By Joern Fischer
The Resilience Meeting 2014 just started – with many hundreds of participants it is quite a bit larger than in the last iterations in Arizona and Stockholm. The conference started off with a panel five experienced men giving their expert opinions (…): Jean-Marc Châtaigner, Jean-Pierre Halkin, John Kabayo, Brian Walker and Cees Wittebrood. These individuals represented perspectives from science to policy, from Australia, to Europe, to Africa.
Why or how is resilience useful for these various purposes? The speakers highlighted that much of development policy, for example, now includes notions of resilience: “if it doesn’t, they’ll re-write it”, as one of the speakers noted (I’ll leave him anonymous, so he keeps his job J ). NGOs also have caught on to the idea of resilience – so clearly the notion or concept has been incredibly successful.
Jean-Marc Châtaigner highlighted that resilience thinking had also helped to bridge disciplinary boundaries, and helped to think about the interconnected nature of ecological and social problems. The resilience approach thus was helpful to unify different agendas, helping to practitioners to more successfully and harmoniously pursue various different goals related to sustainable development.
Jean-Pierre Halkin, representing EuropeAid, highlighted that shocks were increasingly important in development work. This is because increasingly frequent shocks in poor settings can often un-do much of the development progress that had previously been made. Clearly, resilience thinking – which is all about how to cope with shocks and continue to develop – therefore is a useful concept.
John Kabayo came from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development of the Horn of Africa, for which he coordinates the Drought Resilience Platform. In the past, he explained, people in the dry parts of the Horn of Africa responded to drought by moving to wetter areas. However, such movements have now become difficult, and so the traditional adaptation mechanism to drought is no longer working – new ways are therefore needed to build resilience in order to cope with (increasingly frequent) drought. The idea of resilience suggests to invest in resilience instead of responding to crises via food aid – rather than dealing with the aftermath of droughts, resilience focuses on improving conditions before things get bad, so that shocks can be better absorbed.
Brian Walker – President of the Board of the Resilience Alliance – emphasized the linkages between people and ecosystems. Feedbacks were particularly important in this context. Such feedbacks had long been ignored – especially those between people and ecosystems, and across multiple spatial and temporal scales. Sometimes, however, managing feedbacks fails – for better or worse. In such cases, Brian highlighted that transformation is necessary, that is, the purposeful change of human-environment interactions. What this means, then, is actually quite interesting in a resilience context: sometimes, resilience is exactly what we want, and then it’s about maintaining the system as it is. But other at times, we really do want to achieve transformational change, and it’s the very resilience of existing institutions that causes problems. Brian nicely challenged the audience to consider: when do we want resilience? When do we want transformation?
Cees Wittebrood represented the European Commission’s Directorate General Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, for East, West and Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean. Wittebrood highlighted that the Somalia famine in 2011 was a turning point. Many people in the international community at this time began to turn towards resilience thinking as a new paradigm for how to think about preventing disasters such as this particular famine. How could systems be organized and governed in in ways to avoid such disasters in the first place, so that shocks (such as climatic or economic ones) can be more successfully absorbed, without resulting in disaster? This re-framing of goals, in turn, led to a series of significant changes aid and development programmes – longer time horizons, more emphasis on the most vulnerable people, and a departure from some traditional development thinking.