The Resilience of Livelihoods Post-Disaster

Caribbean countries are truly justified in focusing their development efforts on resilience, particularly after the awful 2004, 2008 and 2017 hurricane season, as well as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

The Resilience of Livelihoods Post-Disaster

The need for broad-based, longitudinal resilience planning


Caribbean countries are truly justified in focusing their development efforts on resilience, particularly after the awful 2004, 2008 and 2017 hurricane season, as well as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. In addition to massive earthquakes and powerful storms, a spate of harsh droughts and unpredictable floods have especially hammered home the vulnerability of this region to extreme weather and natural disaster events.

Our region is one of the most vulnerable in the world.  To provide the support that our people need, governments, the civil service, commercial businesses, non-governmental organisations and communities must see resilience as:

  • prevention of damage and trauma, to the extent possible;
  • reduction of the risk of damage or trauma, as much as possible;
  • minimising the immediate damage or trauma, and
  • recovering quickly and completely from the damage and trauma that has been caused.

The amount of trauma caused by these extreme events is likely influenced by the quality of people’s lives before the event.  In communities where people are accustomed to the use of technology and comfortable living, it may be more traumatic than in circumstances where livelihoods are not as easy.  In a sense then, it seems that if we partially define resilience as being, “the prevention of damage or trauma from extreme events,” increasing the modern amenities in a society may make it less resilient to those hazards that have the power to wipe out that modernity.

Preparation for becoming more resilient and returning to functional society as quickly and normally as possible must therefore be based on scenario planning that mixes:

  • the "unmodern" knowledge of older generations, and
  • the creativity of the younger generations

in order to re-imagine a society absent of 20th and 21st century technology for what may seem an interminable period following any disaster, then devise ways of surviving and functioning in such circumstances.  The experiences that we have had in the Caribbean over the last fifteen years can provide us with good examples of the length of time that our scenario planning should cover and what would be required to reestablish reasonable functionality of the country.

Current Concept of Resilience

The dictionaries define “resilience” as:

  • the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties;
  • toughness;
  • an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change, or
  • the ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like.

Of course, “quickly” and “readily” are comparative, and what may be acceptable on these measures in normal times would be very changed in times after catastrophes.

For example, an earthquake may cause you to define “quickly” and “readily” in much longer periods than you would usually consider.  However, the widespread trauma caused by the disaster  makes that extended period termed ”quickly” or “readily” much harder to endure.

Notwithstanding the difficulty of so doing, we have to establish a time-frame within which acceptable functionality returns to a country after an adverse weather or other natural disaster event.

We also have to be concerned about psychological resilience, which refers to an “individual's capacity to withstand stressors and not manifest psychology dysfunction, such as mental illness or persistent negative mood.”

This is resilience defined in terms of your capacity to avoid long-term adverse psychological changes despite difficult circumstances.  Such adverse effects could include:

  • severe post-traumatic stress disorder;
  • general anxiety disorder;
  • major depression, or
  • long-lasting dissociation.

Any of these in a significant portion of a reeling populace can lead to an uptake in drug and alcohol abuse, neglect and suicide.

Indeed, it is critical that we pay attention to this matter of psychological resilience, since such resilience provides the emotional strength required to tackle and persevere with the tasks of:

  • objectively assessing damage;
  • clearing debris both with and without mechanical assistance;
  • rebuilding structures;
  • restarting businesses or resuming work, and
  • surviving on “rations” while all this is going on.

Much of the discussion one hears around the damage caused by natural disasters runs in terms of loss of material property and incomes. Much of that discussion on loss of material assets and income is limited to the loss that takes place within a relatively short period after the extreme event.

One does not often hear about the prolonged period of substantially or utterly reduced income of some as a result of the catastrophe.

The material deprivation wrought by the disaster in the immediate and short term, as well as the same kind of deprivation over the much longer period that it lasts, both create psychological damage.  There is probably quite a strong link between incidences of material losses and psychological trauma, particularly when the deprivation continues for an extended period.

As we do our resilience planning, we must therefore pay adequate attention to reducing the time period of losses as well as to the matter of psychological resilience both to the immediate and short-term damage of a storm and to the loss of the longer-term stream of income and benefits.

