Some perspectives on resilience building in Sahel
By UNDP West and Central Africa Regional Center colleagues Nathalie Bouché, Poverty Practice Leader & Sophie Baranes, Regional Practice Coordinator, crisis prevention and recovery.
UNDP's tagline "Empowered lives. Resilient nations." reflects the growing importance of the concept of resilience in international development discourse, prompting partners to ensure that human development results are built to last against the spectrum of diverse and multiple stresses or shocks, including food price hikes, climate-induced natural disasters, epidemics, conflicts.
Looking into a comprehensive definition of Resilience in the Sahel
Although definitions of resilience are still work in progress among actors and practitioners within and outside the UN system they commonly refer to the ability of people, communities or countries to effectively deal with stresses and shocks. The capacity to ‘deal with’ is however variably depicted as a capacity to anticipate, prevent, prepare for, accommodate, absorb, or recover from these stresses and shocks in a sustainable manner.
What does building long term resilience in the Sahel require?
Building long term resilience in Sahel and breaking the vicious cycle of protracted food crises, chronic hunger, income and human poverty certainly requires acting upon all these dimensions of resilience, alongside efforts to address the broad set of threats and risks facing the region. Having said that, enhancing capacities to anticipate, prevent and manage risks (rather than managing shocks and crises themselves) are certainly of paramount importance.
One reason is that resilience building interventions that take place ahead of shocks (e.g early warning, social protection/safety nets, weather or health insurance, microfinance, disaster risk reduction) are likely to be more efficient, as informational, financial and other capacity constraints generally tend to increase during shocks and crises. Further, when shocks occur, resilience should perhaps imply more than a capacity to recover or bounce back.
From a sustainable human development perspective, vulnerable people and communities should have the capacity to ‘bounce forward’, ‘grow stronger’, ‘self-renew’ from shocks or stresses, while reducing their vulnerability to future shocks as result of learning, adaptation or even, innovation. In her horizon setting lecture in Cambridge on 16 April titled: “Putting Resilience at the Heart of the Development Agenda, UNDP’s administrator critically defined resilience as a transformative process. The Common UN Approach on Resilience Building in the Sahel also emphasizes resilience as both ‘preventive action’ and ‘long term transformation’.
Challenges on the road to resilience
There is a consensus that building long term resilience in Sahel does not only require meeting the immediate food and nutritional needs of the most vulnerable and the neediest through well targeted interventions, but also commensurate longer term efforts to eliminate the core drivers of Sahel people and communities’ vulnerabilities. In this regard, it seems especially critical to get a better understanding of the linkages between natural disaster, climate, environmental, social, political, economic and financial threats facing Sahel and the way they affect food security and nutritional outcomes at the community/household levels.
Also, while vulnerable people and communities should certainly be both the starting point and ultimate focus of resilience building interventions in Sahel, the critical role of institutions and governance systems at national and community levels in building long term resilience needs to be acknowledged. The weakening of state institutions in some countries is evidenced by limited capacities to equitably distribute resources, provide and secure access to basic social services, and expand safety nets during and in the aftermath of crises. Much needs to be done in strengthening institutions and community systems to anticipate, prevent and mitigate risks and shocks, in other words, to ‘build systemic resilience’.
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