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Understanding resilience

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JOHANNESBURG, 4 March 2013 (IRIN) - No one working in the aid community
in recent years could have avoided the buzzword "resilience" - but what
does the term mean practically, and how has it helped shape action on
the ground?

In fact, there is no standard definition of the term, points out a
draft paper by the UN Development Programme (UNDP). The UN's lead
development agency, along with the Office for Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), has been tasked with finding ways to
consider how development and humanitarian actors can work better
together on resilience.

The UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction defines the term
as "the ability of a system, community or society exposed to hazards to
resist, absorb, accommodate to and recover from the effects of a hazard
in a timely and efficient manner." The Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change, meanwhile, describes resilience as "the amount of
change a system can undergo without changing state". The UK Department
for International Development defines it as "the ability of countries,
communities and households to manage change, by maintaining or
transforming living standards in the face of shocks or stresses.
without compromising their long-term prospects."

But according to UNDP, these and other definitions focus too narrowly
on responding to shocks rather than preventing or preparing for them,
and their stated goal is only to return beleaguered communities to
their original state. UNDP therefore proposes to define resilience as a
"transformative process of strengthening the capacity of people,
communities and countries to anticipate, manage, recover and transform
from shocks" - otherwise known as build back better.

Resilience "is more of a process than an outcome," said Samuel Doe,
UNDP's focal point on resilience, adding that he is bewildered when he
hears about organizations planning to "roll out resilience."

"Resilience is more of a process than an outcome"
Any community targeted by a programme with a resilience component is
meant to end up with improved self-esteem, gender sensitivity, the
ability to organize themselves, an effective early warning system, and
other forms of self-sufficiency, he says.

In the field, activities that improve the "resilience" of vulnerable
households and communities - such as disaster risk reduction,
livelihood support, social protection and basic services - are not new,
explained Sarah Muscroft of OCHA.

"What is new is the way in which needs are assessed and programmes are
planned and delivered. Bringing together humanitarian and development
actors and aligning assessment and planning tools will be central to
this approach," she added.

Development or humanitarian?

Resilience can potentially act as a bridge between emergency response
and long-term development aid
e> , tackling the vulnerabilities that make people susceptible to
shocks. But there remains confusion over who should be more responsible
- humanitarian workers providing immediate relief in a crisis or
longer-term development actors.

Simon Levine, a researcher with the Overseas Development Institute
(ODI), said, "From what I see in discussions and workshops, there is
more interest in 'resilience' from among the humanitarians, and there
is a tendency to see resilience as something that humanitarian aid
should be building in its response - 'building back better' - to
prevent crises recurring."

He added, "I strongly believe that this puts the accent in the wrong
place. the real driver behind the resilience agenda ought to be the
realization that the job of 'development aid' is to prevent people
falling into crisis."

But humanitarians argue they are already working beyond their mandate
of providing relief. Recurrent crises - such as cyclones in the Indian
Ocean, droughts in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, and floods in
Southern Africa - have already led to much introspection about whether
humanitarian aid provides only a band-aid for systemic problems.

Inspired by vulnerability studies in the mid-1970s, humanitarian
officials have increasingly turned their attention to longer-term
solutions. This led to the creation of the disaster risk reduction
(DRR) approach. The Hyogo Framework for Action - the first
internationally accepted framework on DRR, adopted in 2005, was "a
first comprehensive attempt to detail what are the ingredients of
resilience," said Margareta Wahlstr


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