26 September 2012

Resilence: USAID Keeps the Eye on the Prize

Resiliency emerged as the goal and buzz word during the response to the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa last year. NGOs and governments included resilience in the humanitarian response to signal a shift from emergency relief to building and supporting structures that will ensure that drought-prone areas will be better equipped to handle climate shocks.

A side-event at the UN General Assembly brought together actors like USAID, the Rockefeller Foundation and the World Food Programme to maintain efforts to build resilience in places like the Horn of Africa and the Sahel. “We used to think of this as linear action and now we need to all start at the same time. We need to build the agency of the people and the institutions have to be much better when risks materialize,” said Rebecca Grynspan, Associate Administrator for UNDP.

The event builds on the April launch of the Global Alliance for Action for Drought Resilience and Growth. Donors committed $4 billion towards resilience efforts in the Horn of Africa at the event. “We will reach one million vulnerable households and ensure that they can withstand climate shocks without food aid and humanitarian assistance,” explained USAID Administrator Shah in an interview.

For Shah, resilience is a word of action. “There has been so much talk, but so little progress on the ground,” he explained. “It is just inaccurate to pretend every year that these chronically vulnerable communities need late-in-the-game humanitarian aid. We know we can predict where needs will be in the future. We know we can invest in effective and far lower cost resilient strategies that allow for more agriculture production in dry land communities and thereby avoid the need for humanitarian assistance.”

A report by the NGO Mercy Corps found that supporting peace in southern Ethiopia contributed to resilience building. They determined that their Strengthening Institutions for Peace and Development program allowed pastoralists the greater ability to move freely and access vital resources by alleviating conflict in the region.

USAID is making its most meaningful steps towards building resilience through the program Feed the Future. A part of it is to, like Mercy Corps, reduce conflict. The aim is rather simple: improve agricultural yields for subsistence farmers in vulnerable parts of the world. Interventions include improved fertilizers, drought resistant seeds, and increasing farmers’ access to markets.

The awareness efforts and new programs seem to be paying off. “Instead of spending another year wishing for improved coordination, we worked closely with African leaders and international development partners to establish a Global Alliance for Action in Nairobi to rally the world behind a commitment to building resilience in the Horn of Africa, where crisis continue to occur,” said Admin Shah at the event yesterday. “As a result, for the first time, Kenya and Ethiopia have real plans and new structures to help communities’ combat vulnerability to crisis. And we have already seen real policy changes.”