February 6, 2013

Part: II - Resiliency: what is it? And is it the new solution for long-term development?

Part II: So how is resilience any different from traditional sustainable development?

An already challenging endeavour has become even more complicated in the context of a growing number, frequency and scale of man-made and natural humanitarian disasters – mass flooding, famines, slow-onset disasters that are no longer impacting tens or hundreds of thousands of individuals, but millions within and across countries. And this is exposing a larger number of already vulnerable individuals to more risk and shocks.

Various presenters at the workshop (and the subsequent discussion) addressed a range of different ways in which they have responded to this challenge:

·        preventative measures (proactive and early analysis of risks; early warning mechanisms; risk financing mechanisms;  safety net programs that anticipate and address chronic food shortages through scheduled food or cash transfers; early detection of malnutrition through growth monitoring; strengthening infrastructure; improved natural resource management; consulting and engaging with groups impacted by disasters to help shape and develop future responses to potential emergencies; placing more emphasis on national disaster risk reduction plans;

·        early responses to shocks (cash and voucher transfers to meet basic needs with purchases coming from local markets; seeds and tools distribution; local savings and loan associations that can respond to emergency needs);

·        flexible mechanisms to protect lives and livelihoods and smooth consumption throughout the year (cash for work programs; one-off livelihood grants so individuals don’t sell their assets; encouraging individuals to grow cash and food crops through the cropping cycles);

·        protecting long term gains (programs to diversify and enhance people’s income sources through crop diversification, and building long term assets like livestock; working through local municipal and national governments (both in humanitarian and development interventions) to strengthen their capacity in disaster preparedness and management, and longer term change through policy and legislative change).

What we also took from the workshop is that a first key step in resiliency is bridging the gap between short term humanitarian interventions and long term development.

But more importantly, perhaps, it is about not viewing humanitarian interventions as an isolated response to an external risk or shock, or even about looking for ways to integrate emergency preparedness and response into long-term national development planning (although that is part of it), but rather ensuring that development programs can help communities weather smaller shocks, so that they don’t evolve into crisis/humanitarian levels.

This goes against the one-way continuum model that we often work with (that “starts” with early response, then recovery and reconstruction, and “ends” with longer term development) and turns it into thinking about sustainable development planning that is designed to better respond to and anticipate a range and cycle of risks and shocks as we work towards generating long-term change.

Put together, it is a collective and welcome admission, perhaps, from the whole development community – donor governments, partner countries, CSOs – that development is messy and complicated.

This presents a huge challenge for us going forward – which is why to date we have all become experts at identifying the risks, but are still harder pressed to identify the remedies.

But it also presents us with a tremendous opportunity – to change the way we go about “doing development”. It means changing how we talk about these issues and communicate with the public about them; how we fundraise; it means breaking down the silos within our own organizations, and how we plan and program (and with whom) for longer term change.

Of course, with this opportunity comes another challenge: donor governments, and sometimes our own organizations, need to be able to communicate short term measurable results, and operate within shorter time frames, rather than plan for longer term change. And each have their own silos and funding mechanisms that aren’t necessarily responsive to what is required with this new approach. For many, this represents a huge roadblock to advancing the issue.

But what encouraged us at the meeting was, despite this, a number of groups have simply decided to proceed and take the lead. And what’s even more encouraging, is that where they have taken the lead, we hope donors will be quick to follow.

This blog was written by Fraser Reilly-King, Policy Analyst (Aid), CCIC, and Paul Hagerman, Co-Chair of the FSPG and Director of Public Policy at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB).

The views expressed are their own, and do not necessarily represent the views of CCIC CFGB or their members.

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