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FEATURE: Incorporating resilience into the post-2015 development goals


As the UN launches its first report on the post-2015 MDG consultations, CDKN’s Amy Kirbyshire reflects on what the 5th Africa Drought Adaptation Forum taught us about how resilience can be measured and incorporated into the post-2015 development framework.

Disaster resilience in the post-2015 development framework

The failure of the Millennium Development Goals to take disaster risk into account is considered a major gap in the current development framework around the globe. This is one message to emerge from the report The Global Conversation Begins, presented by the UN last week, which documents initial findings from consultations around the world on the post-2015 Development Agenda.

While disaster resilience is much more difficult to measure than, say, disaster mortality, the consultations to date have clearly shown a preference for this more positive framing by the global Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) community. In addition, the consultations devoted to DRR have recommended a standalone goal on DRR, as well as incorporating DRR into other development goals. The standalone goal will ensure visibility of disaster resilience, and will also provide an opportunity to better address the interface between global development frameworks and those for DRR, climate change adaptation and conflict.

This presents a challenge. To have a standalone development goal on disaster resilience, some degree of consensus is needed on what it really means to be resilient and how we can measure it, among other things.

Last month, more than 250 participants from governments, regional bodies, UN agencies, NGOs and academia attended the 5th Africa Drought Adaptation Forum (ADAF5) in Arusha, Tanzania. Their discussion of methodologies and indicators for measuring community-level resilience to drought in Africa highlighted just how complex developing a new goal for disaster resilience will be.

As Catherine Fitzgibbon from UNDP Drylands Development Centre put it, resilience is the flipside of vulnerability. Couched in positive language, it encourages thinking about where we want to be, rather than what is missing. It is multifaceted, dynamic and constantly changing. It means different things to different people, so identifying it and measuring it is a real challenge.

Working with communities in drought-prone regions of Africa, the UNDP Drylands Development Centre has provided some answers to what it means to be resilient. Under the Quantitative Impact Assessment for Community-based Drought Risk Reduction Initiative, it asks groups within communities to think about what factors help people cope in times of drought and the characteristics that define a resilient community. The top ranked factors are taken to be that community’s resilience indicators.

To measure their resilience, the community estimates the proportion of households that meet the resilience criteria during a ‘normal’ and ‘bad’ period. By grouping the indicators under the five categories of the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework (SLF: physical, natural, social, human and financial capital), and by mapping the ‘normal’ and ‘bad’ values against those categories on a spider diagram, the community’s level of resilience becomes clear. More resilient communities exhibit less difference between a normal period and a bad period. The use of the SLF also helps to facilitate comparison across different communities.

Using the findings of the research, the UNDP Drylands Development Centre has developed a list of common indicators for governments to routinely collect data on, to help map and measure changes in resilience over time. This model, known as the Community Based Resilience Assessment (CoBRA), is best suited to communities that experience systematic shocks or disasters, as these are likely to present a clear consensus on what constitutes a ‘bad’ period. Common indicators include year-round access to water, education, health care, access to credit, social safety nets, peace and stability, and large cattle herds, among many others.

Assessment data collected so far suggests that the long-term key to building resilience is education, particularly the completion of secondary and tertiary schooling. This leads to better jobs and support for families by providing money to invest in other livelihood activities. Therefore, scholarships might be a good long-term resilience-building intervention.

While such initiatives could contribute to shaping a resilience-based development goal by helping to define what resilience is and how it can be measured, other questions also need answering. For example, agreement is needed on ‘what should we be resilient to?’ and should we be focusing on disaster resilience (i.e. to natural hazards), or resilience to all shocks? Furthermore, a community’s resilience will be preconditioned by wider governance and structures; how can we build this in?

As was clear from break-out group discussions at the ADAF5, such consensus does not yet exist. Fundamentally, delegates disagreed over whether it is possible to have a globally applicable ‘meta-indicator’ for resilience generally, or whether resilience necessarily relates to specific hazards such as drought or to specific contexts.

The prevailing view among delegates was that there could be a meta-indicator for disaster resilience in the post-2015 development framework, but it would need to be a composite of sub-indicators, to reflect the wide variety of factors that influence the overall picture. We need a resilience index, they said, that includes a number of factors and can be tailored to specific contexts.

The group favoured a composite linked to physical, natural, social, human and financial capital, as in the SLF. This resonates with calls from the post-2015 DRR consultations for a resilience framework, the implementation of which would involve a multidimensional risk index reflecting different themes and integrated risk assessment models.

While the development agenda cannot address all DRR concerns, it is clear that DRR must be incorporated into the next iteration of the MDGs. Past experience has helped us recognise what is needed, and why. If resilience is to be the vehicle, as experts seem to broadly agree, discussions such as those held in Arusha have much to offer proponents on the ‘how’ that will be required to bring the new goal to fruition.

Photo courtesy of ClaudiaDewald – iStockphoto
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