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date: 11 December 2023

Community-Based Disaster Risk Reductionfree

Community-Based Disaster Risk Reductionfree

  • Rajib ShawRajib ShawKyoto University


Community-based approaches existed even before the existence of the state and its formal governance structure. People and communities used to help and take care of each other’s disaster needs. However, due to the evolution of state governance, new terminology of community-based disaster risk reduction (CBDRR) has been coined to help communities in an organized way. Different stakeholders are responsible for community-based actions; the two key players are the local governments and civil society, or nongovernment organizations. Private sector and academic and research institutions also play crucial roles in CBDRR. Many innovative CBDRR practices exist in the world, and it is important to analyze them and learn the common lessons. The key to community is its diversity, and this should be kept in mind for the CBDRR. There are different entry points and change agents based on the diverse community. It is important to identify the right change agent and entry point and to develop a sustainable mechanism to institutionalize CBDRR activities. Social networking needs to be incorporated for effective CBDRR.


  • Adaptation
  • Resilience
  • Climate Change
  • Policy and Governance
  • Development
  • Preparedness


Communities are the first responders in case of a disaster. Therefore, community-based disaster risk reduction (CBDRR) should be the core of any risk reduction approach. Disaster risk reduction focuses more on reducing underlying risk, encouraging preventive action before a disaster. Disaster risk management, in contrast, focuses on broader aspects of disaster issues, from prevention and mitigation to relief, response, and recovery. Yodmani (2001) defined community-based disaster risk management (CBDRM) as an approach that reduces vulnerabilities and strengthens people’s capacity to cope with hazards, which seeks to: (1) reduce vulnerabilities and increase capacities of vulnerable groups and communities to cope with, prevent, or minimize loss and damage to life, property, and the environment, (2) minimize human suffering, and (3) hasten recovery.

Based on past disasters, it has been found that communities become actively involved in search and rescue, relief, and postdisaster recovery. To enhance community participation before a disaster strikes, it is important to focus on risk reduction issues, and therefore CBDRR has become increasingly emphasized. CBDRR emerged as a result of a shift from reactive emergency management to disaster risk reduction. It focuses more on predisaster interventions such as prevention, mitigation, and preparedness-related activities. For instance, prevention measures aim to avoid the occurrence of disasters, which may not be possible in the case of natural disasters, but the intensity and frequency of disasters could be reduced through poverty alleviation and asset redistribution plans and the provision of basic services such as education and health care (Victoria, 2002). Mitigation measures reduce and limit the impact of natural hazards on elements of risk such as population, infrastructure, and properties through structural measures such as bridges, protective dikes, embankments, and safety building design and nonstructural measures like community risk assessment, community risk reduction planning, public awareness, food security programs, group saving, cooperatives, strengthening community disaster management organizations and advocacy on disasters and development issues, legislation, and land use zoning, among others.

Twigg, Charlotte, and Mary (2000) emphasized that disaster mitigation is intrinsic to sustainable development. Preparedness measures are developed in anticipation of future disasters so that effective and appropriate actions are taken during emergencies, including public awareness, evacuation, and emergency management, search and rescue, immediate repair, restoration of critical facilities and utilities, capacity assessment, non–food relief assistance, and evacuation center management (Victoria, 2002). The key elements and features of CBDRR or CBDM explain the core of community-based approaches for disaster risk reduction and movement (Shaw, 2012; Victoria, 2002):


People’s participation is important: Community members are the main actors, involved not only in the process but its content. They share the benefit or gain through improved disaster risk reduction and development. Ultimately, this will lead to safer conditions, security of livelihood, and sustainable development.


Priorities are set for the most vulnerable groups, families, and people in the community: Participation from all sectors is required for disaster risk reduction, but priority is given to the most vulnerable groups—in urban areas the poor or informal settlers, in rural areas farmers, fisherfolk, and indigenous people. The most vulnerable also include the elderly, the differently abled, children, and women.


Risk reduction measures are community-specific: Measures provided for risk reduction are mainly community-specific, which are identified after an analysis of the community’s disaster risk (hazards, vulnerabilities, and capacities and perceptions of disaster risk).


Existing capacities and coping mechanisms are recognized: The strength of CBDRR lies in the existing capacities and coping mechanisms of the community members. They often lack material assets but rely heavily on their traditional wisdom, local knowledge and resources, social organizations, shared values, cooperative coping mechanisms, close family ties, and perseverance and resourcefulness.


