This World Disasters Report makes the case simply and eloquently for a different approach to humanitarian action, one that strives to strengthen the resilience of vulnerable and at-risk communities. To paraphrase the report: investing in resilience saves lives and money.
This is by no means a new idea, but the widening gap between available resources and persistent, urgent needs in southern Africa, the Sahel, the Horn, across South and South-East Asia, and in many parts of Latin America, makes it more compelling and more urgent than ever before. If we are to break this cycle of crisis-response, and make real progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and disaster risk reduction, the answer is not just better response: it must also be fewer people in need. A focus on resilience should not replace or undermine the humanitarian imperative that demands that all need is addressed directly and with dignity.
Effective and efficient response will always be needed, and should be wholly defended. Resilience and response are not at odds with each other. Building resilience is a logical extension of the humanitarian imperative. Our shared humanity compels us to go the extra mile to reduce the scale and impact of shocks and stresses, and to help communities to recover better and stronger. This is about more than creating a new way of working, it is also about finding a new way of working together. Building resilience requires partnerships – with communities, local humanitarian actors, development agencies, governments and with the private sector. It forces us to go beyond our institutional priorities, step out from our silos and to commit to working together in a spirit of true collaboration.
This thinking is at the heart of the “One Billion Coalition for Resilience”, an initiative which was launched by the IFRC in late 2015 that aims to transform the state of resilience in the world. By creating networks of caring individuals, motivated communities and like-minded organizations from all sectors, the IFRC and its partners will support 1 billion people to take action that builds resilience by 2025. This report calls on us to adopt ‘resilience thinking’. All our interventions, at all points along the humanitarian continuum, must seek to strengthen resilience. This must be backed by funding for resilience. Barriers to investment need to be identified and overcome.
This brings us back to Victor in the dry riverbed in Zimbabwe. He was not passively waiting for authorities or aid groups to provide assistance. With the limited resources that he had, he was taking action. But it wasn’t enough. This is what resilience is about: empowering people to help themselves. It is about putting our plans and efforts at the service of their initiatives and their capacities. We must step past the artificial divide between humanitarian action and development, and constantly be there on the side of communities to accompany them into a future less fraught with risk and vulnerability and defined more by their own interest and capacity to thrive.