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Resilience on development agenda

Putting resilience on the development agenda 

Few understand the concept of resilience as well as those living in the slums surrounding Mumbai or begging in the markets of Lagos. Indeed, it is the poorest and most vulnerable who are usually most at risk from the impact of sudden shocks.

All signs indicate that developing countries will be those hardest hit by the effects of climate change: in Africa, 70 million people and 30 percent of the coastal infrastructure could face flooding by 2080 due to rising sea levels1 while more than a billion people living in Central, East, South and Southeast Asia could suffer reduced – or no – access to freshwater2, setting off an unprecedented wave of environmental migration. Resilience is a matter of life or death for many in the poorest countries.

Reducing risk to break poverty

For the international development community, climate change and its impact on the worlds’ poorest will be one of the greatest challenges. According to Professor Stefan Dercon, Chief Economist of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), “We’re seeing increased weather variability and risks of natural disasters and – while many of those that the development community tries to help are fairly adept at handling risk – we think there is a significant need for the strengthening of these societies and the development of new ways of coping with the vagaries of weather or other sudden shocks.”


As an economist, he also notes strong socio-economic reasons for enhancing resilience in developing countries. “People living in a risky environment tend to avoid undertaking high return activities because they often come with high risk. One of the goals of the development community should therefore be to help lower the negative consequences of these risks, support people to take advantage of opportunities and break the cycle of poverty,” he added.

Transferring skills and capabilities

Helping to enhance capability and encouraging capital flows to projects in the areas of greatest need are amongst the most important ways that the international development community can help build resilience within developing countries. “We want to focus on building up technical expertise and delivery support capabilities alongside our investments so we always focus on working within partnerships,” Professor Dercon advised.


DFID is also active in helping governments to develop their investment opportunities to attract foreign capital and investors. “Our preference is to use our grants to encourage the creation of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) or partnerships between governments where we can apply our experience and expertise to help projects get delivered,” he added.

Choosing the right project

The international development community is struggling with a number of challenges when it comes to investing in resilience. One significant challenge is the need to identify projects that deliver longer-term development benefits and enhance resilience without locking countries into particular technologies or positions that may not prove appropriate in the longer-term.


At the same time, DFID and other agencies are scrutinizing projects more carefully to ensure that major risks – particularly those related to the impacts of climate change – have been considered and mitigated. “The way projects are designed and structured will have a long-term implication from a resilience perspective. So for example, any new port infrastructure in developing regions will need to have the ability to deal with issues such as rising sea levels and this will require a high level of engineering skill and project capabilities which aren’t always available in these markets today,” suggested DFID’s Chief Economist.

A win-win opportunity

This, however, should start to change as foreign players begin to recognize the growth potential and opportunity of working in emerging and developing countries. Indeed, the last decade or so has brought significant change to most areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America. There are fewer conflicts today, economies have seemingly become more stable, and public institutions have been strengthened in many countries.


“There’s really a lot going on in the developing world and an increasing number of financing vehicles are working to bring in capital for investment in areas such as infrastructure,” noted the Professor. “My hope is that this will bring far more new entrants into these markets to increase competition, build local capabilities and enhance capacity. For the developing countries, that’s probably the most important form of resilience.”


[1] http://www.one.org/c/international/issue/947/
[2] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report

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INSIGHT: Resilience

INSIGHT: Resilience
This edition of Insight explores some of the world’s most impactful stories of resilience.

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