The resilience of the world is under a great test. Routines are changing as livelihoods are disrupted by measures aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19, and lives are quickly being shaped around a new normal. While governments, businesses and the development community learn lessons from the pandemic, perhaps one old lesson stands out: Effective and sustainable solutions have their roots in local communities.
“The tendency has been to do things for communities even when it is more effective and sustainable to simply enable them to do it for themselves,” said Adessou Kossivi, GNDR Regional Development Coordinator for Western & Central Africa. “Now we are in a situation where, cutting further spread of Coronavirus is almost fully in the hands of the community.”
It is a situation he thinks should usher in a new normal in development. “It is about going to the people, learning from them and building on what they have. Doing things for people is not development,” he said.
Communities lead the way
From participatory weather forecasting in Kenya, to Chad, where participatory 3D modelling enables communities to use maps in advocating for development and conflict resolution – local level actions across the continent prove that communities have the capacity to make a difference in disaster risk reduction.
According to Edna Kaptoyo, who is in charge of partnerships and policy at Pastoral Communities Empowerment Programme (PACEP), the importance of community-based disaster risk reduction (DRR) is its realization of community capacity. “Realizing the capacity within communities puts communities in charge of managing risks, using existing traditional knowledge,” she said.
Edna was raised by pastoralist parents in West Pokot County within Kenya’s Rift Valley region, advocates for the integration of climate crisis adaptation and disaster risk reduction initiatives with community resilience.
But COVID-19 also exposes challenges that have been with us for a long time. With restrictions on movement and a requirement for social distancing, many countries have closed schools and are still struggling to find ways to ensure learning continues despite the closures. The education system is a sector poorly equipped to adapt and adjust to the realities of climate shocks, especially among pastoral communities, according to Edna.
“There was a pilot project in Northern Kenya where the community had night school for shepherds because young boys and girls spent their entire day looking after cattle. Women and youth in the village, having installed solar lamps, would teach the little children on return from grazing.”
Edna thinks that projects like the night school for shepherds, implemented at scale with the support of the government, would have helped to prepare the education system to better respond to the needs of communities.
Building back more resilient communities
The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, UNDRR, and the Global Network of Civil Society organisations for Disaster Risk Reduction, GNDR, will on Friday, 26 June, hold a webinar on community-level disaster risk reduction, to share experiences with local approaches in responding to different disasters and their applicability to the COVID-19 context, and to better understand how these approaches can be applied in building back more resilient communities after the pandemic.
Beyond the examples of its proven success, local community-led disaster risk reduction needs mainstreaming and sustaining and this, Adessou says, is at the core of the webinar. “The most important question for us is how we will use COVID-19 experience as a springboard to sustain community engagement in disaster risk reduction,” he said.