Wilson John Barbon – Disasters Are Not Natural Phenomena but Are the Result of Human and Social Conditions

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Oct 30, 2017
by Wilson John Barbon
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Wilson John Barbon – Disasters Are Not Natural Phenomena but Are the Result of Human and Social Conditions

Myanmar Country Program Coordinator at the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction offers his vision for a disaster resilient Asia Natural disasters, including the possible eruption of Mt. Agung in Bali (pictured), are first and for most social development issues, writes Wilson John Barbon

Barbon will be a participant at the upcoming session in the series The Asia We Want: Building Community Through Regional Cooperation. All participants were invited to share their vision for “the Asia we want.”

The imminent eruption of Mt. Agung in the tourist island of Bali, Indonesia has filled the news in Asia. A number of countries have already issued travel warnings for the island. But despite all of these warnings, I still flew into Bali at the beginning of October together with the hundreds of tourists. It seems like despite all the ominous news both (real and fake) in social media, Bali still enjoys 95 percent occupancy.

I was in Bali to facilitate two events related to disaster risk reduction (DRR); namely a two-day orientation on community-managed DRR for a number of local community-based organizations (CBO) from Timor Leste; and a learning conference on the role of local leadership in building disaster resilience in Indonesia and Timor Leste. I thought to myself this is an opportune time to talk about disaster resilience of local communities within the shadows of a possible eruption of Mt. Agung.

On the first day of my interaction with CBO leaders from Timor Leste, I had just two key messages for them about building people’s resilience against disasters and climate change.

The first message I always teach is: disasters are not natural phenomena. They are the result of human and social conditions. In the parlance of disaster risk reduction, we differentiate hazards from disasters. Hazards are the events (both natural and human acts) that have the potential to create serious disruption in the way of life of people and their communities. These disruptions we refer to as disasters. How people are affected is a result of human and social conditions.

Then the second message I teach is: resilience building starts with changing the mindsets of individual people. It’s about shifting to a new way of looking at our development challenges. A resilience mindset is having the ability to be aware of and to understand the hazards that we are exposed to; it is about having the ability to calibrate one’s exposure and vulnerability to these hazards; and finally, it is the ability to determine and act on building coping capacities to better survive and bounce back quickly from these hazards. Therefore, building community resilience is a process of capacity development. Resilience cannot be just handed over to communities. Communities, through their local leadership, have to build their own resilience.

I call on development players to shift towards a mindset that disasters are social development issues; that individuals and communities have the ability to choose whether they will be a disaster victim or a survivor. Secondly, I call on local communities that they should continue to organize, mobilize and innovate to address the social, economic and political root causes of disaster risks. And I believe local leadership plays a big role.

While Mt. Agung looms in the backdrop of our event in Bali, I hope that the voices we gathered and the relationships built among local leaders will start the ripple towards building a more resilient Asia.

Wilson John Barbon is currently the Country Program Coordinator for Myanmar tasked with leading the establishment of the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) presence in Myanmar.


 Session 591 - The Asia We Want: Building Community Through Regional Cooperation I - A Clean and Green Asia - is the first session of a new multi-year series held in partnership with the Japan Foundation. For more information on the Session, please click here. To keep up to date with the conversations taking place during the session on social media, follow #SGSasia.

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