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FrontLines Year in Review: Catching Ethiopians Before They Fall

This is part of our FrontLines Year in Review series. This originally appeared in FrontLines May/June 2012 issue.

Despite one of the region’s worst droughts, no famine struck rural Ethiopia last year. The drought’s impact was lessened by a food-and-cash-for-public-works program USAID supports and helped design. Today, one of Africa’s largest social safety nets does not just protect against chronic food insecurity, it helps communities weather the future.

It is December 2011, and life goes on as normal in the arid highlands of Tigray, the northern Ethiopian region whose burnt siennas, giant cactus flowers, and peaks and canyons could easily be confused with those of the American Southwest. Here, donkeys carry grain and pull packs on the side of the road. Farmers work their fields. There is no sign of a crisis.

Normality is not typically a measure of success, but in this case, and in this particular region, it is. Beginning in early 2011, a severe drought decimated parts of East Africa, leading to a June declaration of famine in parts of Somalia.

The drought was considered in some parts of the region to be one of the worst in 60 years, affecting more than 13.3 million people in the Horn of Africa. The month before the official drought declaration, USAID’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) warned: “This is the most severe food-security emergency in the world today.”

In Tigray, a region held hostage to annual alternating dry and wet seasons, the impact has been minimal. The reason, according to many who live there, is a riff on the same theme: Because of “safety net,” they say, things are OK.

A beneficiary of the USAID-supported Productive Safety Net Program living near the Mai-Aqui site, in Tigray, Ethiopia. Photo Credit: Nena Terrell.

“Safety net,” which several Ethiopian ethnicities know by its English term, refers to the flagship food-security program designed by the Ethiopian Government, USAID and other donors after another severe drought hit the country in 2003.

The Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP), as it is officially called, originated as part of a new approach to address chronic food shortages through scheduled food or cash transfers to chronically food-insecure populations in exchange for labor on public works projects.

“The food ensures families living on the edge are not forced to sell off their assets, mainly livestock, in order to feed their families. The labor, the quid pro quo for those fit enough to partake, is channeled into public-works projects designed to improve communities as a whole,” says Dina Esposito, director of USAID’s Office of Food for Peace.

As a result, crucial infrastructure—roads, watersheds, canals, terracing, irrigation systems, schools and health clinics—has been built or rehabilitated with the labor of the food insecure.

According to USAID/Ethiopia Mission Director Tom Staal, as the program was being designed in consultations led by the Ethiopian Gov­ernment, donors realized the need to not just respond to crises as they happened, but to build up resilience among the most vulnerable communities, giving them the ability to weather the inevitable dry stretches on their own.

“Before PSNP, those in chronic need were provided assistance through emergency programs,” says Scott Hocklander, chief of USAID/Ethiopia’s Office for Food Assistance and Livelihood Transitions.

“While this food aid saved lives, it did not contribute to development activities or address the root causes of food insecurity.”

Today, because of the safety net, approximately 8 million people receive assistance in a timely and predictable way…[continued]

Read the rest of the article in FrontLines.

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Aid Effectiveness and USAID’s New Resilience Policy

This originally appeared on the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition blog.

As policymakers discuss how to avoid the fiscal cliff, including sequestration, U.S. development agencies are continuing to take steps to make development and humanitarian assistance more effective. In the wake of the famine in the Horn of Africa, a typhoon in the Philippines, and even Hurricane Sandy at home, USAID’s new policy (PDF) – one that actually isn’t an acronym – “Resilience” is about using existing development dollars more effectively in disaster prone regions, so that less humanitarian assistance is needed in the future.

Almost half our funding consistently goes to countries classified as “long term recipients” of U.S. humanitarian aid, with 75% of USAID’s humanitarian aid going to 10 countries over the last decade. Making it easy to predict “where and who” is likely to be affected: Sub-Saharan Africa. Tragically, this region has experienced more than “1,000 disasters“ over the past four decades. These fairly cyclical humanitarian crises disproportionately impact areas defined by chronic poverty and conflict.  Such despair can strip humans of their dignity and create conditions that extremists exploit – something that rings all too true in the Horn of Africa.

