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Resilience for Peace: A New Agenda

“When we talk about the developing world, the idea of resilience and the idea of the ability to either withstand or recover from shocks often has to do with the way people are able to manage their natural assets,” said Cynthia Brady, senior conflict adviser at USAID’s Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation, at the Wilson Center on March 2.

Date & Time

Mar. 2, 2015
3:00pm – 4:30pm ET


6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
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As “resilience” builds as a theme for the development community, a few key concepts are rising to the top of the conversation.

“When we talk about the developing world, the idea of resilience and the idea of the ability to either withstand or recover from shocks often has to do with the way people are able to manage their natural assets,” said Cynthia Brady, senior conflict adviser at USAID’s Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation, at the Wilson Center on March 2.

Natural resource management is critical to resilience as it is often entwined with conflict and climate change. The “Resilience for Peace Project,” a new partnership between the Wilson Center and USAID, explores multi-sectoral approaches to aid and climate change adaptation in conflict-affected and fragile states.

While resilience can be understood as a community’s ability to bounce back from shocks, a resilience framework generally refers to bringing a more cross-cutting approach to aid. “You need an approach that looks at everything from climate change, natural resource management, conflict issues, the sort of social dynamics of the country, as well as your long-term development approach to that group of people and the resources they have,” said Tom Staal, acting assistant administrator for USAID’s Bureau of Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance. “That, to me, is building resilience.”

Conflict No Longer an Externality

“Issues of resilience and conflict are often intertwined, and we’re working to understand how they’re connected in the context of our work,” said Melissa Brown, director of USAID’s Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation.

Jon Kurtz, director of research and learning for Mercy Corps, said many development organizations have avoided dealing with conflict. Because of this, “we still don’t know nearly as much about the dynamics around conflict and resilience as we do with natural disasters and even market shocks.”

“We can no longer treat conflict as an externality – something we can’t influence or do anything about,” Kurtz said. “By and large, we can and should be able to reduce the likelihood of violence as well as the consequences of that on human lives.” Brady noted that most of the places USAID is working in the developing world are both fragile and conflict-affected.

For Kurtz, the challenge is finding approaches that can reduce the effects of conflict while building resilience in other sectors. Conflict most often occurs in conjunction with other failures, such as political crises and economic shocks, and these triggers should help determine what type of aid is most effective from context to context, he said.

Climate and Environmental Peacebuilding

An additional shock that can exacerbate conflict is climate change, said Brown. “There is growing evidence that suggests the majority of the world’s fragile and conflict-affected countries will also be highly exposed to the threats of climate change, particularly in parts of sub-Saharan Africa and South and South East Asia,” she said.

USAID has been working to address this connection since 2011 through a series of missives making resilience a centerpiece of efforts to address recurring crises and incorporate climate change adaptation into development, said Staal.

In one pastoral community of southern Ethiopia where Staal worked, the majority of wells were functioning poorly – some producing no water at all. When drought struck, pastoralists were forced to move their cattle elsewhere, creating friction and conflict with the people who were already there.

A previous USAID approach might have been to use humanitarian funds to truck in water once conflict had broken out. But under a resilience framework, USAID took into account the underlying issue and repaired the pastoralists’ wells. This approach was not only cheaper, it addressed one of the structural issues behind the community’s displacement and gave them the tools to prepare for the next drought.

Such environmental cooperation can yield a peace dividend, said Kurtz. He detailed how conflicting groups in another community in southern Ethiopia had gone through trust and peacebuilding activities over shared resources that then helped them navigate future environmental difficulties. When drought hit in 2011, the groups were able to negotiate access to more distant pastures and previously unavailable water points thanks to the precedent and skills the peace process had given them.

A Global, Multisectoral Challenge

Understanding the links between the environment, conflict, and development is critical as the world is facing a “triple threat” of globalization, population growth, and climate change, said Sundaa Bridgett-Jones, associate director of International Development at the Rockefeller Foundation.

And while resilience is often talked about in the context of developing countries, the purview for these concerns is growing. The Sustainable Development Goals, for example, are expected to apply to all countries. “We often talk about things in certain regions: the data rich, the data poor, the Sahel versus South and Southeast Asia, but no matter where we are, we’ve seen these challenges,” Bridgett-Jones said.

It is also important to consider how climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts will reverberate through different sectors, making sure they do not inadvertently do more harm than good, said Roger-Mark De Souza, director of ECSP at the Wilson Center. To prevent such outcomes, where for example forest conservation initiatives spark conflict over land rights, De Souza said the development community must draw in a more diverse set of players and stakeholders to the conversation. “What’s the story we want to tell around this that brings new people in so they are able to engage in a meaningful way?”

Women’s voices are one of those that need to be more included, De Souza said. “When you look at the literature around environmental security and peacebuilding, the feminist literature often criticizes this field for focusing on the state or ecology and not the individual, i.e. the woman.”

Staal said that a focus on gender has helped build resilience in Ethiopia, particularly over land disputes. Women’s names were often left off land titles, so if the male head of household died before his wife, she might face challenges from other family members. By providing land certification that included the wife’s name, there was greater understanding about land boundaries and conflict decreased. Certification even led to more productive farming. “The yield per ace went up between 11 and 40 percent with no other input other than a piece of paper that says, ‘I have some guarantee that this is my land,’” said Staal.

The Resilience for Peace Project will continue to identify how environment, conflict, and development are connected and how incorporating an understanding of these links in programming can help build a more peaceful and prosperous world. As Staal noted, resilience is “really a much more holistic way to looking at what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Event Resources:

Written by Linnea Bennett, edited by Schuyler Null.


Hosted By

Environmental Change and Security Program

The Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP) explores the connections between environmental change, health, and population dynamics and their links to conflict, human insecurity, and foreign policy.  Read more

Africa Program

The Africa Program works to address the most critical issues facing Africa and U.S.-Africa relations, build mutually beneficial U.S.-Africa relations, and enhance knowledge and understanding about Africa in the United States. The Program achieves its mission through in-depth research and analyses, including our Africa Up Close blog, public discussion, working groups, and briefings that bring together policymakers, practitioners, and subject matter experts to analyze and offer practical options for tackling key challenges in Africa and in U.S.-Africa relations.    Read more

Global Risk and Resilience Program

The Global Risk and Resilience Program (GRRP) seeks to support the development of inclusive, resilient networks in local communities facing global change. By providing a platform for sharing lessons, mapping knowledge, and linking people and ideas, GRRP and its affiliated programs empower policymakers, practitioners, and community members to participate in the global dialogue on sustainability and resilience. Empowered communities are better able to develop flexible, diverse, and equitable networks of resilience that can improve their health, preserve their natural resources, and build peace between people in a changing world.  Read more

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