ‘Tales of Disaster’ film series https://youtu.be/FTvitAoUEow?si=L3FxfLsQgiGNor_e
IDEP’s Community Based Disaster Management (CBDM) manual for disaster preparedness – a comprehensive guide that empower communities to develop their own strategies for disaster management (this manual is endorsed and used by a range of bodies working in disaster management including: UNESCO, USAID, Oxfam, CHF, IOM, Bakornas (Indonesia’s national body for disaster management) and MPBI
For more information on IDEP's educational materials, including a series of children's comics and activity books on Community Based Disaster Management, see here or get in touch.