Building Community Resilience

“Before I was always afraid that at any moment the hillside might collapse, but now that we have the retaining walls, I am able to sleep without fear.”

– Lourdes, Resident of Mixco, Guatemala

Building Community Resilience

“Before I was always afraid that at any moment the hillside might collapse, but now that we have the retaining walls, I am able to sleep without fear.”

– Lourdes, Resident of Mixco, Guatemala


Shock and stresses come in all shapes and sizes—from large scale natural disasters and disease outbreaks to neighborhood-level hazards, violence, inadequate access to healthcare and loss of income opportunities due to shifts in local or regional markets. These stresses, large and small, can erode the coping mechanisms and ability to thrive for vulnerable households and communities.

Increasing disaster resilience means building community resilience by using available resources such as energy, communication, transportation, and food, to respond to, withstand, and recover from adverse situations such as economic collapse or global catastrophic risks and events.   

Community resilience planning is essential to keep households safe from events that can undermine people’s lives and their livelihoods. This work includes rebuilding communities after a disaster as well as reinforcing community resilience through risk-reducing practices and actions, improving health conditions, and identifying and addressing shocks and stresses before they happen.

PCI works with communities, local governments, private sector actors, and many others to reinforce livelihoods and coping mechanisms against a variety of everyday threats to community well-being. When the big disasters do come, these communities are more prepared, less vulnerable and have significantly increased their chances of overcoming hardship.

Increasing Community Resilience to Climate Change

Climate change can have a dramatic, negative effect on food security and livelihoods, leaving the world’s most poor at risk—particularly women and children. Across Latin America, Africa, and Asia, PCI supports disaster resilience in vulnerable communities, helping them successfully endure climate change and weather-related shocks.

PCI believes humanitarian assistance is not only about saving lives and meeting immediate needs, but also provides a critical opportunity to plan for community resilience, address vulnerabilities, and lay permanent, sustainable foundations for healthier, safer, and stronger neighborhoods in close partnership with local leaders.

In all emergency response programs, whether they are in urban or rural areas or rapid versus slow-onset disasters, PCI addresses underlying vulnerabilities from the outset. PCI builds and supports community disaster resilience, including climate change, through a variety of integrated program activities by:

  1. Improving the capacity of individuals, households, and institutions to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters
  2. Reinforcing coping mechanisms
  3. Diversifying and strengthening livelihoods
  4. Improving agricultural production
  5. Strengthening linkages between stakeholders at the community, area, district, and national levels to improve disaster risk management
  6. Mobilizing communities to rehabilitate and reforest watersheds
  7. Addressing outbreaks of agricultural pests
  8. Improving early warning for climate change and other natural disasters
USAID food

Coming Back Stronger After Disaster

In 2010, 70 percent of Port-au-Prince in Haiti was destroyed by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. Even before the earthquake, the families living in Ravine Pintade near downtown Port-au-Prince were vulnerable, with much of the community living in poverty without access to safe sanitation. The earthquake instantly destroyed 75 percent of the houses in this community and killed 3,000 people.

With the support of USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, PCI and its partners met immediate humanitarian needs while addressing the deeper challenge of laying the foundation for a safer, healthier, and more resilient neighborhood for years to come.

Through the KATYE project, PCI and partners worked with community leaders to rebuild Ravine Pintade, where 90 percent of residents were displaced from their homes. This process included removing rubble and addressing immediate shelter and sanitation needs, but it also accounted for deeper challenges, from settling land disputes and reducing vulnerability to future disasters to improving lighting, installing walkways, roads, and water and sanitation systems.

These approaches helped create the Neighborhood Approach, a methodology used to enhance livelihoods, build community trust through safe gathering spaces, and create a platform for sustainable recovery.

The Neighborhood Approach has multiple successes, including:

  • Increasing the value of land and housing,
  • Increasing the presence of small businesses,
  • Implementing drainage systems that significantly decreased flooding that was common before the earthquake, and
  • Reducing vectors for disease.

The project addressed immediate needs and also helped communities re-plan, reconfigure, and rebuild their neighborhood with walkways, retaining walls, stairs, lighting, foundations for better houses, and transitional shelters that were formalized over time, along with water and sanitation infrastructure and drainage systems.

Ten years after the earthquake, PCI returned to the project area to conduct a study and found Ravine Pintade is thriving. Shelters have been upgraded, the infrastructure is well maintained, and the community feels their neighborhood is now safer and healthier than before the earthquake. The study found long-term outcomes in Ravine Pintade to be stronger than comparable neighborhoods who received only traditional, short-term assistance after the earthquake. The study provides additional evidence for PCI’s approach to community partnership for long-term resilience – even, and especially – in the wake of an urgent humanitarian crisis.

Want to learn more? Read the KATYE study here.

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Supporting Urban Disaster Resilience and Risk Reduction in Guatemala

Since 2012, PCI’s Barrio Mio, Spanish for “my neighborhood,” project in Guatemala has been improving urban resilience in seven municipalities that are prone to disasters like landslides, flooding, and earthquakes along with other challenges such as violence, poverty, and food insecurity.

Based on PCI’s Neighborhood Approach, the Barrio Mio program connects a broad range of stakeholders to improve urban disaster resilience programming. People from vulnerable communities—women, men, children, youth, the elderly, and persons with disabilities—banks, municipalities, ministries, the private sector, universities, and local organizations work together to identify urban risks and develop collaborative strategies to increase urban disaster resilience and respond to urban crises.

Through this program, vulnerable urban neighborhoods can increase income, expand agricultural productivity, improve health and clean water and sanitation conditions, and identify and address shocks and stresses. The Barrio Mio project also enlists universities, government entities, the private sector, and communities to help develop methodologies that support high-risk areas.

In collaboration with over 40 partners, Barrio Mio has been able to:

  • Construct innovative urban water and sanitation infrastructure
  • Reinforce housing construction to reduce vulnerability to disaster
  • Construct urban mitigation infrastructure
  • Generate neighborhood and household level strategies to improve urban health and protection of vulnerable populations
  • Reinforce the social and economic empowerment of women in urban areas
  • Improve urban planning and zoning
  • Generate inclusive strategies to move households to safer land
  • Repurpose the unsafe land for community gardens or other green space for disaster mitigation

The Ministry of Communications, Infrastructure and Housing in Guatemala recently signed an agreement to use PCI’s Neighborhood Approach as a disaster resilience framework and national strategy for upgrading high-risk informal settlements throughout Guatemala.

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