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

Greg Collins USAID, United States of America
08.07.2013

Please find the following comments from Greg Collins on behalf of USAID Washington.

1. All development and much of what is done under recovery by humanitarian actors enhances resilience if done well.  What seems to be new under the (re)emergent resilience agenda is a focus on areas with the greatest resilience deficits (measured by a combination of risk exposure and vulnerability and proxied by humanitarian spending over the last decade).  Along with this, there has been a more explicit analytic and programmatic recognition that shocks (and stresses) are not anomalies, but recurrent features of these landscapes suggesting that reducing risk and enhancing adaptive capacity to both acute shocks and longer-term stresses must feature centrally in any effort to build resilience at household, community or systems (ecological, social, economic) levels.  Resilience is best understood in relation to specific shocks and the focus should be on those that are recurrent (i.e. drought, rather than unpredictable political crises).  However, resilience itself is likely to be a more generalizable capacity.

2. Difficult to answer and dependent on the causes of protracted crises.  To the extent dynamic stability in the face of shocks and stresses is a necessary (even if, alone, insufficient) condition for resilience, conflict management will be central to improving the capacity of households and communities to manage through shocks and stresses.  This points to the important links between conflict and food insecurity - each as a cause and result of the other.

3. Measuring resilience is a challenge.  Topline measures such as reductions in humanitarian assistance needs (normalized by severity of shock/drought), depth of poverty, household hunger (HHS) and Global Acute Malnutrition provide important insights into whether outcomes of being resilient have been achieved.  However, resilience itself is better understood as a capacity...in USAID's definition, 'the ability to mitigate, adapt to and recover from shocks and stresses in a manner that reduces vulnerability and facilitates inclusive growth'.  Measuring capacities, such as the ability to lean on others in times of stress, is more challenging than measuring outcomes for which  the state of  the science is fairly well advanced, particularly as such measures rely heavily on self-perception (as informed by measurement of resilience in social psychology).  Nevertheless, measuring these capacities is the only true means of gauging gains in resilience, particularly in the event that resilience is not being tested (i.e. no shock).

4. Much of the effort layer action across a number of sectors is informed by an understanding of the multi-dimensional nature and complexity of resilience.  There are modelling approaches that will allow us to predict the additive and multiplicative impacts of such efforts, however - given the paucity of data - investing in robust systems to evaluate the impact of investments being made now may be more critical to the learning agenda than modelling with incomplete data and overly assumptive assumptions.

5. The energy behind the current resilience movement is in many ways inspired by the intersection of 3 imperatives; a. humanitarian (lives, livelihoods, dignity), b. developmental (lack of resilience as a drag on economic growth as shown in the $12b in losses associated with drought in Kenya between

2008-2011 and c. an economic imperative as demonstrated by DFID's value for money research.  The last is particularly compelling in an era of austerity.  For example, the USG alone spent $1b in humanitarian assistance in the Horn in 2011.  It simply is not sustainble.

6. Scale is part of the equation.  However, it is the effective sequencing, layering and integration of both existing and new humanitarian and development investments that likely matters more.  If we can prove the value added of such a strategic approach at a local scale and humanitarian and development partners working on national strategies guided by effective government counterparts, we can build out a mosaic of effective resilience enhancing actions as a means of bringing it to scale. 7. We needn't look far and forward to see what happens when climate change and variability and population growth rates causally collide.  Niger provides a case in point.  While both suggest that any effort to build resilience is akin to swimming up stream, this only underscores the need to make these investments now.  It also underscores the need to factor in these longer-term stresses into analysis, decision making and - ultimately - responses.  The effective use of climate information is also an essential aspect of adaptive capacity (itself a pillar capacity at the heart of resilence), be it at the household, community or national/regional level.