USAID/OFDA, in partnership with Catholic Relief Services, also provided hygiene kits, water containers, sleeping mats, and water purification tablets to families in a village on the outskirts of New Bataan city which bore the brunt of the storm. Photo credit: Lisa Gabriel, USAID/OFDA

The cycle, however, also includes America’s response – the world’s largest humanitarian aid donor – complete with public awareness campaigns (e.g., “FWD Campaign”, USAID’s multimedia response to the 2011 drought).  The American public’s generosity is extraordinary, as is the dedication of those working on the frontlines of humanitarian disasters. But this new policy is about getting at the root causes of the circumstances that can lead to the need for humanitarian interventions and then, deploying new technologies and forging new partnerships to break this cycle.

And as we saw in Ethiopia, it is possible. In 2005, Ethiopia began a resilience program, Productive Safety Nets Programme. As a result, when the worst drought in 60 years hit Ethiopia and its neighbors and plunged over 13 million people in East Africa into crisis, the resilience program paid off.  This collaborative initiative between the Ethiopian government and international donors – including USAID – resulted in noticeable improvements to the program’s targeted areas during the 2011 drought and a more cost-effective response of $53 per person.  This compares with $169 per person during the United Nations and NGO-managed response to the crisis – in spite of earlier warnings (PDF) of the impending disaster.

But what’s the ultimate goal? USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah says success will be measured by whether USAID is able “to put ourselves out of business” by reducing the number, volume, and length of time of the “infusions of humanitarian assistance needed in the future.” Translating it down to the local level, as His Excellency Elkanah Odembo, Kenyan Ambassador to the United States, told the audience at the policy’s launch event, a key indicator will be whether the next drought to strike the Horn of Africa – and you can count on one – leads to smaller numbers of displaced persons crossing the border into his country.

As America strives to get our own fiscal house in order, the fact of the matter is that we’re also nearing a critical mass for relief and development funding.  Meaning, “doing more of the same,” to quote Administrator Shah, is no longer an option.  Nor should it be.

Video of the Week: Administrator Shah Discusses Humanitarian Crisis in Syria

On the heels of his return from a refugee camp in Turkey, Dr. Shah did a live interview on Friday, December 7th with Al Jazeera English about the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Dr. Shah stressed the importance of international support for those affected by the crisis, which is why the U.S. has committed more than $200 million for displace people inside and outside of Syria.  He also noted that humanitarian efforts are reaching about 1.5 million people with food, 400,000 families with winterization materials, 22,000 people with surgeries.

Seeking Justice: Investigating and Prosecuting Gender-Based Violence

Susana SáCouto (right) is Director of the War Crimes Research Office (WCRO) at the Washington College of Law. Chanté Lasco (left) is the WCRO’s Jurisprudence Collections Coordinator. Photo Credit: WCRO.

This blog post coincides with USAID’s blog series on the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence (GBV). GBV is a human rights and public health issue that limits individual and societal development with high human and economic costs.  For more information about how USAID is combatting GBV, please visit our website.

This year has seen the continued prevalence of widespread and devastating gender-based attacks on women and girls around the world, from new outbreaks of sexual violence at the hands of a new militia entering the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the shooting of Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, targeted for seeking educational opportunities for herself and other girls.

Such tragedies are examples of how far we have to go as a global community to ensure the safety and well-being of those vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). Yet, the past 20 years have also seen remarkable progress in holding perpetrators of SGBV accountable on the international level.

Such violence is now recognized as conduct that can constitute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Indeed, the statutes governing international and internationalized criminal courts, including the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) and the International Criminal Court (ICC), have all recognized that sexual and gender-based crimes are among the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.

The ICC, in particular, has included the broadest number of sexual and gender based crimes within its jurisdiction, including not only rape but also sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy and enforced sterilization, while also including a residual “sexual violence” clause intended to apply to serious sexual assaults that are of comparable gravity to those explicitly included.

These tools represent significant milestones in addressing SGBV but they are just that—tools. Without prosecutors and judges applying these tools to hold perpetrators accountable, and without pressure from activists to push the ICC and other institutions to continue making progress, too many sexual and gender-based attacks will continue to be under-investigated and inadequately prosecuted.

For instance, the sexual and gender-based crimes that SCSL prosecutors could have charged members of the Civilian Defence Force, a security force in Sierra Leone that fought against rebel groups during the conflict in Sierra Leone from 1996 to 1999, resulting in widespread atrocities committed against civilians, were not included in the indictment against the accused. The result was the exclusion of evidence of widespread rapes and sexual slavery from the trial and the silencing of victims present and willing to testify to the full range of harms they suffered.

