Climate change and extreme weather, population growth, galloping urbanization and soil degradation impact the lives of an unprecedented number of people today. More communities are exposed to possible natural or economic disaster than ever before. Bolstering their ability to handle a shock and its consequences is the focus of an important EU Communication.
On October 3rd, Commissioners Pielbags and Georgieva proposed a new communication on Resilience to the European Parliament and the Council, based on EU experiences in responding to recent food crises. “The EU Approach to Resilience: Learning from Food Security Crises” builds on lessons learned and applies them to crisis and shock situations in general.
Over the past five years the EU has invested over 4 billion euros in response to crises in food security, in programmes that include the EU Food Facility, SHARE and AGIR. This experience prompted the new policy.
“What we saw was that the Commission has been pretty good at mobilising significant financial resources to address the consequences of crises,” said Jean-Pierre Halkin, Head of Unit for Rural Development, Food Security and Nutrition at DG EuropeAid, and team leader for the Communication.
“Where we see we need to do more,” he continued, ”is in the way we address the root causes of the crisis, so that at the end of the intervention we not only help the vulnerable people who have suffered because of the consequence of the crisis, but they are also better equipped to face the next crisis.”
The Communication proposes measures with which the European Union will help vulnerable populations reduce the impact of shocks and recurrent crises.
Resilience is the ability of an individual, a household, a community, a country or a region to withstand, to adapt, and to quickly recover from stresses and shocks.
How to make resilience measures work in development cooperation will involve a dedicated effort, said Mr Halkin. The major challenge is that long-term development objectives are too often de-railed when a shock happens and emergency response takes over.
“Introducing Resilience in development cooperation will certainly change the way in which we are working, both at Headquarters and in Delegation, in two aspects: in the long term programming, and when shocks happen in relation to ECHO,” he said.
Building resilience is a long-term effort that needs to be firmly embedded in national policies and planning. It is a part of the development process, and genuinely sustainable development will need to tackle the root causes of recurrent crises rather than just their consequences.
The EU Approach to Resilience: Learning from the Food Security Crisis
The long-term vision is to see significant attention in multi-annual programming devoted to the root causes of vulnerability. “We know that if we have not been working enough on those (root causes) in the past, it is often because this is also more complex, more difficult or more sensitive, but this is really where we want to go and we want to lean on national policies for that,” explained Mr Halkin.
Secondly, a closer relationship with ECHO would facilitate a better response, as seen in the reply to the food crisis in 2008. “Whenever a disaster occurs we need to have more joint work to identify where are the most vulnerable people, joint work to see where we should intervene to support those so that at the end of the day we have really well packaged EU support to the most vulnerable parts of the world,” he said.
The new Communication was crafted to reflect the principles of the Agenda for Change. For instance, importance is given to partner countries in their responsibility to design policies and implement them, and for a country to develop its own capacity in order to reinforce itself against shocks.
“In the Communication we insist on capacities being developed at all levels, from households to communities to countries, “ said Mr Halkin, stressing that policy development should be aimed to interface not only with government, but with the population. “So we also need to develop the capacities of the most vulnerable part of the population.”
“It is important that policies are developed that encompass both the development of the capacities to address the root causes and to tackle the consequences,” he added. “We have had quite a good experience already in capacity development, and it has to be incorporated into the support we provide in each sector.”
At the thematic level, the Communication echoes the attention to sustainable agriculture, food security and the private sectors seen in the Agenda for Change. A key aspect in promoting resilience in multi-annual programming is to work in the sector that is most exposed to shocks, and in vulnerable countries, agriculture is often both the most important sector of the economy and the one most exposed to both climatic and economic shocks.
Mr Halkin is encouraged by the example of progress made for food security in Niger. There, the government has chosen to develop policies to address food insecurity, alongside the relevant tools to address the food crisis. “Providing a government with policies taking on board the root causes of vulnerability is where colleagues need to place all the effort,” he said. “And Headquarters is there to support that and also to support the pressure on policy dialogue on those aspects.”
Resilience is the cross-cutting theme of the Food Security topic at the upcoming EU DevDays, which take place in Brussels on the 16th and 17th of October. Round table and panel discussions will focus on resilience in its different forms - in food security, the private sector, nutrition and so on.
To watch the full video interview by Mr Halkin, please visit this page in the capacity4dev.eu Public Group on Fighting Hunger, Food Security and Nutrition.