How international aid can support resilience
By Andrew Thow, Humanitarian Policy Officer, OCHA
Since the first signs that the food and nutrition crisis in the Sahel was getting worse in late 2011, ‘resilience’ has become the most talked about topic in humanitarian policy circles. We must get better at preventing recurrent crises in the Sahel and other regions. On this, everyone agrees. But when we talk about doing business differently, what exactly does that mean?
|Niger, 2012: Man in Molia village tends vegetables.CR: D. Ohana, OCHA|
But the word ‘resilience’ is also being used to sum up a series of changes in the way
the international aid system supports people and countries affected by recurrent crises. In particular, it has come to mean more closely integrating short-term humanitarian relief and longer-term development assistance, so that together they are more effective. Many governments in the region have taken the lead in preparing national plans to do just that. The UN has a common approach on building resilience in the Sahel, which brings together its different programmes.
These ideas are not new, but the momentum around them right now suggests real and lasting practical changes are underway. Although it is not exactly clear what those changes will be, there are two main areas. First, more focus on programs that reduce the risk of a crisis and increase people’s ability to cope when they do happen. For example, establishing early warning systems or helping people increase the number of ways they can earn a living and support their families. Second, by aligning the way humanitarian and development work is planned and integrating humanitarian activities into development programmes, and vice versa. For example, if people are encouraged to diversify their crops, the failure of one harvest will not lead to famine
This is easier said than done as most aid organisations, including the UN, have divisions between their humanitarian and development functions. Donors also tend to have separate budgets for these activities. Nevertheless, closer alignment could make a real difference. People affected by emergencies should receive more consistent support before, during and after a crisis. This will not only help them to survive, but also to improve their own lives sustainably, and maintain their dignity in the face of future shocks.
|Chad, July 2012: A woman buys dates at the market in the town of Bol on the outskirts of Lake Tchad. Credit: Pierre Peron/OCHA|