Similarly at the ICC, the Prosecutor failed to add similar charges against Thomas Dyilo Lubanga, former Commander-in-Chief of a rebel group’s military wing who was convicted by the ICC of conscripting children under 15 years in armed conflict that occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from 2002 to 2003. Despite evidence that members of Mr. Lubanga’s militia were responsible for acts of sexual violence against abducted girls, female child soldiers and other civilians, such acts were not included in the Prosecution’s charging document against the accused.  In its final judgment, the Trial Chamber held that the Prosecution’s failure to include SGBV charges meant the Chamber could not make any findings of fact on the issue of sexual violence.

These are but two examples, out of many, in which the hard-won advances have become missed opportunities. Until the international community demonstrates that we care about these crimes and we expect accountability, SGBV victims will not have access to the level of justice they deserve.

For more information about the War Crimes Research Office, please visit our website.

Susana SáCouto is Director of the War Crimes Research Office (WCRO) at the Washington College of Law (WCL), which promotes the development and enforcement of international criminal and humanitarian law.

Chanté Lasco is the WCRO’s Jurisprudence Collections Coordinator, managing the Gender Jurisprudence Collections, a unique research database tracking the treatment of SGBV in international criminal jurisprudence.

16 Day Challenge: Preventing Violence Against Children and Women

Neil Boothby speaking at a press conference in Geneva in October 2012 to launch the "Mimimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action". Photo Credit: USAID

Today is Day 15 of our of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

The science is clear – childhood experiences shape adult outcomes, including long-term health, cognitive development, academic achievement, and one’s ability to be gainfully and safely employed. Our experiences as children shape our lives as adults, affecting our ability to develop as healthy and productive individuals, families, communities and nations. One could say (with firm evidence as back up) that there is no sustainable development without sincere and sustained commitment to child development.

In the same way, our notions about what it means to be a female or male are imprinted in our brains early in development. Formative experiences – such as how our parents behave with one another and what caretaking and economic roles our mothers and fathers assume—influence our “normative gender expectations”.

If we are serious about change – really breaking through cycles of poverty and gender inequality– we must start early. Dr. James Heckman, a Nobel Laureate in Economics, has demonstrated that investments in young children produce much greater dividends than those made later in life. These physiological and economic arguments reinforce an even stronger moral imperative.

Evidence shows that violence against and exploitation of children and women – which often occur together and share common risk factors – can be prevented. Children who witness violence are significantly more at risk of health problems, anxiety disorders, poor school performance and violent behavior. Women who experience violence are less likely to earn a living and less able to care for their children.

Those who face violence face significant threats to their survival and well-being, as well as profound life cycle risks that have an impact on human, social and economic development. And the cycle of violence, exploitation, and abuse repeats itself, compromising the lives of children, women and families, and hindering the growth and productivity of communities.  The cycle also contributes to abuse as a normative gender expectation for males and females alike.  Until this cycle is broken—intentionally, strategically and early on, poverty, inequality and inhumanity will persist.

In the same way that public health efforts have prevented and reduced pregnancy-related complications, infant mortality, infectious diseases and illnesses, so can the factors that contribute to violent and abusive responses – attitudes, behavior and social, economic, political and cultural conditions –be changed.

In a few days, the U.S. Government will release an Action Plan on Children in Adversity, the first-ever government-wide strategic guidance for international assistance for children. The goal is to take strategic action to ensure that children grow up within protective family care and free from deprivation, exploitation and danger.

The Action Plan identifies programs that work and that can be taken to scale. It demonstrates that we can measure impact and affect change.  It builds on existing efforts that allow children to not only survive, but thrive – honoring children’s rights to strong beginnings, protective and loving family care, and protection from violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect. These objectives are central to U.S. development and diplomatic efforts and, as a result of the Action Plan, will be integrated into our international assistance initiatives.

We know what needs to be done.  Let’s get to it!

16 Day Challenge: A Helping Hand for Trafficking Victims in Uzbekistan

Today is Day 13 of our 16 Days Against Gender Activism.

Uzbekistan is at the heart of the ancient Silk Road. For centuries, people traveled across the country to exchange goods and share news. In today’s world, Uzbekistan’s strategic location has made its women prime targets for human trafficking to the Middle East and Russia.

