Local resilience is in the news. Nobody who keeps up with world news will have missed the devastation of the Lahaina, Maui fire. We received on our televisions graphic pictures of mudslides in Southern California and fires in Greece.
All very interesting to watch. But not so good if it happens to you. Those in Hawkes Bay will be wondering if there was anything else they could have done to prepare for Cyclone Gabrielle which turned them upside down.
In an increasingly interconnected and uncertain world, local communities all over are working towards local resilience. They are faced with a range of challenges that encompass economic, climate, and global risks.
The ability of these communities to adapt, withstand, and recover from these risks, collectively known as resilience, is a critical factor in ensuring their long-term sustainability and well-being.
Strengthening local resilience is the name of the game. As one politician recently quipped, “Resilience is a fashionable word these days”.
Of course, each community is unique in its vulnerabilities and opportunities. Moreover, we all are targets of the myriad of global risks that shape our collective future.
Tim Jackson in his book Post Growth: Life after Capitalism reminds us that all species prepare for a rainy day event.
“Squirrels hoard nuts in expectation of future hunger. Birds build nests in expectation of the need to lay eggs and protect their young. Beavers build dams in order to slow down fast-running water and fashion a secure home”.
Humans are no different.
Understanding Local Resilience
Local resilience refers to a community’s capacity to anticipate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from various shocks and stresses. These shocks and stresses can be of different natures. They include economic downturns, bank failures, pandemics, hurricanes, wildfires, heat waves, floods, or droughts. So there are many other global risks.
But strengthening local resilience is not a one-size-fits-all endeavour; it requires tailoring strategies to specific contexts while incorporating broader insights into the interconnectedness of the world.
Empowering Local Economies
Economic resilience forms the bedrock of a community’s ability to navigate challenges. Local economies must diversify and promote small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to reduce dependency on a single industry. Think about timber for house building. Where is the nearest sawmill?
Think about food. Where does it come from? How far? What roads are likely to be closed in a big flood? In the planning stage Government agencies should be involved in diversifying the local economy. As for energy, how resilient are you if the grid goes down?
New Zealand’s Waka Kotahi in building the Transmission Gully highway has shown how to build resilient infrastructure. It is clear they are anticipating downpours and so they allow for that in their design. Concrete ramparts replace an extensive slip just north of Pukerua Bay to prevent a repetition that the road will be closed for several days.
Investing in Climate Adaptation for local resilience
Climate change poses a formidable challenge to local resilience, as extreme weather events become more frequent and intense. Building climate-resilient infrastructure is essential to safeguard against the impacts of these events.
Incorporating green infrastructure, such as sponge cities using permeable paving is the future. In addition, flood-resistant buildings not only enhance a community’s capacity to withstand climate risks but also contribute to a more sustainable future.
Do you need a seawall? How dependent are you on fossil fuels? Investing in renewable energy sources reduces dependency on fossil fuels, making communities more resilient to energy price fluctuations and supply disruptions.
Community Engagement and Social Cohesion
Do people in your community know each other? Strong social networks and community engagement play a pivotal role in local resilience. Establishing platforms for open dialogue, collaboration, and knowledge sharing among residents, local organisations, and government agencies fosters a sense of ownership and empowerment.
It is no surprise that social cohesion not only enhances disaster preparedness and response. It also supports emotional well-being during challenging times, promoting a resilient mindset that extends beyond material resources.
Lyttelton in 2011 was a great example of local resilience after earthquakes. They had a very large and active time bank. (If you do an hour’s work you get credited with one Hour. Everyone’s hour is the same.) It had operated for many years, had a full-time coordinator and the local medical centre was a member. To add to their skills, they had teams of men doing handyman jobs and members knew each other and their community.
Access to Education and Knowledge
Education is a cornerstone of resilience, providing individuals with the tools to adapt and thrive in an ever-changing world. Local educational institutions should address the complex challenges of the modern era. After all, equipping students with critical thinking skills, digital literacy, and a global perspective prepares them to contribute meaningfully to their communities and navigate uncertainties.
While local resilience is rooted in community-level efforts, it is essential to acknowledge and address global risks that transcend borders. Pandemics, financial crises, and geopolitical tensions exemplify risks that can ripple through local communities, underscoring the need for international collaboration.
Establishing networks for information sharing, joint response planning, and resource allocation helps localities stay informed and adapt swiftly to global challenges.
Harnessing Technology for Resilience
Technological advancements offer valuable tools for strengthening local resilience. Smart technologies, data analytics, and predictive modelling can enhance disaster preparedness and response.
For instance, early warning systems can provide timely alerts about approaching storms, enabling communities to evacuate or take protective measures. Furthermore, digital platforms can facilitate community engagement, resource allocation, and communication during crises.
Good anticipation is everything. It’s no good having an alarm system that works only for tsunamis if you are having a fierce and rapidly spreading wildfire, as Lahaina, Maui, found to their horror in August 2023. If they had activated the tsunami alarm people would have run up the hill towards the fire.
Moreover, if you are planning to use Citizen Band radios in an emergency then it is important to buy them and practise using them.
Sustainable Resource Management
Natural resource management is intricately linked to resilience. Local communities should prioritise sustainable practices, such as water conservation, waste reduction, and ecosystem preservation. Implementing circular economy principles minimises resource dependency and environmental degradation, ensuring a more resilient future for generations to come.
Of course, there is no sustainability without resources to money to fix things up afterwards. A meeting of Kapiti District Council shortly after the Auckland floods and Cyclone Gabrielle showed how little councils have in reserve to help residents and build roads and other infrastructure after devastation. I propose a solution to that in another blog post.
As our world becomes increasingly complex and interconnected, local resilience becomes paramount in navigating a wide array of risks, from economic downturns to climate-related disasters and global threats.
Strengthening local resilience requires a comprehensive approach encompassing economic diversification, climate adaptation, community engagement, education, technological innovation, and global collaboration.
By empowering local communities to anticipate, adapt, and thrive in the face of adversity, we can build a more resilient world. Then we will be better equipped to confront the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.