Breaking the cycle of crisis by building resilience in response and recovery

August 21, 2023
A person standing on a street destroyed by a hurricane



The number of humanitarian crises driven by the complex interplay of climate change, conflicts, political upheavals, economic disparities, and social challenges is rising. According to the 2023 Global Humanitarian Overview July Update, 363 million people worldwide are currently in need of humanitarian assistance, representing 30 percent increase in humanitarian need since the beginning of 2022. While ramping up immediate assistance and supporting humanitarians who safeguard lives and inspire hope is critical, we must not lose sight of the root causes and drivers of crisis. A wise African proverb says, “in the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build dams”. The humanitarian urgency of the present should not eclipse the importance of fostering long-term development solutions.

This year’s World Humanitarian Day celebrated on August 19, is an opportunity to shine the spotlight on measures to break the cycle of crises and humanitarian response. Reframing humanitarian action as a pathway to sustainable and enduring transformation gives us a new playbook for a holistic approach to human security. To break the cycle of crisis and humanitarian assistance we must reduce risk, build resilience, and empower solution holders in the middle of the response to crisis.

Anticipate and reduce risk to reduce impact

In our data-rich and technology-driven world, it is now much easier to identify hazards and proactively reduce disaster risks. Harnessing the power of data, tools and cross-sector collaboration can provide early warning signs, enabling us to take preventive measures before crises occur or escalate. Platforms like UNDP’s Crisis Risk Dashboards play a pivotal role by providing access to timely and relevant data. These platforms encompass features such as mapping of hotspots, trends in violent incidents, hate speech, human rights concerns, and protests, which inform fast and effective decision-making on anticipatory and preventive actions. In Ghana, UNDP is also at the forefront of supporting the country’s peacebuilding efforts and capacity by equipping women and youth with relevant skills to identify early warning signals of violent extremism and report them to security agencies.

Build resilience in the middle of the response to reduce exposure

Evidence shows that a conventional response that focuses solely on immediate needs is inadequate. Vulnerable and fragile communities need support in enhancing coping strategies before, during and after crises. Development initiatives contribute to strengthening the crisis response by sowing early seeds of socio-economic recovery.  They also lay the foundation for social cohesion and peace. In this context, UNDP supports countries in protracted crisis and fragility to move out of fragility through multidimensional risk analysis and integrated systems approaches including a regional stabilisation facility in the Lake Chad Basin Region

By fostering stabilisation and resilience during a crisis response, we can help to create a robust foundation that can withstand future challenges. This ensures that once the immediate crisis is over, the affected regions are equipped to rebuild and flourish. UNDP emphasizes that ‘a well-planned crisis response can provide an opportunity to transform the development road map of a given country and overcome even pre-existing development gaps and vulnerabilities.’

Engaging and empowering solution holders promotes sustainability.

To break the cycle of crisis and humanitarian assistance, we must ensure that affected communities and their organisations are at the forefront of surfacing solutions for economic revitalisation, inclusive growth and sustaining peace. Achieving genuine transformation demands the participation of those historically marginalised or underrepresented in decision-making. Recognizing the voices absent from these discussions and actively incorporating them leads to more holistic and effective solutions catering to everyone’s needs. 

Often missing from the decision-making table are the voices of women, youth and the very communities affected or directly impacted by crises. For instance, while young people are central to prevention, being primary targets for radicalization and the inception of conflicts, they are typically excluded. While they are already playing key roles in promoting peace, their potential remains largely untapped. To foster sustainable change, all these stakeholders must not only have a voice but also play an integral role in decision-making.


Building bridges in the moment of crisis is the key to breaking the cycle of crisis and humanitarian assistance. By sowing the seeds of long-term sustainable development through reducing risk, building resilience and empowering key stakeholders we can support humanitarian actors to transform the lives of the world’s most vulnerable communities. UNDP’s  new Crisis Offer, underscores the need for a significant change in approach. World Humanitarian Day reminds us of our duty to help those in need #NoMatterWhat. It is also a call to action to break the cycle of fragility by getting ahead of the crisis curve, and investing in hope in times of crisis. Together, let us sow the seeds of hope in the middle of every crisis.