The modern concept of social capital has renewed academic interest in social science: the relationship between trust, social networks and the resilient development of a vulnerable society.
Aldrich (2012) found that “participation among networked members; providing information and knowledge to individuals in the group; and creating trustworthiness.” He showed that “higher levels of social capital work together more effectively to guide resources to where they are needed.”
Many studies confirm that after disasters, most survivors see social connections and community as critical for their recovery. Researchers found that “higher levels of social capital reduce transaction costs, increase the probability of collective action, and make cooperation among individuals more likely.” Social capital is therefore “an asset, a functioning propensity for mutually beneficial collective action.”
Research findings shows that “less resilience fails to mobilize collectively and often must wait for recover guidance and assistance”. This implies that vulnerable populations are not solely characterized in terms of age, income, etc., but in terms of “their lack of connections and embeddedness in social networks.” In other words, “the most effective—and perhaps least expensive—way to mitigate disasters is to create stronger bonds between individuals in vulnerable populations.”
Daniel Aldrich (2012) suggested in his case studies that social capital is more important for disaster resilience than physical and financial capital, and more important than conventional explanations.
The people of coastal areas of Bangladesh regularly face extreme weather events. These areas are most vulnerable to climate change due to sea level rise, salinity intrusion, flooding, increased frequency and intensity of cyclone and storm surge, and increased coastal and riverbank erosion.
Super cyclone ‘SIDR’ in November 2007 and cyclone ‘AILA’ in May 2009 are recent examples of extreme events that affected the thousands of people, many of whom are women and children and destroyed the livelihoods of millions of coastal people. Government response can take up to a week with insufficient aid and coordination capacities due to the poor transport system. (WASH CLUSTER , 2009) High population density is another problem the government needs to address properly. The period between when a disaster hits and institutional response is a crucial time for the people.
In Bangladesh at this time people help each other without discriminating between rich and poor, race or any other conflict issues. Humanitarian lessons of social and religious value play a vital role in helping each other even to the extent of putting one’s own life in danger. When the river bank collapses, people rush to the spot without waiting for institutional assistance because of shared humanity. This humanity and values become vulnerable when institutional assistance comes to the community through political and power channels.
With the objective of measuring the vulnerability and strength of a community for their resilience in terms of social capital I conducted a study. The area was purposely selected as it had faced several climate hazards recently. This study was conducted in the village of Kalinchi (Population 5000), Union: Ramjannagor (Total population 29368, Male-14168, Female-15200) under Shyamnagor Upazilla of Satkhira District; an Aila affected coastal community of Bangladesh. This study was conducted during June 2015-December 2015. The village has a male-female ratio of 1.07. (BBS, 2011) living in about 1000 households.
Three focus group discussions were held where 25-30 respondents were selected to represent ten houses each of the selected vulnerable community. Women and different livelihood groups were considered in the participant selection. Vulnerability risk assessment protocols were used to facilitate the groups and were verified by the key informants.
Results and discussion:
Family integrity: This was considered an important variable as good family relationships make a person more secure than any other options. Most respondents said that their strength in family integrity was medium and vulnerability is increasing day by day. Following the recent cyclone, water surge and saline water intrusion made their crop production system vulnerable and increased their food insecurity that forces them towards seasonal migration and shifting of family members to other livelihoods.
Value system: A society becomes more resilient when it has a strong value system. This ideology defines what is right or wrong and guides ethical behavior based on those beliefs. A person’s values determine his or her character and actions, even in situations where negative consequences might exist for doing the right thing. People mentioned the vulnerability of the value system was medium and future risk more than medium. The community people knows the difference between right and wrong but sometimes lose their grip on this when influential power behaves unethically during the distribution of institutional aid support. Continuing ill practice reduces the moral strength of a community and makes the community vulnerable.
Trust in each other: Trust can be explained as the relationships between people. Conceptually, trust is also the relationships within and between social groups (families, friends, communities, organizations, companies, nations etc.). To frame the dynamics of inter-group and intra-group interactions in terms of trust is popular. Without trust all contingency plan become paralyzed.
In this study it was found the vulnerability and future risk of trust was increasing. People explained that the people of this area were strong in religious faith and in social harmony. Following the several natural hazards the stress, anxiety, and unrest and other difficulties made life complex. Village politics, discrimination and diminishing religious practice are the inevitable result of deteriorating trust.
Friendship: Mutual understanding is very necessary among neighbours, groups, and the community for a peaceful, sustainable society. It helps people help each other during a disaster. In ancient times when people lived in groups they used to share their food and shelter among themselves in order to survive. This study revealed that the vulnerability of friendship is below average that means somehow good. The villagers gave the example that in the village there was only one well constructed mosque and when Aila hit there was no place to take shelter except this mosque. All the villagers – Hindu and Muslim all took shelter under the roof of the mosque without considering any religious differences.
Government aid and policy: It was found that Government aid and policy was more favorable to the resilient due to the awareness program, social mobilization of different NGOs and the influence of civil society. Government has established different departments and ministries to respond to disasters quickly. Local Government is also sincere regarding this issue. Government has generated policies and formed different committees from national to community level. Planning, CRA, RRAP and financing in DRR are now a participatory process with the local community that is why the community people feel more resilient than ever before.
Information services: Communication, network and access to information is very important for development even in times of disaster. Due to the lack of early warning systems, people did not know in enough time to take shelter which caused a huge toll on lives and property. Now this community are risk free and feel resilient as they have a well established early warning system, trained volunteers, cyclone and flood shelter. Certainly it is a positive impact of the efforts of government and NGOs.
Conclusions and recommendations: This study shows that the Government aid and policy as well as information services are favorable in building a resilient community. The investment of government and donors emphasises relief and the strengthening of institutional capacity but attention to other human and social attributes are also very important for a resilient community and should be given priority.
If social and religious values could be strengthened to energize people’s humanity then the situation would be better and the resilience of the community would be strengthened. Stronger social capital might serve as informal insurance to overcome the constraints to becoming more resilient.
Md. Anwar Hossain is currently working as District Coordinator Practical Action, Bangladesh.
You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
This blog was first published in https://practicalaction.org/blog/news/what-is-the-key-to-building-a-resilient-community/