I wanted to see firsthand how USAID is supporting services for female victims of trafficking on the modern Silk Road, so I visited the NGO Istikbolli Avlod(“Future Generation”), which is part of a small USAID-supported network of NGOs that work around the clock to help trafficked women return to Uzbekistan, get new passports, recover from their experiences and start their lives again.

Istikbolli Avlod NGO leaders conduct a trafficking awareness training for school teachers in Djizak, Uzbekistan. Photo Credit: IOM

Istikbolli Avlod has established connections in 10 cities across the country and operates a resource hotline for victims of human trafficking or domestic violence. In Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, this hotline receives more than 100 calls a month.

The national impact of this work is evident in the stories of more than 800 human trafficking victims who have been helped by Istikbolli Avlod.

I had the opportunity to meet some of these women during my recent visit to the NGO. Lina (full name withheld), a young brunette with a quiet disposition, had already lived through a great amount of personal tragedy before her 21st birthday.  At age 18, Lina was trafficked by her teacher and made to work in the United Arab Emirates. She tried unsuccessfully to escape. When she finally made it back to Uzbekistan, she had little hope for her future. Istikbolli Avlod changed that. She learned life skills, such as baking, sewing and money management. She received the emotional help she needed and was able to start her life over. Now, Lina volunteers her time to help other women who face similar situations.

The leaders of Istikbolli Avlod noted that the government’s attitudes about trafficking have undergone a sea change. Five years ago, when this network of NGO leaders started working together, the Uzbekistan government didn’t take combating human trafficking seriously. However, “Now,” they said, “police will call us and ask us for help, and will refer women in trouble to us. We are working much more closely with the government to change laws and assist citizens in returning to a normal life here.”

Going forward, one key to tackling the challenge of human trafficking in Uzbekistan will be coordination among the many and growing number of NGOs working on this issue. To address this, a network of 43 women’s rights NGOs throughout the country is being established to share experiences and advice on how to strengthen their organizations and meet community needs. They are training each other in best practices for running an NGO and are making joint plans to avoid a redundancy of services. This is a truly impressive group of women who have woven together a strong and sustainable network to help women like Lina, who have nowhere else to turn.

Helping Families Build Resilience and a Better Future for Kids

Carolyn Miles and Moussa in Diema, Mali in August 2012. Photo Credit: Save the Children

Whenever I’m asked to describe the scale of the hunger crisis in the Sahel, I see Moussa’s face.

I met him in August during a trip to Mali when he was two months old, but he was so small and frail that I worried he would die in my arms. That day, Moussa’s mother rushed him to an emergency clinic where he received medicine and treatment for malnutrition, and he improved within days. What’s shocking about this story is not how narrowly this little boy escaped death—but that he was one of the lucky ones.

This year, more than 18 million people, including millions of children, struggled during a hunger crisis in the Sahel for the fourth time in a decade. Too many children struggle repeatedly because families don’t have the resources to recover from previous crises, restore their livelihoods or build savings in preparation for the next crisis. Families and communities must be resilient so they can cope with the shock of a crisis and help their kids survive and thrive, even in challenging times.

Last week in Vietnam, I saw the flip side of drought—how too much water causes flooding and landslides that turn poor children’s lives upside-down. With the long-term impact of climate change looming on the horizon, we must sustainably reduce families’ vulnerability to these and other hazards that threaten their ability to bounce back.

We will never be able to stop shocks from happening, but we can give families the tools they need to protect children in the short- and long-term. To do this, we must tackle the root of the problem by developing resilience in chronically vulnerable areas when a crisis is not at hand.  In parallel, we must increase the capacity of all levels of society—household, community and national—to cope when disaster strikes.

USAID’s new policy and program guidance (PDF), “Building Resilience to Recurrent Crisis, is an important step in helping families in vulnerable settings build pathways to a brighter future.  This policy will enable USAID and partners—including Save the Children—to better coordinate emergency response and development assistance, decreasing the need for repeated assistance in the same affected areas while increasing families’ ability to face and overcome future crises.

Recently, USAID has impressively reorganized itself to meet the challenges of resilience, including forming country-led strategies, learning agendas and joint planning—all of which will help create a more hopeful future for children. We encourage the U.S. government to continue its leadership role in the Global Alliance for Action for Drought Resilience and Growth and the Champions for Resilience, and invite others in the development community to join in this opportunity for families.

