Resilience Exchange

What have we learned so far?

Introduction: Why building resilience is important and what the BRACED programme does about it

The UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) established the Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) programme to help build resilience and adaptation to climate extremes and disasters in 13 countries1 across the Sahel, East Africa and South and Southeast Asia. BRACED aims to assist up to 5 million people whose situations make them vulnerable, to become more resilient to climate extremes. Project implementation began in 2015.

Why is building resilience important in BRACED countries?

The countries covered by the BRACED programme have been disproportionately affected by climate-related disasters including droughts, floods, landslides and storms. These disasters slow down development, exacerbating poverty and hunger. Risk management is getting more complicated as the climate becomes more erratic, and its impact on people worsens. In some of the countries, conflict has a multiplying effect on the challenges.

How does BRACED view resilience?

BRACED understands ‘resilience’ as a set of interrelated capacities that are necessary to survive and thrive in the face of these challenges – the capacity to adapt to, anticipate and absorb climate extremes and disasters. Improvements in these capacities can lead toward transformative changes in systems and relationships that can ensure longer-term resilience.

The 3As are a way to understand and track resilience building to varying threats across diverse contexts.11

  1. Anticipatory capacity is the ability of social systems to anticipate and reduce the impact of climate variability and extremes through preparedness and planning.
  2. Absorptive capacity refers to the ability of social systems, using available skills and resources, to face and manage adverse conditions, emergencies or disasters.
  3. Adaptive capacity is the ability of social systems to adapt to multiple, long-term and future climate change risks, and also to learn and adjust after a disaster.

It is important to note that within these different contexts, individuals, communities or systems are not either “resilient” or “not resilient”; it is possible to be more resilient to some risks and less resilient to others at the same time. Crucially, resilience is dynamic, and people can become more resilient to a particular risk or set of risks through improvements in their access to support systems and services, and adaptations in their livelihoods. Similarly, changes in external factors, including repeated exposure to hardship, or loss of resources (or loss of access to resources), can reduce people’s resilience to those risks.12

BRACED Video: What is resilience?

Development and resilience

Development and resilience are closely linked. Resilience features in four major international frameworks agreed in 2015 and 2016: the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the World Humanitarian Summit framework.

Development and resilience are closely linked. Climate shocks and stresses can threaten existing gains in development and poverty reduction and increase the risk of humanitarian emergencies. Resilient development in these contexts includes taking account of climate shocks and stresses, and allowing adjustments and improvements to projects and new activities, which in turn can help preserve development gains from climate risk.13 To make progress and more effectively manage the risk of disasters, we need to enable people to strengthen their capacities to anticipate, absorb and adapt to current and future climate shocks and stresses. Projects need to address immediate humanitarian needs by giving people the tools to manage crises and address future risks, including those linked to climate change, by making longer-term investments to reduce vulnerability.14

Disaster risk and poverty15

At the national or regional level, the determinants of disaster risk are similar to the determinants of poverty. The quality of governance systems, for example, explains to some extent why, since 1990, almost 90 percent of mortality in internationally recorded disasters has occurred in low- and middle-income countries. Faced with the same numbers of people exposed and hazards of the same severity, lower-income countries with weaker governance systems will have significantly higher mortality rates. For a similar level of exposure – to a Category 3 cyclone, for example – around 50 percent of the variance in mortality risk is explained by vulnerability. At the community, household and individual levels, the relationship between disaster risk and poverty is more complex. The poorest people often live on marginal urban land at risk from floods and landslides, and in drought-prone rural areas, meaning they are commonly the most exposed to climate extremes. The poorest also tend to be more vulnerable to these extremes, lacking access to the information and support services needed to prepare for and respond to disasters, or the ability to protect their assets or take out insurance to spread risk. Yet the relationship between poverty and disasters is complicated by the effect that disasters themselves have on the poor. The effects that the death of family members have on the rest of the household are significant and include loss of earnings. However, disasters also affect the incomes, assets and savings of survivors, which can lead to long-term setbacks in health, education and employment opportunities through disadvantages such as malnourishment and missed schooling.

