Washington — The U.S. Agency for International Development has changed its approach to helping communities that experience recurrent crises by integrating its humanitarian assistance with development aid, the agency announced December 3.
"We are committed to undertaking these efforts because we believe they will strengthen our ability to save and improve lives," USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said December 3 in introducing the agency's first guidance on building resilience to recurrent crises. In 2011, widespread suffering in the Horn of Africa and across the Sahel showed that in many vulnerable communities, families rely on humanitarian aid to survive and that chronic poverty and shocks related to weather or conflict repeatedly keep those communities in crisis, according to a USAID press release.
The 2011 drought was a reminder of the human and economic consequences of climate change, resource degradation, reduced access to range lands, weak governance and long-term underinvestment in the dry lands, USAID says in its new guidance. Previous responses to droughts, such as one in the early 1990s, had limited long-term impact, USAID notes, so it established a Horn of Africa planning unit to identify new ways to use humanitarian and development assistance together to build resilience among chronically vulnerable populations.
Floods, cyclones, tsunamis, earthquakes and other natural hazards have continued to take their toll, said Raymond Offenheiser, president of the nonprofit aid group Oxfam America. In a December 3 posting on USAID's Impact Blog, Offenheiser wrote that since 2000 it is estimated that those shocks have cost the world more than $1 trillion.
He called the new USAID guidance "a breakthrough" in linking short-term humanitarian responses with longer-term development programming. "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," he wrote, adding that Oxfam has begun to take the same approach.
Mercy Corps chief executive Neal Keny-Guyer echoed Offenheiser's praise of USAID's new approach to crises. "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," he wrote on the Impact Blog. He noted that resilience-building efforts need to be flexible and tailored to the needs of the communities affected.
The need to build resilience in the Horn of Africa was highlighted when African leaders meeting in September 2011 in Nairobi, Kenya, called for a new way to address recurrent crisis in the region due to drought and conflict. Those events affected some 13 million people in Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda, according to the U.N. World Food Programme.
In response, in April 2012 USAID and African and international development partners met in Nairobi to establish the Global Alliance for Action for Drought Resilience and Growth in the Horn of Africa. In June, USAID convened the group's first meeting in Geneva.
The following month, the European Union led the founding of the Global Alliance for Resilience in the Sahel that will work closely with the Global Alliance for Action for Drought Resilience and Growth in the Horn of Africa.
"Through building resilience, we can help prevent that desperation, save lives, and create the conditions where families and communities can prosper," Shah said.
USAID's guidance for building resilience to recurrent crisis (PDF, 876KB) and a related press release are available on the agency's website.