A child’s future shouldn’t depend on luck. For every Moussa who received care just in time, there are countless others who did not. We can’t reach every child when a crisis hits. But we can give parents and communities the tools they need to help kids weather the storm, stay safe and healthy, and build a better future for the next generation.

Resilience: Safety Net for Reducing Hunger and Malnutrition

David Beckmann is President of Bread for the World. Photo Credit: Bread for the World

Over the last month, we have watched communities along the New York and New Jersey coastline begin to rebuild from the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy. It is a reminder that we are all vulnerable to natural disasters that can happen at any time. How communities survive and recover from these shocks depends very much on their resilience – their ability to cope and their systems for preparing, responding and rebuilding. In the United States, these systems are already in place and, for the most part, function well. This is not the case in many low-income countries.

Year after year, we see poor communities in developing countries deal with the effects of floods and droughts. Many of these weather-related problems are predictable, and so is the recurring “hunger season”—the period before the main harvest is ready—in parts of sub-Saharan Africa. All of these cause a great deal of suffering, including severe malnutrition which threatens the lives of the most vulnerable. In fragile states, vulnerability to shocks is even higher. Each year, humanitarian agencies mobilize relief efforts to save lives. Once the crisis is over, we go back to business as usual.

It shouldn’t be this way. People in the affected communities know all too well that every year the rainy season or monsoon cuts off their contact with nearby towns, or that every year the dry season leaves many families without access to enough food. With the right support, countries and local communities can build systems and develop responses that help people get through these difficult seasons. This way, they are not stuck in the powerless position of hoping, year after year, that emergency assistance will arrive in time.

In 2007 and 2008, many millions of poor people suffered because of a dramatic rise in global food prices, particularly for basic grains such as rice and wheat. They had no control over the causes of the price hikes, and they had very few coping mechanisms. Poor families spend a large percentage of their income on food, so when prices soared, they had to cut back on more nutritious foods, eat fewer meals, and go without other basic needs such as health care. The World Bank estimated that the food price crisis pushed more than 100 million people deeper into poverty.

The crisis served as a wake-up call — it risked reversing the tremendous progress the world had made in reducing extreme poverty and hunger. In fact, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), progress against hunger stalled due to high and volatile food prices.

As a result, there has been a greater focus on the concept of resilience since 2008. It is very important that USAID now has its first policy and program guidance (PDF) on building resilience. Through Feed the Future and Food for Peace, USAID has already acted on important components of such an undertaking, with the focus on reducing malnutrition in the 1,000 days between pregnancy and age 2 and helping smallholder farmers improve their livelihoods and diversify diets in their families and communities. Social safety nets are also essential. With dramatic weather events and food price volatility only likely to continue and intensify due to climate change, the need to build resilience has never been greater.

Putting People at the Heart of Resilience

Since 2000, it is estimated that floods, cyclones, tsunamis, earthquakes and other natural hazards have cost the world more than $1 trillion. These disasters have triggered significant social, ecological and economic devastation well beyond their immediate points of impact. As the President of Oxfam America, a humanitarian relief and development organization, I am often asked which characteristics makes one community more resilient than another and what can communities do to better prepare for natural disasters?

Under Administrator Raj Shah’s leadership, USAID has been trying to answer these questions and today released its first ever policy and program guidance (PDF) on building resilience to recurrent crisis. This guidance should be considered a breakthrough, and Oxfam congratulates USAID on a very thoughtful framework to saving lives and creating conditions where families and communities can prosper. The guidance outlines a real commitment to link short-term humanitarian response interventions with longer-term development programming by creating joint planning cells that work comprehensively to address both humanitarian and development needs in close coordination. This is not an easy undertaking. Oxfam, too, is trying to do a better job at linking humanitarian and development programming in countries where we work.

Medhin Reda in her teff field at her home in Tigray, Ethiopia. Oxfam America and partners are working on the Rural Resilience Initiative, which offers the poorest farmers a chance to buy weather insurance. For those too poor to have cash, they can pay for their premiums by working on community projects. The initiative also promotes a variety of tools that will help rural families build their resilience, including access to credit, encouragement to save, and steps to reduce the risk of disaster. Photo Credit: Oxfam America

For me, what makes some more resilient than others comes down to people’s rights. The question is: rights – who has them, who doesn’t and why? Risks and vulnerabilities are never equitably distributed:  poor men and women are more vulnerable because of the structure of their societies and economies.  Lack of access to economic assets, essential natural resources, or to political power translates into greater risk and vulnerability when crises hit. That is why it is essential that when we talk about resilience, we must also talk about issues of rights and equity and how they contribute to resiliency.  As USAID goes about implementing its new guidance throughout the world, this interrelationship should be at the core of the new framework.