Disaster risk reduction is linked with development: The aim of CBDRR is to reduce people’s vulnerabilities by strengthening the capacities of individuals, families, and communities. It addresses vulnerabilities and the core factors behind it, such as poverty, social inequalities, and environmental resource depletion and degradation. Ultimately, the idea is to develop a people-centered development as well as equitable and sustainable development. The goal is to build a resilient community.


Outsiders have supporting and facilitating roles: In CBDRR, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) support community members, whereas the government role is integral to the institutionalization of the CBDRR process. Partnerships with less vulnerable groups and other communities are forged in the interest of disaster risk reduction.

Community-based approaches can be defined as “an umbrella term for approaches to programming which involve beneficiaries in their identification, design, or management. It also refers to a set of approaches, applied within community-level projects or as part of national programs” (Slaymaker & Christiansen, 2005, p. 11). The degree of community participation varies along a spectrum from consultation with communities to devolution of resources, decision-making, and implementation at the community level (Slaymaker & Christiansen, 2005). In the field of development planning, Arnstein (1969) defined eight levels of community participation to demonstrate the quality of participation to aspire to and work for. These involve “the redistribution of power that enables the have-not citizens, presently excluded from the political and economic processes, to be deliberately included in the future” (Arnstein, 1969, p. 1).

This article discusses the essentials of CBDRR with specific focus on Asian examples. It provides a historical overview of the evolution of the concept, followed by some new issues in CBDRR in our changing world. A few examples from Asia are provided, followed by discussion of future perspectives of CBDRR.

Historical Overview

Disaster risk reduction has evolved over time. While in 1960s and 1970s disasters were considered extreme events, the 1980s saw a strong emphasis on predisaster preparedness, which led to the United Nations (UN) International Decade of Natural Disaster Reduction (1990–1999). The first half of the decade focused mainly on government actions, up to the 1994 Yokohama Conference and the “Yokohama Plan of Action for a Safer World,” possibly the first official document agreed upon by the UN member states that strongly emphasized the role of communities and NGOs in disaster risk reduction approaches (IDNDR, 1994). The following year, in 1995, the world saw the devastation of the Great Hanshin earthquake (popularly known as the Kobe earthquake), which shook Japan, one of the most disaster-prone and –prepared countries. The aftermath of the disaster involved a long-lasting recovery process, and Japan’s concept of civil society and NGOs’ role changed quite drastically (Shaw & Goda, 2004).

After 1995 several changes took place in the risk reduction arena. Applying the lessons of Kobe that neighbors helped each other the most, community-focused issues became paramount. Multistakeholder and multidisciplinary evolution was more emphasized at the global and regional levels. The need for predisaster mitigation measures was emphasized. Major disasters like the 1999 Taiwan earthquake, the 1999 Turkey earthquake, and the 2001 Gujarat, India, earthquake also took place. These events highlighted the need for mainstreaming risk reduction in local and national development policy. Also important was the establishment of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) as the key coordinating UN body for disaster risk reduction.

Then came the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, another turning point in the risk reduction arena. This one event killed more than 200,000 people from more than 65 different countries. The highest death tolls were reported in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, the Maldives, and Thailand. This required global help in postdisaster response and recovery. In 2005, the 10th anniversary of the Kobe earthquake, the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA; 2005–2015) was adopted at the 2nd World Conference on Disaster Reduction (WCDR) in Hyogo, Japan. This was a landmark event and framework in the sense that, for the first time, the disaster field had a measureable framework to monitor the progress in risk reduction approaches in countries and communities.

Thus, there has been significant progress in the methods, policies, and approaches of disaster risk reduction over time, with risk reduction becoming truly multidisciplinary with the involvement of different stakeholders. The role of communities and civil societies has been recognized, practiced, and re-emphasized in different documents and policies. Briceno (2015), in his analysis of the evolution of risk reduction approaches, enumerated the following goals: (1) integration of risk management into sustainable development policies and climate change adaptation, (2) shifting to vulnerability reduction and resilience building, (3) ensuring a strong institutional basis for implementing disaster risk reduction, and (4) developing resilience awareness and consciousness-raising.

In 2015, the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction was hosted by government of Japan and the city of Sendai (SFDRR, 2015). The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) was adopted by the member states for the period of 2015–2030. SFDRR has seven specific goals:


Reduce global disaster mortality


Reduce number of affected people


Reduce direct disaster economic loss


Reduce disaster damage to critical infrastructures


Increase number of countries with DRR strategies


Enhance international cooperation


Increase access to multihazard EWS, risk information, and assessment

To achieve these goals, there are four key targets:


Understanding disaster risk


Strengthening disaster risk governance


Investing in risk reduction


Enhancing disaster preparedness for collective response and being able to “build back better” in recovery, rehabilitation, and reconstruction

Thus, from 1990 to 2015 there has been a big change in the concepts, approaches, and methods used to reduce the impacts of disasters. While in the 1990s focus was more on multistakeholder and local governance, since 2000 more risk-sensitive investment planning has been emphasized, and risk-informed decision-making has become the core of the risk reduction.