Resulting Incidences of Extreme Weather Events

The damage caused by extreme events is often seen as the immediate occurrence of major loss.  Often, the original perception of loss does not go into the consequential or second order effects of the major loss occurrence.  Very rarely does the perception go into what happens over time to those persons that have been adversely impacted.  These ongoing consequential effects of the initial impact of disaster:

  • continue for long periods;
  • require significant money to pay for services over that extended period, which means
  • persons impacted directly or indirectly by the disaster have extreme difficulty obtaining or using the resources which they would normally have access to and sometimes which they absolutely need.

First Order Occurrences

One of the most devastating first order losses is the death of loved ones and particularly of providers.  These providers need not only be family members but may also be owners of enterprises that provide key services to or employment for persons and whose demise mean the end of the provision of those services or that employment.

Other major first loss events may include:

  • major injury, especially to the point of disability;
  • loss of shelter;
  • loss of buildings where business is conducted;
  • loss of food;
  • loss of identity and property papers, and
  • loss of essential services like water, sewerage, electricity, communications, hospital services, and loss of critical IT systems and data.

Each of these first order losses deprives people of several streams of long-lasting benefits that they would normally be able to use and enjoy. It is even more sobering to consider the following list, though that may well not be comprehensive.

Second Order Effects of Incidences

Some of the second order material effects that we have to be concerned about are:

  • Loss of income by people whose jobs no longer exist because their employer/business has been destroyed, or lack power/water/communications/transportation and who still require money while assets/incomes are being replaced;
  • Loss of education for children and then the problem of finding quality childcare when they cannot go to school;
  • Inability to get funds from banks, credit unions and other financial institutions, whether from ATMs, or over the counter without access to records;
  • Lack of or inadequate life and property insurance, or inability to access insurance funds easily if policies have been lost or destroyed;
  • Inability to collect unemployment insurance payments quickly because the claims can neither be processed nor paid, which is particularly troubling given the limited period of time for these payments;
  • Inability to borrow against property or other assets where deeds have been lost or destroyed;
  • Finding people and skills sufficient to enable replacement of assets within the optimal time-frame;
  • Inability to service loans or pay premiums for life or health insurance, threatening reduced access to care, and
  • Further accidents obtained through recovery efforts that leave people unable to earn income.

Treatments for Adverse Effects

There are some ways for us to get a handle on these effects.


Firstly, by risk reduction or damage prevention methods such as:

  • Back up of up-to-date records and software in a secure or historically non-affected site;
  • Places or devices for the safekeeping of documents and access to them, post-hazard, and
  • Scenario planning and desktop simulations of widespread and long-lasting damage, with associated drills.


Secondly, we can deal with these damages through remediation means such as:

  • Ability to lay down internal communication and power lines quickly;
  • Ability to get computer equipment working quickly and to restore data quickly;
  • Ability to get staff to and from work, where they have work, and assistance for their own issues of resilience even while they try to help others bounce back;
  • Guarantee arrangements in instances where insurance papers and property deeds are lost, damaged, or destroyed, similarly for instances where loan payments or insurance premiums cannot be paid;
  • Use of adequate business continuity insurance;
  • Ensuring the defence forces have construction corps to help with the rebuilding work;
  • Deferral of mortgage and loan payments, life insurance payments, utility bills;
  • Existence of a corps of psychologists and psychotherapists from outside the damaged area to assist people who need help dealing with the psychological effects of the trauma, and
  • Financial support forthcoming via contingency funds from international financial institutions.

On this last point, we must consider the nature of the financial support. Do these funds come as loans, albeit conditional, to these countries that have lost multiple times their GDP and taxation income; countries whose expenditures have suddenly and drastically increased to multiple times the assistance provided?

Should catastrophe macro-insurance cover these risks? If so, should the associated insurance premiums be covered by International Financial Institutions (IFIs) from the interest payments made by the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) that experience these disasters?

National/Regional Standards

There are probably national and regional standards that have been developed to guide our countries about what is a reasonable time to get various incidences of damage remediated to the point of at least bare bones functionality.

We also hope that there is a commitment by institutions of all types in each country to meet that national standard and that they have all devised specific plans on how they will each approach remediation of these damage effects.

Additionally, we presume that these institutions have all been involved in the scenario planning and desktop drills and have also carried out their own internal exercises to sharpen their ability to do damage remediation.

The resilience strategies of risk reduction, loss reduction and minimisation, protection during emergency, recovery after emergency and staying the course during recovery is a matter for all of us – region, country, institutions, communities, families and individuals.  It’s our resilience: our lifeline in disaster.