UNDP chief calls for resilience-based development

03 May 2012

Washington—Daunting new challenges demand a major shift in development which puts building resilience at its centre, UN Development Programme Administrator Helen Clark said today.

“If you don't have a basic level of resilience then you can't hang on to the gains you've made when adversity and shocks come along,” Helen Clark told a High Level Panel on Resilience Dialogue at the World Bank-International Monetary Fund spring meeting here. But major donors “are beginning to place building resilience at the top of their priorities.  I'm really quite optimistic that we might make some breakthroughs.”

Other panelists were USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos, World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte, and Indonesian Minister of National Development Planning Armida Alisjahban.

Disaster risks “are moving to a new level, and this is putting more pressure on  communities in heavily stressed environments than ever before,” Ms. Clark  said. "The cost of humanitarian relief has soared."

UNDP supports “the building of institutions and capacities to rise to the challenge of developing good plans for resilience, integrating policies, implementing them, and sharing experiences and approaches which have worked.” Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Mozambique are among those with good experiences to share on building resilience to disaster.

Dialogue about resilience “has come light years, with everyone reflecting on the cost of major disasters,” she said. “The message is very clear: Don’t wait for the next one—we know that at some time there will be another earthquake, another tsunami, a cyclone, a drought, so what can we do as development partners?”

Development assistance and other funding together—“if we make sure it’s used in a catalytic way to support resilience—I think we can make these things work together.”

Building resilience requires time and a longer-term planning cycle than development partners have historically approved, Ms. Clark said earlier this week. “Funding over a five- to 10-year time frame at the country level is paramount. UNDP’s work on resilience continues to be compromised by a lack of sustained funding, even in modest amounts.” 

Mozambique, Indonesia offer examples

In 2000, cyclone-related flooding devastated Mozambique, leaving 800 people dead and half a million homeless and disrupting the livelihoods of more than one million more, affecting 4.5 million people in total.

When flooding of similar magnitude struck again in 2007, 29 people were killed and 70,000 displaced, as a result of strategic disaster risk assessments and preparedness. State institutions and local governance structures had more coherent response strategies, and—along with communities—they reacted quickly.

“The key lesson from Mozambique’s experience is that when societies invest time in learning from adversity, they become better prepared to face it in the future,” Ms. Clark said in Cambridge, England. 

Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami were devastating, but losses there were small relative to those in Aceh, Indonesia, following the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of similar magnitude in 2004, as a result of comprehensive disaster preparedness in Japan. 

“Japan and Mozambique both have national and local institutions that are coordinated and had similar levels of preparedness as they faced the crises,” Ms. Clark said, noting that developed countries face similar challenges.

“Active, effective, honest, fair, and responsive and representative governance promotes resilience, in every country. As the recent financial crisis showed, not all developed countries have retained systemic resilience to economic shocks,” she said. “Unless developed countries are prepared to see years of human development and progress wiped away when adversity strikes, their systemic resilience to shocks is critical as well.”