Redefining community in a changing world

In 1989, Maskrey made strong arguments for a community-based approach to disaster management. Since then, others have documented, argued, and advocated for risk management at the local level (Shaw, 2012, 2014; Shaw & Okazaki, 2003; Victoria, 2002). However, the definition of “local” varies depending on the author(s), context, and country. Some people argue that anything below a national can be considered local, but in some cases it is the local government and in others the subcity or village or community level where the emphasis of risk management should be placed. In defining the local DRM context in the Asia-Pacific region, there needs to be a clear link between local governments and local communities, irrespective of the country.

Community-based disaster-related activities are discussed differently over time. More than 100 years ago, before the existence of most of the states, people or communities were taking care of themselves through collective actions during disasters (Shaw, 2014). After the formation of states, government-based disaster risk reduction programs started, which failed to serve the needs of the people and communities. During the last 20–30 years we started talking again about the need for CBDRR. Thus, the community-based approach is not new. Rather, we are going back to the old and traditional approaches to risk reduction. Community-based disaster management (CBDM) was a popular term in the later 1980s and 1990s, which gradually evolved to CBDRM and then CBDRR). CBDRM and CBDRR are often used with similar meanings, with an enhanced focus on “risk,” but there is still a slight distinction. While CBDRR focuses more on predisaster activities for risk reduction by the communities, CBDRM focuses on a broader perspective of risk reduction–related activities by communities, during, before, and after a disaster (Shaw, 2012). Dynes (1991, p. 2) wrote: “the local community is taken as the primary focus of attention since that is the common unit which is affected by disaster and, more importantly, responds to deal with the event.” Moreover, community-based approaches are effective in correcting the defect in top-down approaches of development planning and disaster management, which often ignore community needs and capacities. These top-down approaches fail to reach the most vulnerable group due to lack community participation.

Indigenous knowledge (IK) is often associated with community-based practices (Cronin et al., 2004; Gaillard & Mercer, 2013; Howitt, Havnen, & Veland, 2012; Kelman, Mercer, & Gaillard, 2012; Mercer, Kelman, Taranix, & Suchet, 2010; Shaw, Sharma, & Takeuchi, 2009). IK is accumulated through experience, and IK relating to disaster risk reduction addresses survival in different natural conditions. IK can be linked to physical aspects (e.g., housing patterns and different physical countermeasures) or can be linked to social value systems and culture (Shaw et al., 2009). Transferable indigenous knowledge goes beyond the time-space boundary of communities and can be disseminated to the next generation. Scientific validation of IK has been the subject of research (Hiwasaki, Luna, Syamsidik, & Shaw, 2014; Mercer et al., 2010), and the accumulated knowledge base needs to be linked to early warning systems and other DRR approaches of the government mechanism.

CBDRR has been traditionally practiced by NGOs as a common approach to build resilient communities in their DRR efforts (Izumi & Shaw, 2012). The approach was initially implemented in the developing world by NGOs, followed by international organizations like the International Federations of Red Cross and Red Crescent. The approach is now increasingly promoted among local governments in order to strengthen the links between the official disaster management system and community-based organizations (Kafle & Murshed, 2006). There are many case studies of DRR projects with community-based approaches by NGOs and local governments, and there are many variations as well (Heijmans, 2009).

In an analysis of community-based disaster risk reduction approaches in Africa, van Niekerk and Coetzee (2012) pointed out that communities were mainly excluded from the decision-making system in the top-down governance system in most African states. They strongly argued that linking top-down relief response activities with community participation can enhance the resilience of the system. Although there are several financial constraints for funding community-based projects, it is important to recognize the enhanced skills of the NGOs and voluntary organizations, which can effectively manage funds and deliver the appropriate actions at the grassroots level.

In an overview of Central America, Hori and Shaw (2012a) analyzed 49 disaster management projects, which were funded in 6 countries after Hurricane Mitch. It was found that 80% of the projects focused on soft components, like training, knowledge dissemination, and so forth. Local stakeholders were the primary focus of 48% of these projects, which were implemented directly with the communities, especially for installing early warning systems. The analysis shows three major categories of project achievements: (1) saving lives, (2) solidarity with the communities, and (3) the influence of the community-based projects on reforming the local government’s legislative framework. Therefore, it was found that community involvement and participation has a far-reaching impact on local governance.

