Multi-level Learning in Reducing Disaster-Risk and Building Resilience to Cyclones in Coastal Bangladesh

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Choudhury, Mahed-Ul-Islam
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Coastal communities in Bangladesh and around the world are at increasing risk of climate-induced disaster-shocks. In recent years, Bangladesh has been able to reduce the risk of disasters through a robust institutional intervention. It is assumed that learning from past experience has played a significant role in such risk reduction and resilience-building processes. However, how learning at multiple societal levels shapes community resilience to disaster-shocks is poorly understood. In light of this gap, the present research empirically investigates social learning at community and multiple institutional levels, and transformative learning at the individual level, from cyclonic shocks in selected coastal communities in Bangladesh. This thesis departs from the normative framing and thoughts on the relationships among learning, resilience, and DRR; it adopts a critical approach to investigate the role of learning at different levels that shapes community resilience. I followed a qualitative research approach that was supplemented by a household survey (n=240). The results revealed that the coastal communities in Bangladesh have a rich stock of indigenous and local knowledge (ILK) that helps them to generate early warnings and reduce their risk from cyclones and associated storm surges. Translation of such ILK into action often depends on the state of social memory. Formal institutional interventions often contribute to the development of negative social memory. Moreover, formal institutional interventions (e.g., NGO-led) often deny ILK a meaningful role in social learning processes. Concerning transformative learning, I further found that the relationship between transformative learning and resilience building is complex, involving multiple social-cultural-structural factors (e.g., beliefs, values, power structures), practical considerations (e.g., impact on livelihood, evacuation and relocation logistics), and cognitive factors. Regarding the multi-loop learning at multi-level institutions, loop learning is found to be different for different level of institutions and contributed differently to community resilience. Bridging organizations played critical roles in institutionalizing and scaling up social learning from episodic events as well as in innovation and knowledge management. Future efforts to build community resilience to climate-induced disaster-shocks should pay more attention to learning-based action and the feedback relationships among multiple societal levels in shaping community resilience to disaster-shocks.
Community Resilience, Social learning, Bangladesh, Cyclones, DRR, Transformative learning, Social memory, Institutional learning
Choudhury, M-U-I., Haque, C. E., Nishat, A., & Byrne, S. (2021). Social learning for building community resilience to cyclones: role of indigenous and local knowledge, power, and institutions in coastal Bangladesh. Ecology and Society, 26(1), 5.
Choudhury, M-U-I., Haque, C.E., Hostetler, G. (2021). Transformative learning and community resilience to cyclones and storm surges: The case of coastal communities in Bangladesh. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 55, 102063. doi:
Choudhury, M-U-I., Haque, C.E., Doberstein, B. (2021). Adaptive Governance and Community Resilience to Cyclones in Coastal Bangladesh: Addressing the Problem of Fit, Social Learning, and Institutional Collaboration, Environmental Science and Policy. 124, 580-592.