Climate change produces future risks and increasing climate variability produces current risks. Reducing disaster risk is addressed at the national level using approaches usually developed by the United Nations. These approaches, particularly in the developed world, address resilience building but practice is top-down and reactive. Effective resilience building requires a bottom-up participatory approach aimed at enhancing adaptive capacity. Using climate change and variability as a vehicle, this article posits that, without a shift in public policy, effective resilience could be jeopardised. Key to successful adaptation has been the willingness to learn how to develop a coherent set of principles that can inform a new approach to public policy for disaster management.