With the development of technology, in a digital era the virtual communities based on the social media have started playing important roles in DRR. There are two types of virtual community related to DRR: (1) the learning forum, where researchers and practitioners share their views on new developments in DRR and engage in debate, and (2) community voices, where people and communities express their concern in areas related to DRR. Both are considered of equal importance, since in the information age the importance of sharing and networking is one of the key aspects of community practice.

Stakeholders in CBDRR

Communities do not exist in isolation. They are part of a system, and different stakeholders have specific roles to play in community practices, community management, community planning, and community-based actions. Both governments and civil society organizations (CSOs) are major actors in DRR at the national as well as the local level. In the process of DRR, greater emphasis must be placed upon local-level and community-based approaches, indigenous knowledge, and coping strategies supported by CSOs. The involvement of CSOs and local governments (LGs) in DRR is indispensable to address the need of communities and beneficiaries and to identify the most effective tools and solutions in the planning and implementation process within the local context, as it is at the local level that the impacts of a disaster are most immediately felt.

A series of achievements, good practices, and educational and public awareness materials are produced by stakeholders at different levels. In recent years, the initiatives and commitment by national governments have increased particularly in many Asian countries, including Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. At the same time, there are a number of case studies and good practices by local governments, communities, and CSOs. However, there is a policy gap between the national and local levels. The international policy framework the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) has been popular at the international, regional, and national levels but failed to reach the local level with further details. Thus, the civil society Asian Disaster Reduction and Response Network (ADRRN) made the “Road to Sendai” campaign to enlighten people, communities, and community-based organizations about the HFA and the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, held in March 2015. Following are the expected roles of some of the key stakeholders to implement community-based action on DRR.

Local Governments

The need for decentralization from national governments to local governments in DRR has been stressed (UNISDR, 2010). Decentralization is defined as a multidimensional process of shifting the focus of development from central planning and bureaucratic government agencies to community-based participatory systems that use the full range of local public and private institutions (Parker, 1995). Local governments have a focal role in DRR. As a subsidiary to national authorities, LGs facilitate and manage the delivery of vital services that benefit communities. Second, as representatives of local residents, they act as advocates, resource mobilizers, connectors, and networkers between local constituents and outsiders. Finally, they provide the local leadership that influences community agendas, decision-making, problem-solving, consensus-building, allocation of resources, and conflict resolution (Shaw, 2009). Since LGs are also deeply rooted in communities, they are better placed in increasing local access to public infrastructure, public services, and economic opportunities; in increasing the empowerment of local actors; and in enhancing the sustainability of local development processes (Manyena, 2006). Ballin (2008) listed three major reasons why the participation of the local government is critical:

Local knowledge and measures tailored to local hazards and vulnerabilities are most the effective disaster risk management.

National disaster management authorities have difficulties responding to and preparing for disasters, thus local actors must rely on their own capabilities to protect themselves.

Society often increases disaster risk itself and is more aware of disaster risks.

Based on the above characteristics of local governments, four major roles of local governments in DRR were highlighted by UNISDR (2009):

Play a central role in coordinating and sustaining a multilevel, multistakeholder platform to promote DRR in the region or for a specific hazard.

Effectively engage local communities and citizens with DRR activities and link their concerns with government priorities.

Strengthen their own institutional capacities and implement their own practical DRR actions.

Devise and implement innovative tools and techniques for DRR, which can be replicated elsewhere or scaled-up nationwide.

Matsuoka, Joerin, Shaw, and Takeuchi (2012) highlighted the role of local governments in the formation of the disaster-safe welfare community in Kobe, Japan, based on a partnership between the community and the local government. After the 1995 earthquake, Kobe started to develop community disaster prevention groups, forming a “disaster-safe welfare community” with the basic principles of self-help, cooperative help, and public help. The concept was formalized and mainstreamed in all the school districts of Kobe, and the coverage of the welfare community reached 100% coverage by 2008. According to this concept, the Kobe city government has a role to provide support and necessary guidance for enabling the environment to strengthen community DRR capacity and contribute to the sustainability of initiatives by communities. The initiative and strong support and leadership of the Kobe city government greatly influenced community resilience in the face of disaster.

