Resilience - the official version

The United Nations defines resilience as A2R: Ability to Anticipate, Absorb and Reshape. The IPPC defines resilience as: Capacity of social, economic and environmental systems to cope with a hazardous event or trend or disturbance, responding or reorganising in ways that maintain their essential function, identity and structure while also maintaining the capacity for adaptation, learning and transformation.

Resilience - a shift to risk reduction

Personally, I see a trend in the last decennia moving from Protection to Risk Reduction to inclusive Resilience, by applying a portfolio of measures of a different nature.

Enhancing resilience is about applying different measures at different timescales to fit local needs. This amounts to:

  • Impact reducing physical protection
  • Water management based on store, delay and discharge principles
  • Green infrastructure with nature-based solutions
  • Strategies, policies and spatial solutions
  • Adaptive building
  • Risk & impact mapping and monitoring, real-time control, forecasting & warning systems
  • Emergency response and disaster management
If we look at resilience enhancing measures from a disaster management perspective, we can identify a circle with prevention, preparation, response and recovery phases, each with different measures at their centre. Resilience is about taking the right action at the right moment.
The upper part of the circle demonstrates a normal situation. The upper right part covers prevention activities. Examples are policies & strategies, master planning, monitoring activities but also physical measures. When at a certain moment a trigger level is reached, for example rising of water levels or wind forces, the preparation phase starts with active monitoring of changes, taking precautionary measures, upscaling of activities, warning up until emergency measures. The bottom of the circle represents the extreme weather event or hazard itself. The response phase is all about disaster management and emergency aid. After the crisis, the recovery phase (left upper part) starts focusing on Rebuild in a better way: Build Back Better.

Beyond the assault of extreme challenges

How can we make business, infrastructure and cities more resilient to extreme weather, natural hazards and climate change?

Enhancing resilience should be the priority and combined effort of both business and governments. A transparent governance with strong and effective governments, policies, regulations and institutions is vital for successful implementation of resilience enhancing measures. Social inclusiveness and empowering people by local stakeholder engagement and community involvement is also key for success. Enhancing resilience starts with an integrated system approach aligned with local needs including design for both storm and norm to anticipate uncertain futures.

Automated alerting and warning messages using smart phones can be very effective in reducing impact on people on the streets. Organisational and planning measures are often less costly and less vulnerable than hard infrastructural protection. The effect and lifespan of structural measures shortens over time due to exponential climate change.

What's at stake?

Public & Private sector should make Resilience top priority in delivering long-term benefits to society.

Enhancing resilience contributes directly to the UN Sustainable Development Goals 9 (industry, innovation & infrastructure), 11 (sustainable cities & communities) and 13 (climate action); and indirectly also to 17 (partnerships for the goals), 12 (responsible consumption and production) and 1: no poverty.


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Image source: courtesy of UNSDG

Applying resilience enhancing measures can prevent fall-out of infrastructure and businesses due to hazards or extreme weather. The combined effort of businesses, financial sector and governments in enhancing resilience will reduce societal disruption and economic damage, making economies stronger and more robust. The stronger the economy, the better the funding for disaster management. Stronger disaster management increases resilience, reduces dependency on emergency aid and supports the long-term resilience of the whole society.

Find out more about ‘Resilience in Cities: Addressing Societal and Economic Risks’.