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As ‘resilience’ replaces ‘disaster risk reduction’ as THE strategy*, possibilities to consider human behaviour come into view. But human behaviour is complicated particularly for the humanitarian sector. This year however, the IFRC, the  tackles it head on in their annual World Disasters Report 2014, entitled Culture and Risk.

When I spoke about this some months back to Swarna Rajagopalan from the Chennai- based feminist think tank, The Prajnya Trust, she told me:

“Agencies tend to see the inclusion of women thought their gender framework, and miss the women’s own effort for change. All relations whiting a community are trade-offs between power structures on the one hand and kinship, security, etc. on the other. It is important to reflect on whose vision of women’s inclusion are we promoting?”

Maybe not surprisingly, the WDR 2014 is a rather controversial report as it asks the humanitarian sector questions which the sector really struggles with.

Questions like:

  • How do we make sure we do not impose our logic of risk on others?
  • How do we engage with how real people (and their organizations) behave when faced with risk?
  • How do we not force people to act in ways that are unworkable according to their cultures, beliefs, priorities and needs?
  • How do we find a way to embrace “culture” when it both limits and empowers people when dealing with the risks they face .. ?
  • ….

In the report, Elhadj As Sy, The Secretary General of the IFRC, reflects:

“The one thing that is certain is that we will have less sustained impact if we do not adequately take account of people’s cultures, beliefs and attitudes in relations to risk. With climate change leading to damaged livelihoods, and therefore more vulnerability, and making hazards more extreme and/ or frequent, we have to get this right.”

I agree that we have to get this right!

But suggest that we just don’t take culture into account as The Sectary General encourages, but instead make culture central. Simply by ensuring we understand the culture of the humanitarian sector, our own culture that we take around the world. And then above all respect the culture(s) our culture finds itself in!

additional reading: Culture, risk and the build environment – Chapter 5 of the WDR 2014  – is maybe the most interesting to us ‘builders’. The box Women: a crucial role in housing recovery is my contribution to the report and can be found on p.136

and here for the little WDR 2014 video! 

* The Hyogo Framework for Action (2005-2015): Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters has been the world’s first comprehensive attempt to mainstream resilience into disaster risk management.

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