Furthermore, the role of LGs in developmental functions is essential for DRR, in particular in land-use planning, urban development planning, public works, construction, safety and licensing, social services, and responding to the need of the poor and the underprivileged, and implementation and strengthening of the decentralization process (UNISDR, 2010). Although there is a strong need for the active involvement of local governments in DRR, local governments have less opportunity than national governments to explore the possibility of various support systems in coordination and knowledge development (Izumi & Shaw, 2011). In addition, local officials are not necessarily familiar with new regulations, and there is a lack of dedicated organizational local capacity for planning and implementation. This is compounded by a general lack of clarity on the roles of local governments and/or competition of different administrative levels over authority and resources. Malardoda, Amaratunga, and Pathirage (2010) categorized the challenges faced by local governments into two areas: internal factors and external factors. The internal factors include lack of knowledge and interest in DRR initiatives and human resource issues, lack of financial capabilities, internal organizational and administrative weaknesses, and competing priorities. The external factors include lack of authority, multilayered governance arrangements, unstable political systems, and relationship issues with the central government. It is possible to overcome a lack of knowledge on DRR initiatives regarding the internal factors by working with CSOs. An initial challenge is often the lack of interest in and capacities for DRR by local governments. This is often a reflection of weak local governance capacities. Support from partners, such as the national government, CSOs, and UN agencies, can play a catalytic role in filling the initial gaps. The challenge is to build up a planning process where people participate, decide upon, and plan their city together with the local government authorities based on their capacities and resources.

Civil Society Organizations

The functions of CSOs in general, according to Streeten (1997), are: (1) they are good at reaching and mobilizing poor and remote communities, (2) they help empower poor people to gain control of their lives, (3) they carry out projects at lower costs and more efficiently than the government agencies, and (4) they promote sustainable development. In the long run, they aim to promote sustainable community development through activities that promote capacity building and self-reliance. CSOs have the same characteristic as local governments, being deeply rooted in community, exposed to local disaster risks, and familiar with local knowledge and culture. Based on these general functions and characteristics, CSOs can play an important role in implementing CBDRR. The CBDRR approach has been implemented by CSOs since the end of the 1990s as an alternative to top-down approaches in disaster management. With this approach, people’s awareness of disaster risks was increased using intimate local knowledge, and preexisting local capacities and institutions were recognized.

Without the strong involvement of CSOs and community, local-level initiatives for DRR will not be sustainable. For instance, external agencies, such as governments, often initiate and implement community-level programs, but such initiatives often cease once external support is ended. There can be many reasons behind this lack of sustainability, such as lack of funding, partnership, participation, empowerment, and ownership of local communities. In order to overcome this challenge, multilateral and multisectoral approaches, awareness-raising among all the stakeholders at different levels, and partnership/network are important (Kafle & Murshed, 2006; Shaw & Okazaki, 2003). Benson et al. (2001) added that CSOs, as they make longer-term commitments, develop and disseminate innovations, and their broad-based approach creates a more holistic approach to disasters. In addition, Luna (2001) emphasizes CSOs’ important role in training and capacity development activities not only for communities but also for local governments. Mulyasari (2012) highlighted more points in terms of the role of CSOs in DRR. CSOs have a role to play in linking development strategies in routine activities and programs of the communities, in decentralization of DRR responsibilities and resources by communicating DRR to the communities at large, in strengthening public–private partnership, and in upscaling community participation in DRR. Izumi and Shaw (2012) further describe the roles of CSOs as facilitators and moderators among local stakeholders to bridge a gap in communications among the stakeholders. At the same time, it is possible for CSOs to create a sense of ownership among communities in DRR activities by working closely with communities closely, which can lead to program sustainability.

There are three different types of civil society organizations: international, national, and local. Van Niekerk and Coetzee (2012) pointed out that in Africa, international NGOs play an important role in funding community-based projects. Without the funding provided by international NGOs and intergovernmental organizations, community-based disaster risk reduction projects would cease to exist due to the lack of funds currently being allocated by African governments. Even though international NGOs take a leading role in contributing skills and capacities to CBDRR projects in Africa, this does not diminish the input from governments and local NGOs. Often governments and NGOs (international and local) are found to cooperate in a close symbiotic relationship, where the one group provides input and expertise on aspects of a specific CBDRR project where the other group might not have the required expertise. There is also a lack of private sector involvement in grassroots projects in Africa.

