12:00 AM, May 20, 2014 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:53 AM, March 08, 2015

Empowered people build resilient nations

Empowered people build resilient nations

Pauline Tamesis

THE term 'Resilience' was introduced in the development discourse in the context of ecosystem stability and disaster risk reduction. However, both the discourse and the development landscape has dramatically changed in the last decade as the world is facing a series of new challenges, ranging from climate change to energy crises, from food insecurity to citizens' insecurity, from financial and economic crises to growing global inequalities.
In the present context, building resilience is about developing capacity to anticipate and prevent, absorb and adapt, recover and transform from shocks at and across human, community, institutional, and environmental levels. While the concept has multiple drifts, let me point out a few aspects that are relevant to the discussion.
Reversals in social and economic progress have been witnessed in a number of countries in the aftermath of multiple crises. A priority in building resilience must be to ensure that progress is protected, so that a secure foundation exists for future poverty reduction, growth and integrated risk management. This includes measures of risk prevention and explicit efforts to reduce societal vulnerabilities.
Resilience does not signify absence of risks or vulnerabilities. Rather, it implies the ability to manage them, and to respond to shifting and unpredictable circumstances in a world where at-risk populations are increasingly put under stress.
The ethos of progress is intertwined with resilience, as are basic rights to self and community improvement. This means that resilience is more than bouncing back to status quo after disasters. It includes the ability to transform to a state less vulnerable to disturbance, or in other words, building back better.
Resilience is about active, honest, responsive and representative governance that enables and shapes individual and collective actions to respond more adaptively. It also includes active civil society organisations, community level engagement, ownership over and participation in decision making, utilisation of local knowledge and an aptitude to continually learn and adapt to a changing risk landscape.
Bangladesh's development history shows some striking attributes of resilience. The most noticeable is resilience to natural disasters. In the past two decades Bangladesh has incurred an average annual loss equal to 1.8% of GDP from natural disasters. Despite this extraordinary vulnerability, Bangladesh has learned to absorb damages and get back to a functioning state of affairs rather quickly. Similarly, the country has shown resilience against risks of famine, health shocks such as diarrhoea outbreaks, and the current global financial crisis. Though, arguably, a lot more can and should be done.
When the United Nations Secretary-General's High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability calls on countries to “enhance resilience by strengthening social protection systems, disaster risk reduction and adaptation to climate change,” the discussion takes an expanded view of resilience. It is now firmly a part of the post 2015 development agenda, being increasingly embraced by bilateral and multi-lateral agencies.
Globally, resilience underpins the UNDP Strategic Plan as an approach of bottom-up development with deep respect for the people confronting crises. In this spirit, UNDP encapsulates its mission statement in the simple phrase: “Empowered Lives, Resilient Nations.” This speaks to both means and ends; empowered people can build resilient nations.
We see the concept as closely linked with our ultimate goal of “enlarging people's choices and enhance their capability and freedoms” and echoing UNDP's call for human security to protect people from disruptions and shocks, whether natural or man-made, economic, health-related, political or social. We view the resilience building agenda as a significant pathway to sustainable human development.
UNDP in Bangladesh has taken measures to integrate resilience in its work with partners, especially the government. A vital goal is to develop a unifying resilience framework to include complementary sets of actions by government and development communities to simultaneously weaken drivers of vulnerability and build coping and adaptation mechanisms.
Let me propose six principles that can help to bring a resilience perspective to a range of development initiatives.
First, since resilient systems address specific groups of shocks and are built for a particular community or nation, resilience-based sustainable development demands respect for context.
Second, resilience is a consequence of experience and learning; it is about attaining capacity for self-organisation and self-renewal and hence requires genuine ownership at local and national levels, combined with effective governance that shapes individual and collective actions.
Third, a multi-dimensional process such as resilience needs a comprehensive solution delivered as an integrated package. Resilience building, hence, needs to support progress across complex and intertwined institutional, social and ecological systems.
Fourth, to renew out of adversity, people need to be empowered with rights, knowledge and the capacity to overcome or significantly mitigate adversity and hence, a culture of enhanced citizen voice with responsive and accountable governance must be embraced.
Fifth, women are often the worst sufferers from shocks, but they are also experienced risk managers. A rights-based approach addressing vulnerabilities of women should be at the core of resilience building, along with measures unleashing women's contributions to economic, social and political development.
Finally, sixth, resilience-based development requires sustained national efforts with international support over a long period. Strengthening communities, institutions and societies under strain is a long-term undertaking.
We all need to take resilience and what it implies seriously and, importantly, recognise how it can shape the ways in which governments address risks and uncertainties in planning and delivering priority development services. Resilience is empowerment at all levels -- it paves the way to the future we want.

The writer is Country Director, UNDP, Bangladesh.


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