Nancy Lindborg is USAID’s Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance.

The drought gripping the Horn of Africa has focused all of us on the imperative of building resilience. We know we can’t prevent drought, but we can use improved and smarter programs to create greater resilience and improve food security. We can make progress that ensures the next time a drought hits the Horn, it won’t push 13.4 million people — unimaginably more than New York City and Los Angeles combined — into crisis.

So what is resilience exactly, and what are the key methods for success? In pursuit of that answer, USAID convened last week, in partnership with IFPRI and our many partners, a two day workshop on “Enhancing Resilience in the Horn of Africa: An Evidence Workshop on Strategies for Success.” Through President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative, the U.S. government now has a powerful global hunger and food security initiative that connects its enduring commitment to humanitarian assistance with increased investments in agriculture and nutrition and sound policy. This workshop was designed to inform our programs with the our best lessons and strategies for tackling chronic food insecurity.

“Resilience” is quite literally the ability to jump back; to return to original form. It has become a vivid one-word way to capture the importance of providing emergency assistance in a way that helps families and communities both withstand shocks and, as importantly, become more stable and food secure. While there is not a common accepted definition of resilience, building resilience generally involves reducing the likelihood and severity of crises; building capacity to buffer or absorb shocks; creating and enhancing communities’ or families’ ability to respond; and reducing the impact of crises.

The workshop underscored how much we have already learned from previous drought and famines. In Ethiopia in 2002-2003, drought left 14 million people in need of emergency aid – more than those currently in need throughout the entire Horn region today. Out of that tragedy grew policies, programs, and approaches that have made a lasting impact. In fact, some 7.5 million fewer people in Ethiopia are not part of the emergency caseload because of the work collectively done since the last drought.

At USAID, we are committed to connecting more effectively our humanitarian and development efforts through joint planning cells that develop coherent programs to do more than meet immediate needs. Working with our UN and NGO partners, USAID has included in our emergency assistance a focus on building community infrastructure to harvest rainwater and improve irrigation, improving livelihoods for women, and repairing degraded landscapes for better grazing and agricultural production. We worked with the World Bank, other donors and the Ethiopian Government to use our food assistance to build productive safety nets that help families move from crisis toward greater food security. We are introducing improved and more nutritious food products in partnerships with USDA and the private sector. And we have become one of the global leaders in use of local and regional procurement of food aid in a way that stimulates local production. Programs such as the Productive Safety Net Program in Ethiopia and a program in Kenya connecting livestock farmers to markets have helped families and communities cope with shock and increase their incomes.

The drought and famine in the Horn remains the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and continues to command our attention and involvement, but it also has given the global community an opportunity to change the way we do things.

The workshop reinforced that we have a critical moment of alignment: heads of state, regional institutions, UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and the private sector have all converged in their understanding that resilience is critical as we seek to reduce humanitarian suffering and increase the ability of families to survive the inevitable shocks of drought, floods and other natural disasters. We have the tools to address the challenges ahead, but it is clear that none of us can succeed alone. The workshop closed with a shared vision of change that we believe will bring a more hopeful future.