Re: Addressing food insecurity in protracted crises: Resilience-building programming

Alessandro Villa European Commission (ECHO, DEVCO, EEAS), Italy

European Commission participation to the E-conference “Addressing food insecurity in protracted crises: Resilience-building programming”


Firstly, it is our opinion that building resilience is not an option but an imperative to increase the effectiveness of both development and humanitarian aid. The recent disasters in the Horn of Africa and Sahel illustrate clearly that development has failed to prevent the impact of recurrent climatic variation on vulnerable communities, and that humanitarian resources are not adequate to prevent widespread asset loss, erosion of livelihoods, acute under-nutrition and in some cases excess mortality during crises. In a context of increasing population and proliferating shocks, it is a requirement that different stakeholders join together to work in different ways - this is the underpinning raison d'être for resilience building.

Consensus has been reached on a series of conditions concerning resilience building in particular in protracted crises. For example,

  • Joint Analysis: as a necessary starting point involving collaboration, coordination common vision, common strategy and programming, and common monitoring and reporting frameworks between humanitarian and development players is key to enhance aid effectiveness. Within the European Commission, the Joint Humanitarian/Development Framework provides a tool for better doing analysis, and the example of the US joint planning cells is a good one that implies some institutional or at least organizational changes
  •  Understanding risk and vulnerabilities: Resilience building requires ad hoc solutions that should be tailored to the specific situation in the field. This requires and in-depth analysis of vulnerability, livelihoods (existing and potential) and wealth groupings, exposure to shocks and coping capacities in order to identify who is vulnerable/ non-resilient to what. This implies shifting paradigms of government and development partners to focus on the most vulnerable (and less on conventional 'growth models'), and humanitarian actors to take into stronger consideration long term implication of crises management. This would be a major step towards 'doing business differently', as required to increase the effectiveness of aid.
  • Social transition and transformation: Many vulnerable communities are going through large transitions from traditional livelihoods to new or diversified livelihoods (e.g. pastoralists in the Horn of Africa and Sahel): it is imperative that governments and development partners understand the dynamics and the future aspirations of people in transition and social transformation, often needing a generational time horizon.
  • Short, medium and long term visions: The participation of all parties and stakeholders that share vision and strategy is necessary for long lasting interventions. Therefore, continuous dialogue among donors and strong relationships between partner countries and regional organisations are needed. Humanitarian action should as far as possible be aligned to longer term development processes, and avoid a start-stop modality.
  • Social protection and the provision of basic services: Both contribute to resilience through building human capital, and act as a foundation for more meaningful resilience to be built. Governments should continue to expand social protection and the provision of basic services to the most vulnerable while development partners should support this effort making it more sustainable. Along these lines, humanitarian action can potentially act to expand and contract social protection/ basic services in times of crisis to ensure that affected people are protected.
  • Ownership of local authorities is necessary and resilience programmes should be country- driven; however, for humanitarian interventions, humanitarian principles must be respected,
  • Stop thinking and acting in 'silos': multidisciplinary, multi-sectoral, multi-level, multi-partner, strategically and jointly planned, holistic approach is required
  •  Address social inequities: to build resilience in a sustainable way, social inequities need to be a focus of development and governance of national governments. Peace and stability is a prerequisite.
  • Common monitoring and measuring framework: to inform decision making which means to allow to be responsive to evolving needs and for accountability reasons /vulnerable populations targeted by the resilience approach and /EU tax payer (aid effectiveness, value for money considerations): This is an ongoing challenge.


However, although the overall theoretical framework of resilience building is quite developed and well defined, it is much less clear how to put those (and other) elements together in a real scenario making the complex mechanism workable.

The European Commission has been in the forefront of two initiatives that, from their conception, were meant to put together all elements that would contribute to the resilience building.

  • The Alliance Globale pour l’Initiative Resilience (AGIR) initiative, officially launched in December 2012 together by the Commission and the partner countries in the Sahel region, addressed the resilience building in one of the areas most exposed to recurrent crises. The initiative has been conceived as an opened forum in which different parties and stakeholders (national governments, regional institutions, donors, technical partners, UN, private sector, NGOs, farmers associations and other civil society players, etc.) have been put together around a table to discuss and agree upon a common vision on how to strengthen the resilience against the recurrent crises factors (drought, floods and other food crises leading risks such as economic and political vulnerability have been the main focus) of the most vulnerable populations in the region. The forum allowed to design regional priorities incorporated into a regional strategy in which all parties have contributed and now share.
  • The Supporting the Horn of Africa's Resilience (SHARE) initiative, which is a joint humanitarian-development approach to improve the ability of people, communities and countries to face persistent and acute emergencies. Built on the experience the EU has in collaborating with development partners in the Horn of Africa, the EU together with its Member States worked to develop a response to the drought that hit the region in 2011, the worst in 60 years. An increase in short-term development financing to support the immediate recovery phase together with a long-term structured approach to recover after the drought were put in place

As a next step, regional strategy is now being translated and adopted at national level by national players to mirror the regional one. The stakeholders of the resilience against food crises are discussing together with the objective to identify the strategies and the mechanisms to enhance the capability of vulnerable population to absorb shocks and to adapt to then in a sustainable manner. As far as we are aware, this is the first time that a so inclusive mechanism has been put in place. The added value of the mechanism is a political pressure and a cross check scheme where each party stimulates and control the work of the others in the framework a common vision, with a shared objective and adopting common indicators.

Concerning the dynamism of the resilience building, we believe that it cannot be achieved only looking back to the past, although it has to be built on good practices and lessons learnt. A clear understanding of the present and future risks, including the aspirations of vulnerable people undergoing livelihood transitions, should be in the centre of the radar of policy-makers.

Demographic and ecological changes are the main elements to be clearly taken into consideration while designing strategies of resilience building with a long term prospective. Demographic issues and their consequences are part of the precise responsibility of local, national and regional authorities. The underestimation of the demographic phenomena could clearly lead to the failure of resilience building policies designed on the basis of a status quo situation without taking into strong consideration the future possible/probable scenarios. On the other hand, ecological and climate changes are barely under control of policy-makers in protracted areas countries, therefore adaptation measures only can be in their agenda, while mitigation policies are under the responsibility of international communities. Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Agendas should be well coordinated to ensure adaptation and disaster reduction.

Concerning the issue of specificity of resilience building, we believe that a lot of interactions are possible among risks and, therefore, a population that reduce its vulnerability against a risk would most probably reduce its exposure to a combination of risks at the same time. However, while designing resilience building policies, the identification of the risks to be addressed should be clearly defined and policies should be as specific as possible. Yet, interactions between risks should also be considered and synergies among resiliencies to different kind of risks should be promoted. Multi-risk response mechanisms could also be explored, but improved policy design tools are needed to ensure effectiveness and efficiency of those response. Finally, concerning priorities for policy-makers, risks should be addressed depending on the probability of their occurrence and their potential impacts, both elements to be identified through risk analyses, built on an in-depth understand of vulnerability and livelihoods dynamics. Such analysis should jointly involve different partners coming from both development and humanitarian environment to ensure taking into consideration the different perspectives and needs.