However, CSOs have been facing the challenges in the process of DRR implementation. Though disaster has been recognized as a problematic issue, clear and explicit operational and preparedness plans in CSOs remain far from adequate. This is perhaps due to the lack of conceptual clarity in the minds of CSO leaders in DRR efforts. In addition, CSOs have been struggling with other internal challenges and issues such as shortage of DRR-mandated staff, high staff turnover, institutional boundaries between emergencies and DRR, poor documentation of organizational records, and a lack of practical guidance for staff. Furthermore, many CSOs have issues related to external factors such as funding. Their activities face the problem of sustainability over a longer period of time, especially once the CSO withdraws from the field. Thus, even though the initiatives are started with CSOs interventions, it is important to link them to local government activities and incorporate them into policies (Shaw, 2009). While CSOs have been advocating the importance of DRR and focusing on the root causes of disaster occurrence, there is still a strong interest by governments and donors in the emergency phase. The low profile of DRR work in comparison to emergency relief has made it unattractive to donors and governments. International funds are more easily available when a state of emergency is declared. Most donors are aware of the negative image that failed investments generate for the predisaster phase.

The DRR efforts by CSOs and LGs are also affected by the leadership of the national government. When national budgets are tight, governments tend to spend less on prevention and DRR and more on postdisaster response and recovery. There are two main reasons for this. First, investments in DRR may not yield benefits for many years, which makes it difficult to justify diverting scarce funds from other sectors, such as rural health, where benefits are more upfront and visible. Second, even if measures to reduce risk were successful, it can be difficult to prove that it was due to investments in prevention. The problem is further compounded by the fact that there are more funds available for response than for prevention. It is thought that this is because to DRR is still addressed in isolation from development processes. A more integrated approach based on the two-way linkage between disasters and development is necessary, and the effectiveness of DRR will lead to development and vulnerability reduction. Thus, not only program implementation with communities but also advocacy efforts by CSOs is critical. This should be addressed by governments, donors, and international/regional actors. They and LGs could utilize a regional network for CSOs such as ADRRN and a global network for CSOs such as the Global Network for Disaster Reduction. As stressed by Shaw (2009), it is key for CBDRR to establish partnership and collaboration among stakeholders at the local and other levels.

Other Nontraditional Stakeholders

Private sectors and academic/research institutions are considered nontraditional stakeholders in the local communities. However, they have key roles to play. In the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami, the University of Madras, located in Chennai in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, India, started a unique higher education program by establishing a community college for underprivileged students. Most of the students were from fishing communities in nearby coastal villages affected by tsunami. The college, apart from its regular classes, engaged the students to undertake specific community-based activities like village and coastal watching, map making, identifying vulnerable areas of the villages, and identifying escape routes (Krishnamurthy & Kamala, 2015). These were done in cooperation with the village council, district office, and NGOs. The sustainability of the effort lies in the fact that since it is incorporated in the mandatory disaster management curriculum for all college students, it is essential for the students to participate every year. Thus, periodic monitoring is also ensured.

Similarly, the private sector can play an important role in enhancing community resilience. The coastal areas of Bangladesh are often faced with severe drinking water problems. This is partly due to human-induced causes, like extensive aquaculture, and partly due to natural causes like arsenic-contaminated underground water and salinity induction due to cyclones and storm surges. Thus, rainwater harvesting is the only available option in many cases. There, a water tank company, Gazi Tank, entered into a unique collaboration with the international NGO (INGO) called CONCERN to provide water tanks in rural areas (Izumi & Shaw, 2014). The tank price was subsidized by the company, and villagers made a down payment, followed by monthly installments to pay back the cost over a period of 2–3 years. The INGO put the collateral in the bank to insure against nonreturn of the money by the villagers. The counterpart local NGO of the INGOs worked closely with the villagers and local government to develop a comprehensive scheme of rainwater harvesting, mainly targeted at female-headed families. This gave families some economic support as well as better living options with safe drinking water. The success of several pilot programs created a market for the tank company in rural areas. Thus, it was a win-win situation where the private company made a profit through its expanded market in the rural area and the rural risks of saline water and nonavailability of safe drinking water were reduced, while at the same time living conditions and livelihoods were improved.

Examples of CBDRR

There are many examples of successful CBDRR across the globe. The following are some from Asia.

