Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)

Thanks Walter for bringing up this thematically important but practically overlooked topic among actors working on resilience building. I have been working on resilience building interventions for over five years among the pastoralist communities in Ethiopia and Somalia.

Defining a minimum time frame in which an individual, community or system should remain resilient depends on the type of disaster. A group resilient to drought might not be similarly resilient to conflict or disease outbreak or other type of disaster. Thus, identifying the type of shock or stress to which an individual or communities are resilient to needs to be defined while speaking about the time frame of resilience. For example, in the drylands of the Horn of Africa, drought and conflict are the common phenomenon frequently eroding the resilience capacity of the pastoralist communities. In the past, the pastoralists in this part of the world were efficiently managing their water and pasture resources while switching between wet and dry season grazing areas; and mobility was a key aspect of their resilience. However, over the past couple of decades, the increased frequency of disaster (almost every 3 to 4 years) accompanied by severe land degradation and wrong perception of the policy makers about the pastoralist livelihood and the increased tendency to sedentarize them has had detrimental impacts to the resilience of pastoralists. In addition, the type of livelihood and means of production also determines the time frame of community resilience. Most of the agricultural production systems (both crop and livestock) in the Horn of Africa (HoA) are rain fed and thus highly sensitive to climate variabilities. An irrigation-based agricultural production could be resilient for longer period of time than the one relying on rain fall.

Although there are several ongoing interventions aiming at building community resilience to mainly drought disasters in the HoA, they are mostly quite short-term in their nature and apparently unable to address the root causes of vulnerability. Programmes aiming to address resilience building need to be focused and flexible enough and at the same time there must be enough funding to scale up or out promising pilot intervenstions. The increased frequencies of different disaster phenomena are challenging the development gains of long-term resilience building initiatives in the arid and semi-arid areas of Africa and thus making determination of timeframe of community resilience ever difficult. In this regard, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, just like some other donors is introducing contingency funding mechanism (also called the crisis modifier) to its long-term (12 years) resilience building programmes. This will help minimize disaster impacts to the development gains of our interventions while ensuring an effective and timely response action in disaster situations.

In general, despite more number of actors in resilience building these days, the overall pastoralist communities’ resilience especially in the HoA is significantly dwindling. Pastoralists were better resilient in the past than today. More often, resources are also available for emergency situations than longer-term development interventions which could potentially address the structural causes of vulnerability. In addition, early warning information is timely available sometimes but it is not delivered to the communities in a way they could easily understand and take up early actions. Therefore, community knowledge of early warning information is another important aspect to be considered vis-à-vis the time frame of community resilience.