As an example of how resilience, rights and equity relates in El Salvador, located in one of the world’s most vulnerable regions to natural disaster, Oxfam has been part of disaster risk reduction programs in which community organizations have not only led projects to prepare communities to evacuate, but have also taken measures to reduce the chance of floods. Those same groups have helped bring about the enactment of civil protection laws, which has subsequently enhanced government investment, in risk reduction infrastructure for communities where it is needed most.

The new USAID guidance comes at a critical juncture when the world is looking more deeply than ever at how to assist people and their societies withstand and recover from a growing number of natural disasters. In many cases, national governments and the poorest and most marginal communities already have found ways to increase their resilience, and we should be doing more to enhance their capacity to prepare for and respond to crises. We would be remiss to not only support local capacity but to ensure communities’ successful approaches and methods to weather disasters are at the heart of our operational principles.

Does the New Resilience Policy Have Staying Power?

The global “resilience” agenda is exciting – and overdue. The idea that aid should invest not just in responding to crises, but also in preventing, mitigating, and helping people adapt to them, has been around for a long time. Yet for too long, the global aid architecture has been stuck with a basic split between relief and development camps. The relief side responds to the effects of major shocks (droughts, wars, economic calamity, etc.) but has struggled to address why so many people are so vulnerable in the first place. The development side has in turn steered clear of shock-prone populations and focused most of its resources on (relatively) safe and stable populations.

Villages that have received Mercy Corps training and initial seeds to build community gardens are faring much better with a wide variety of produce to feed their families and sell in local markets. Photo Credit: Cassandra Nelson, Mercy Corp

Dating back at least to the early nineties there have been repeated – failed – attempts to move past this divide and find ways to apply developmental tools to chronic humanitarian problems. We have seen some incremental improvements – practices like using cash and vouchers to work within local markets during a humanitarian response – rather than destroying those markets with floods of free imported commodities. But the global aid system at large still retains the relief-development split – in targeting, practices, architecture and funding streams.

So resilience is exciting not because it is a fundamentally new idea – it is not – but because where past efforts to move the global aid architecture past the relief-development divide have failed, the global resilience agenda frames this idea in a way that is compelling – to donors, aid providers, and critically, to the governments and citizens of at-risk countries.

But this exciting agenda remains tenuous, and realizing its potential will be hard work. Resilience transcends many of the basic organizing principles that have long characterized the relief and development worlds; it challenges all of us to make major changes to how we do business. Major reform of entrenched systems, practices and norms is never easy. This new USAID policy on resilience represents a very important starting point for tackling that challenge.

The policy gets some important things right. In Mercy Corps’ experience, interventions that build resilience have to be highly flexible and closely tailored to the specific context that they target. It is good to see USAID affirm that resilience interventions must bring together activities that have traditionally operated in silos – economic development and livelihoods, natural resource management, water and sanitation, health and nutrition, conflict mitigation, governance, risk reduction, and so on. The policy’s focus on joint planning and design of programs across different parts of USAID “turf” is a big step forward, as is the mandate that USAID’s country planning processes must consistently build in a focus on resilience.

Mercy Corps believes it’s vital to invest in ways to stop the cycle of hunger from recurring. Their cash-for-work projects allow people to earn money, buy food locally, and prepare their fields for a better harvest season. These crescent ditches will allow rain water to soak into the land rather than running off and causing flooding and erosion. Photo Credit: Cassandra Nelson, Mercy Corps

At the same time, talking is easier than doing. This policy is a strong step forward but it does not – at least not yet – guarantee a major shift in USAID’s own practices, structures and systems, which still largely reflect the basic relief-development divide. This policy takes an approach of working within the existing USAID architecture, rather than seeking to alter it. This is an easier lift – but will it be enough? The policy notes that leadership within the agency will be critical to pushing through roadblocks and ensuring that entrenched habits evolve. And the current leadership of the agency deserves tremendous credit for having done just that with the responses in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa. But as with any government agency, leadership will eventually change and priorities will change with it. The major test for this policy – as for the global resilience agenda more broadly – will be whether it will have staying power to remain relevant even after the current buzz around resilience subsides.

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