Kamaishi Miracle: Importance of School Community Linkages

The Tohoku region of Japan was affected by a devastating tsunami in 2011. Kamaishi, a city located in the Iwate prefecture of the Tohoku region, used to conduct community-based disaster education by practicing evacuation drills with schools and communities. Usually, in Japan, after a major earthquake, the school principal gathers the students, and if the school is located in the coastal area, due to potential tsunami, students evacuate to the rooftop of the school building. This is standard evacuation practice, and March 11, 2011, after the earthquake, the school principals of the Unosumai elementary and junior high schools followed this procedure. However, a community fire volunteer came running to alert the school principals that the potential tsunami wave might exceed the height of the roof and that therefore the students should evacuate to nearby higher ground. The principals followed the suggestion of the fire volunteer and ordered evacuation to higher ground, and consequently no children were harmed. Both of the schools were totally devastated by the powerful tsunami waves. The key lesson here is the importance of school community linkage, which saved the lives of the schoolchildren.

ALM: From Waste Management to Disaster Prevention

The megacity of Mumbai, India, has a population that varies from 16 to 20 million, 58% of which live in slum areas. The city, like other developing nations’ cities, has daily problems of waste management, traffic management, pollution, sanitation issues, and so forth. In 1998, the city government started a community-based solid waste management program called advanced locality management (ALM), which encourages the communities living on both sides of a street (including formal and informal communities) to come together for the betterment of their locality (Figure 1) (Surjan, Redkar, & Shaw, 2009). They form a committee, register with the city government, and receive a small grant to start waste management activities. The informal sector’s female poopulation started segregating the collected waste, which was sold to generate a small income for these women’s groups. In total, more than 800 ALMs were registered. The waste management issues brought the community together, and it led to several other programs like the development of public toilets and a sanitation drive and women’s computer literacy program. In 2005, there was a devastating flood caused by major catastrophic rainfall within 18–20 hours, which brought the city to a standstill. A survey conducted afterward found that the areas where ALMs were more active had less damage, and rescue operations there were smoother. This was the case for two reasons: due to daily communication, the community network and local information was better, so people knew whom to rescue first—children, the elderly, physically challenged people, and pregnant women. The second reason was good waste management policy: drainage was better and there was less inundation in most of areas. The key lesson from this practice is that in an urban megacity, CBDRR needs an entry point, and for Mumbai it was solid waste management, which in turn helped in disaster risk reduction.

Figure 1. Impact of ALM activities (left: before; right: after).

Ring Dyke: Traditional Concept with Modern Implications

Before the infrastructure development of the river system (like river dykes) in Japan, there used to be circular ring dykes, often made using soil (Figure 2). People lived in a cluster, and 20–25 families, sometimes even up to 50 households, lived within the ring dykes. These types of ring dykes existed in the flood plain areas, surrounded by agriculture land. The key concept was to protect the lives and household assets from the flooding. There used to be a strict monitoring and watch system by household members living within the rink dykes (Takeuchi & Shaw, 2009). They helped each other and kept an eye on the flood level during the flooding season. The repair and maintenance of the ring dykes was also their responsibility. Now, with the advancement of the mega dyke system along most of the rivers in Japan, the ring dykes do not exist anymore, and their physical importance has gradually decreased. However, the concept of communities caring for their own and others’ safety (a combination of self-help and mutual help) is still applicable to modern CBDRR in Japan as well as elsewhere.

Figure 2. Ring dyke remnants in central Japan.

Source: From Takeuchi & Shaw, 2009.

Water Community: Importance of Unwritten Governance Systems

Water is an essential part of life. In ancient days, people had to go to “water points” (e.g., rivers or ponds) to fetch water. Today, in many rural areas, that is still the common practice. However, in urban areas we depend on a water supply system, and therefore, our direct dependency on water sources has gradually decreased. Water community is a concept to revitalize water–human interaction and learn and apply the principles of traditional practices. In a small town called Gujo Hachiman in Gifu prefecture in Japan, a traditional water governance system is still practiced (Takeuchi, Uy, & Shaw, 2010). The town was devastated by a major fire 400 ago, and during reconstruction it was built with a water system around its houses and water points at different locations. In the stepwise point location (Figure 3), water usage is governed by strict unwritten regulations (e.g., the upper part is for drinking, the lower part for other purposes). The community has learned the importance of water and made self-governed rules. The key point here is that the community norm and regulations are maintained and monitored by its members for the common use of water.

Figure 3. Stepwise water usage point ruled by community governance.

Partnership: Linking Different Stakeholders

A project funded by Christian Aid in Malawi titled “Building Disaster Resilient Communities” has shown a great example of partnership of INGOs, local NGOs, and local government, working closely with the local communities (van Niekerk & Coetzee, 2012). The project is implemented by the Evangelical Lutheran Development Service (ELDS) in the Phalombe district of Malawi, addressing the water issues during drought periods. The local district office and the implementing agency ELDS provided technical training to local communities. ELDS provided materials and information on water pipelines, and local governments provided input on technical details. The local communities contributed their labor and had a strong sense of ownership in the future maintenance of the water pipeline system. Thus, a true partnership, through a proper community involvement, can develop a resilient system for communities.

