Resilience can be described as the capacity to endure stress and bounce back. It also implies a capacity to manage or maintain certain basic functions and structures during disastrous events. This means that individuals or communities have the ability to survive the challenges of day-to-day life. In order to be able to do this they need a range of skills and resources which open up options, and allow them to adapt to changing circumstances, i.e. they have the capacity to cope.
Resilience implies an ability to anticipate potential shocks and stresses and take action to prevent them, protect oneself from them, or respond appropriately and safely when they do occur. Resilience emphasizes what people or communities can do for themselves, most frequently to reduce their exposure to identified hazards.
Resilience is in many respects the opposite of vulnerability, both are relative terms. It is important to know exactly what individuals and communities are resilient or vulnerable to and to what degree.
Like vulnerability, resilience is complex and multi-faceted, different aspects being important in dealing with different hazards.
An essential aspect of resilience means having access to a range of assets and capabilities. Households with access to a broad range of resources, investments and networks will be able pursue a variety of strategies in times of need. More assets tend to imply that more diverse livelihood options are being pursued, at least one of which may help to weather a crisis.
No community can be totally disaster resilient. The guidance note “characteristics of a disaster-resilient community” includes a comprehensive list of characteristics which could define an “ideal” resilient community: http://www.proventionconsortium.org/?pageid=90
While in reality no community can be entirely free of risk, the guidance note suggests how progress towards community resilience might be achieved and how this progress may be measured.
Communities do not exist in isolation; they are to a greater or lesser extent dependent on external influences such as service providers, and the socio-political and economic forces that link them to the wider world. Their resilience is influenced by capacities outside the community. The guidance note while focusing on communities and local organizations, stresses the importance of the wider institutional, policy and socio-economic factors the influence their resilience, the “enabling environment”.
While some elements of the enabling environment will be accessible and therefore able to be influenced by community workers, many of the elements will be far removed from community influence (see underlying or root causes of vulnerability). They are national or internationally determined constraints. The absence of some key components of support may even result in a “disabling” environment for local level initiatives.