A change of mindset
The droughts and crop failures that sparked a hunger crisis in the Horn and Sahel regions of Africa in recent years have caused countless deaths. Elsewhere in the world, severe droughts, floods and other dramatic events regularly hit vulnerable populations.
However, we can see differences in the ability of different countries and communities to react and cope with unexpected stresses and shocks. In one word, the difference is resilience.
We have the means to build up resilience and prepare vulnerable communities for cyclical crises via data analysis, pattern recognition, risk assessment, smart investments and community-based disaster preparedness. In parts of the Horn of Africa and in the Sahel, for instance, this has helped ease the worst effects of drought, thus helping thousands of people to avoid hunger.
Fostering resilience also makes sense financially. Every euro invested in disaster preparedness saves between four and seven euros on disaster response. Building resilience is cheaper, more efficient and more sustainable than dealing with the consequences of yet another crisis.
We recognize the world has changed. There are more frequent and more severe shocks for communities to handle. So our approach has to change as well. We aim to manage crises better by helping address their root causes rather than struggling with their consequences.
The good news is that we are not starting from scratch. We already have encouraging results in Africa where we have launched the SHARE Initiative (Horn of Africa) and the AGIR partnership (Sahel), linking humanitarian and development resources to boost the capacity of the most vulnerable communities to survive and bounce back from drought.
This is a substantial shift in mentality and practice: from distributing aid to drought-affected people in order to survive until the next drought to investing in the long run — building irrigation systems, promoting more resistant crops, helping pastoralists manage their livestock.
These types of projects are not yet at a large-enough scale. But they are the basis of more to come. We are also promoting resilience in other regions and for other vulnerabilities, such as floods, cyclones, earthquakes and tsunamis.
Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies are playing an important role. In the Sahel, European and African National Societies are working together, with European Union (EU) support, to stem acute malnutrition and enhance systems for long-term health, food security, clean water and sanitation. In response to floods that affected 1.2 million Cambodians in 2011, ECHO supported the French and Cambodian Red Cross Societies in providing access to food and water, while promoting hygiene and enhancing long-term resilience. A century and a half since the first Red Cross National Societies were formed in Europe, it is time to act on what’s been learned in order to prevent and prepare for future crises.
Resilience can only grow and deliver on its promise if it becomes a priority for all — not just for donors such as the EU, which needs to make aid more flexible and better targeted, but also for governments in disaster-prone countries, for the private sector, which can contribute important know-how on insurance and risk assessment.
We in the European Commission are giving a clear signal that we are willing to re-examine our priorities as a donor. We will work within the humanitarian and development communities, with policy-makers and all other partners, to find adequate and lasting solutions to hunger and disaster exposure, which today threaten more people than ever.
By Kristalina Georgieva, European Union Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, and Andris Piebalgs, European Union Commissioner for Development.