What is Community Resilience?

“Community” is defined as a group of people living in the same locality, and community resilience is about how well that group of people is capable of withstanding and absorbing the challenges of change and/or crisis. In recent times communities have been increasingly exposed to the challenges of crisis. We have seen droughts, fires and floods in our country and, in nearby regions, the impact of earthquakes and tsunamis. It is anticipated with the impacts of climate change there will be additional risk of exposure to emergency situations.

The media have brought into our homes and lives the images of the impacts associated with the disasters and that has reminded us of the importance of community connection and engagement as mechanisms to withstand the dramatic impact of these events. Many of the reports of affected communities remind us of the courage and preparedness of people to help others and this is commendable. But we have also been made aware of the lack of connection and knowledge of our local environments that have determined the ability to support and help those in need and in some cases the fatal consequences of the lack of local connection and community cohesion.

Federal and State governments are now focusing considerable resources on preparing communities for crisis. The term “community resilience” is being used to unite communities in preparing for the likely outcome of crisis. Much has been learnt from disaster management both here and overseas and there are some key understandings of how society can ensure it is capable of withstanding the impacts of disasters. Community development and resilience is now a portfolio area that The Greens New South Wales have adopted and I am pleased to provide a focus in relation to the preparedness of communities.

I intend to present examples of positive community projects that contribute to building social inclusion and cohesion and often involve recreation and cultural engagement. These programs most often involve volunteer participation and encourage diverse groups of people to connect and network under a common interest. It is well documented that social connections and networks are a determinant of community resilience. The principal of resourcing and supporting social connections has an important role in enhancing quality of life in the immediate as well as preparing society to withstand the possibility of disaster and crisis.

The unintended but associated product of social and cultural gathering is the introduction of diverse groups of people to provide them with the necessary connections. Governments collect and collate significant amounts of information that identify the inequities and vulnerabilities that exist in society. The focus in research and emergency management fields promotes community vulnerability mapping as a tool to define communities of high risk or social vulnerability. Once these groups or geographical areas are identified there is potential to target resources to these groups to improve not only their quality of life but also their capacity to be prepared for any crisis. Governments can provide a range of programs to improve community involvement and participation.

I acknowledge the initiatives by the New South Wales Government to support and resource communities to overcome vulnerability. The Community Builders program has provided at-risk groups access to funds for the delivery of programs and projects with an identified disadvantage that can be addressed or have the potential for increasing the social capital of a group. The importance of social connection cannot be overlooked in the strengthening of social networks to enhance resilience. The degree of connection—be it family, friends, social, education or other organisations—is an important source of information, advice and assistance. Government at all levels has an important role in supporting communities to connect and engage in the good times so that they are empowered and informed to respond when risks or disasters are impending or present.

The assistance by government to enhance community involvement should be viewed as an essential pathway to building strong and resilient communities that are able to cope and withstand disaster, crisis and change that challenge the day-to-day functioning of society. The goal to empower and assist communities requires a respect for localised resilience. To build social capital and strong community social structures will require the support of government. Programs that unite community across social and cultural divides are often those that do engage diverse groups of people in positive activities such as landcare, sport, book clubs, community gardens, soup kitchens and other forms of volunteering.

There is a responsibility to prepare the community so that they are able to respond to a potential crisis. Government at all levels can make the process of community development, resilience and preparedness for disaster and crisis more effective by recognising the important role of community projects that build connections and improve quality of life. It is these projects that will enhance in the present and build the strength and capacity for community to withstand and cope with change and crisis if needed in the future.