RELSAT: Community-Owned and Community-Managed Early Warning System

Strengthening Local Structures and Early Warning Systems (Reforzamientos de Estructuras Locales y Sistemas de Alerta Temprana, or RELSAT) was implemented in the city of Cartago, Tunisia, during 1999–2001. The objective of this project was to establish an efficient community early warning systems (CEWS) and increase community capability to reduce local flood risk (Hori & Shaw, 2012b). The project installed a transparent plastic pluviometer at two sites of the upper river basin, Tierra Blanca and Piedra Grande. This equipment was installed at houses of assigned volunteer families. Monitoring of this equipment was simple—observing the precipitation accumulated in the pluviometer. Other equipment was installed to gauge river water levels at the same two sites. The structure of this equipment was also simple—it used a plastic bar and electronic sensor to calibrate water level digitally. The bar was installed in the river and connected with electronic wires to each volunteer family’s premises. The volunteer families at Piedra Grande and Barrio Nuevo abandoned their CEWS duty five to seven years after the project implementation. This experience offers lessons related to the difficulty of continuing each actor’s assigned CEWS responsibility on a voluntary basis over time. It appears that when the EWS is community-based, its sustainability is ensured.

Discussion: Diversity in CBDRR

One of the key points of CBDRR is the diversity of the community. Diversity exists at different levels, based on geographic location, customs, culture, habits, and so forth. To understand and appreciate this diversity is the first step of CBDRR. For that, a change agent is required as an entry point to the community. Following are some of salient features that need to kept in mind for CBDRR.

Urban and Rural Communities

There are distinct differences in urban and rural communities. In the rural communities, CBDRR can be a development vehicle, which addresses the development needs of the area, be it health or education or water-related issues. The impacts of disasters on rural communities usually are livelihood-related. Thus, CBDRR can start addressing livelihood issues directly in the rural areas. However, urban communities face complex challenges of basic human needs and other related urban problems. Thus, CBDRR in the urban areas needs to be linked to one of these issues to be effective and operational. Thus, while in rural areas CBDRR can be the entry point for development needs, in urban areas it is rather the opposite, where development needs can be the entry point for CBDRR.

Age Diversity

In several countries, aging population is an increasingly important issue. In the case of Japan, with depopulation and an aging population, aging or senior citizens are key to CBDRR. In most cases, they are the resident association leaders and effectively become the core of the community activities. In contrast, in urban areas, youth groups are key to CBDRR. However, these two groups require different approaches. In the digital age, in both developed and developing countries, social media are playing an increasingly important role in the development of communities. Therefore, youth groups can be mobilized through increasing use of social media, while senior citizens need a different, face-to-face community relations approach.

Role of External Agencies/Change Agents

In most communities there exist change agents or leaders. However, their influence is sometimes dormant. Thus, the external agency (either NGO or research/academic institution) can play an important role in revitalizing local leaders, emphasizing and recognizing their roles and activities. This needs to be done in a good balance so as not to destroy the local power politics in the community.

Sustainability Issues

One of the key challenges of CBDRR is sustainability. After a major disaster event there are external and internal agencies that keep the momentum of CBDRR as long as the resources exist. Disasters can be development opportunities, and it is important to think how the disaster recovery process can be core to longer-term sustainability of the CBDRR. For that, institutionalization of CBDRR efforts at the local governance level is very important.

People’s Accountability

One of the key issues of CBDRR is to be a responsible citizen. DRR is not just state responsibility, it belongs to every citizen, both individually and collectively. After a disaster, people often turn to the government for subsidy or support, and they receive different types of the internal and external assistance. However, it is the primary responsibility of citizens to protect their assets by themselves and to make sure that preventive measures are taken at the individual and family levels. This is especially applicable to different types of small disasters, the preparedness for which is accumulated to cope with the mega disaster. Thus, a self and community accountability check is key to CBDRR.

In summary, while the importance of CBDRR is recognized at the national and local levels, its nature is changing over time. To make CBDRR effective, it needs to be linked to local needs and priorities, and disaster issues and other social needs need to be addressed together. The nature of community is also changing, and therefore new media like social networking needs to be used effectively for successful CBDRR.


This article is based on several years of experience with many graduate students, NGOs, local governments, and academic institutions, which is greatly appreciated.

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