Adger W.N, Hughes T.P., Folke C., Carpenter S.R., Rockstrom J.. 2005. Social-Ecological Resilience to Coastal Disasters. Science..


To discuss vulnerability and resilience within coastal communities responding to disasters and extreme events

Geographic Focus: 


Key Findings: 

The degree to which coastal communities become vulnerable to disasters is influenced by the building or undermining of social-ecological resilience before and after events occur. Diversity within sources of resilience assists with managing uncertainty and surprise, and multi-level governance systems are needed to enhance this diversity. This need is now urgent given current trends in global coastal settlement patterns, along with current and anticipated social-ecological conditions. The generation of appropriate knowledge that can be translated into information for effective action is essential. This is necessary across all parts of the system, including legal, political and financial frameworks, and is enhanced through building of social networks across multiple levels. Binary views comparing centralised and decentralised systems are no longer appropriate in conversations regarding resilience to disasters. Rather an environment of cross-level interactions and cooperation is necessary, driven by strong leadership and changing of societal norms within relevant organisations.


Adaptive learning is needed across all phases of a disaster cycle. In a social context, disasters can be viewed as an amalgam of events which link to precipitate a specific incident. The linking of these events will determine the potential scale of an impact. In this view of disasters, adaptive learning has an important role to play in generating understanding and awareness to limit potentially dangerous ‘incubating’ events. There are also strong legal, political and financial pressures to return a system to a perceived state of equilibrium following disasters, which may explain why this article highlights these aspects of the social-ecological system. Adaptive learning therefore has an equally important role in capturing learning opportunities which result from disasters. This learning goes beyond the adjustment of operational or management efficiency, but instead challenges existing norms, creating a management environment that embraces novelty and the possibility for transformative change.