A whole-systems, regenerative approach to disaster relief, human settlements and development
As with many aspects of the global dominant culture, disaster, displacement and development interventions are often designed in a mechanistic or reductionist manner, removing the affected communities from their wider context and systems. Development measures that are not built to withstand crises are the result of short term thinking, as are relief measures that are not connected to improving and developing areas affected by disaster.
The recent emergence of the term resilience in the humanitarian world has brought a new perspective to an old idea, and opened space for thinking about a more integrated response. Some of the hurdles lie in the siloed nature of international funding organisations and NGOs and the way they are structured, with different departments and agencies providing external assistance in different ways.
How can we shift humanitarian and development interventions away from degrading mindsets of 'aid' and 'security', toward sovereignty? Of course, vulnerable communities subject to conflict or natural disasters may need external assistance during times of crises. The Sphere Guidelines comprise suggested international standards to be used in humanitarian response.
They recommend consultation with communities themselves, and
consideration of the contexts in which they are living as well as attention to
the longer-term environmental impacts and consultation with host
communities. A regenerative approach starts with these guidelines but
recommends an integrative approach, taking into account all elements of
design, environment, shelter solutions, local markets, and a closed loop of
When assistance is delivered without proper consultation with communities themselves, consideration of the contexts in which they are living, or acknowledgement and action with the sovereignty and agency of those communities, such assistance can serve to create additional issues. Providing assistance to refugee populations without regard for host communities, bringing in food aid without recognition of local markets and suppliers and providing heavily packaged goods can all lead to additional long term problems on the ground. Recovery from disaster takes time, emergency support often saves time, but both need to be seen as part of a longer term approach that minimises damage to infrastructure and livelihoods and leaves communities more resilient to future shocks.
How can we use whole-systems design to create long-term resilience and abundance while also responding to immediate humanitarian crises?
Explore the map below using the zoom in (+) and out (-) buttons on the right, and click on the individual circles for more information about each topic.