Evidence from a number of studies at different scales suggests disasters can cause impoverishment and contribute to poverty traps, as poor people are forced to sell or consume the few assets they have, deepening their poverty and undermining their human capital. This, in turn, undermines people’s capacity to anticipate and absorb the impacts of subsequent extreme events or adapt to deal with future shocks, creating a cycle of vulnerability.

Resilience is usually seen as a means to move towards other goals, such as prosperity and security, rather than an end goal in itself. It features in four major international frameworks agreed in 2015 and 2016: the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the World Humanitarian Summit Framework.16 In development terms, resilience is seen as a key ingredient of successful progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, where it is mentioned in relation to a number of goals linked to poverty reduction, built infrastructure and human settlements, agricultural production and vulnerability to climate extremes and disasters.

The BRACED programme

To support those who are most vulnerable and marginalised, it is essential to work in partnership with communities and other resilience practitioners to address identified risks and vulnerabilities. However, there are limits to what can be achieved working simply at a local level. Resilience building within BRACED also relies on action by others, often at national and international level. Many BRACED projects have formed strategic partnerships to link the efforts of organisations working at different levels.

The BRACED programme identifies two pathways to build resilience. In the short term BRACED aims to assist up to 5 million people whose situations make them vulnerable to become more resilient to climate extremes, through the direct impact of projects funded by BRACED upon the resilience of men, women and children in targeted communities.
In the longer term the aim is to reach many millions more, achieving a sustained impact on the resilience of poor people in vulnerable communities across regions. This will be achieved by learning lessons from funded projects about which approaches work in what context, and by influencing policy and planning in national governments, regional institutions and through international initiatives, leading to improved policies and institutions and better integration of disaster risk management, climate adaptation and development programmes.
The BRACED programme is designed to work via consortia encompassing NGOs, local civil society, international organisations, academic institutions, private companies and national agencies.

Government investment in disaster risk reduction is often based on economic valuations, i.e. the value of assets protected by a certain intervention. Such analyses often result in investments that unfairly benefit wealthier people and large businesses because they fail to take account of the negative impacts of climate shocks and stresses upon well-being. For example, a poor person may be more severely affected by the loss of their home than the owner of a more valuable property who is protected by insurance or savings.17

The objective of BRACED, on the other hand, is to ensure that investments support marginalised communities and people whose situations make them vulnerable. That means working at a local level, in partnership with the community, addressing specific identified risks and vulnerabilities. For an organisation from outside a community looking to intervene, this requires time and attention to build relationships and develop a detailed understanding of the context.

The BRACED IRISS project in South Sudan has learned about the length of time required to build relationships with local community leaders, as well as how important it is as a means to build trust. Starting at the local – rather than national – level ensures better understanding of the local context.

However, there are limits to what can be achieved working simply at a local level. A range of powerful external factors and forces impact community lives and livelihoods. Narrowly defined community-development or sectoral-development activities that do not take a longer-term, holistic perspective or address multiple sectors can miss these factors and fail to identify risk systematically.

Investments in local resilience are more likely to be effective if they take account of wider systems including geography, markets, policies and financing systems, as well as social dynamics and power relations at a local level.18 Practitioners can engage these different systems by forming strategic partnerships. BRACED projects were encouraged at the outset to work at different levels to help ensure buy-in and increase the likelihood of changes being sustained beyond the life of the project, as illustrated by this representation of the different levels involved in the Decentralising Climate Funds project:

Lessons have been learned through decades of development practice on how to deliver support to communities, building on existing livelihood strategies and capacities used by households to deal with climate variability and other unforeseen events. However, the BRACED resilience projects are adopting new practices, from setting up new partnerships to innovations in the way they use tried-and-true development interventions like village savings and loan associations. Learning is a key component of BRACED, and the intention is that projects adapt activities and interventions as they discover what works and what does not.
This edition of the Resilience Exchange presents some examples of the different contexts in which BRACED projects are operating, descriptions of interventions, stories of how they are being put into action on the ground, and emerging findings. It also covers “meta-learning” on programmatic aspects: what has been learned about how to evaluate progress and how to support learning across the 100+ organisations involved in the programme. The intention is to offer perspectives for all “resilience practitioners” to look anew at their own work and consider different approaches, and for those planning future programmes to consider how best to support the vital work of resilience building.