Buildings raised to avoid river flooding, Feng Huang, China

Buildings raised to avoid river flooding, Feng Huang, China. Photo by Trey Ratcliff via Flickr, used under CC BY NC SA 2.0.


Last week resilience was the theme of the Commonwealth People’s Forum (CPF) held in Malta (23-26 November 2015). The Forum formed part of the lead up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which was held over the weekend.

The aim of the CHOGM (this year themed Adding Global Value) was to use the strengths of the Commonwealth in international politics to influence, and eventually effect, global change. The hope is that the Commonwealth can provide leadership in areas missed by other global institutions, and thus improve the lives of Commonwealth citizens.

The CPF however gives the chance for exchange between civil society representatives and policymakers. As mentioned, this year’s theme was resilience or specifically ‘What makes societies resilient?’ This covered a variety of issues prominent in the Royal Society’s Resilience to Extreme Weather’ report launched in November 2014 at the Commonwealth Science Conference in Bangalore. The common discussion points discussed at this year’s CFP were:

Indigenous knowledge as a driver of resilience

Innovative farming practices in the Sahel

Innovative farming practices in the Sahel. Photo by M. Tall (CCAFS West Africa) via Flickr, used under CC BY NC SA 2.0.

Using indigenous or local knowledge and engaging the local community in building resilience is paramount (see Chapter 4 of our report). Extreme events have local characteristics and managing them requires local communities and administrators to help plan and implement locally-relevant policy.

An example of successful local resilience highlighted in our report is in the Sahel, in southern Niger, which is prone to drought. To encourage crops to grow farmers dig pits (zai) and fill the holes with organic matter, attracting termites that aid rainfall infiltration. Trees and crops planted in the pits do well because they also collect runoff from rainwater. This reforestation has resulted in the re-growth of over 200 million trees.

Planning for resilient urbanisation

It is estimated that the proportion of the global population living in urban areas will increase from 50 to 75 % by 2050. This means there will be huge pressure on the resources of cities and increasing exposure to extreme events, potentially undermining cities’ resilience (see Emma Woods’ blog).

Surat, India

Surat, India. Photo by Setu Vakkil via Flickr, used under CC BY NC SA 2.0.

We highlighted Surat, India in our report. Surat is home to 4.5 million people and growing. In 2006 expansion of the city included the under-privileged coastal area, meaning that 71,000 homes are now prone to tidal flooding and 450,000 are at risk from emergency dam releases (see Chapter 5 of our report). Further urbanisation is exacerbating this problem.

Migration and resilience

One of the major findings of our report was the influence of demographic change on exposure to extreme weather (see Chapter 2 of our report and this blog post on population). We found that population growth and migration are likely to increase the number of people exposed to floods and droughts, and the number of over-65s exposed to heatwaves. This emphasised some of the negative effects that come with demographic change.

However, the UN proclaims that international migration could bring substantial benefits as part of an inclusive globalisation process.

Building resilient health systems for an ageing population

Residents undertake a community resource mapping exercise near Kabale, Uganda.

Residents undertake a community resource mapping exercise near Kabale, Uganda.

As mentioned above the elderly population is particularly vulnerable to heatwaves. The second Shared Socioeconomic Pathway (SSP2 – for more information see our report) projects there will be a large increase in the elderly population during this century. The CPF discussed how this would put strain on health services, financially and physically. A key part of building a resilient health system needs to call on consultations such as ‘The Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing’. This focussed on 3 priority areas; older persons and development; advancing health and well-being into old age; and ensuring enabling and supportive environments.

Besides all these resilience-relevant discussion points at the CPF, the CHOGM itself formally endorsed the Gabarone Declaration. This was drafted at a Commonwealth Local Government Meeting in June, and again echoes many of the Society’s ‘Resilience to extreme weather’ messages around the need for local action and engagement.

Resilient societies, disaster risk reduction and sustainable development are high up on the UN’s agenda this year. The CHOGM and the CPF can hopefully add to this agenda and help create a resilient global population.