Why Resilience is Now more important than ever

June 30, 2020

                                                            Sara Ferrer Olivella and Tone Allers 

Do a search for ‘resilience’ on Google and 176,000,000 results will tell you everything from its origin, how to pronounce it and seven ways to build it. You quickly realize that resilience is used interchangeably and with various meanings.

Resilience can be defined as the capacity to anticipate, manage, recover and transform from shocks and crises. Imagine an elastic band; it can be stretched, but always snaps back into place. Resilience works in similar ways. As the concept of resilience has been adopted by the humanitarian and development community, it has been used to refer to the ability of both individuals and communities to ‘snap back’ and adapt to new circumstances resulting from external disturbances.

Globally, Norway and UNDP work to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In this endeavor, long term resilience has always been a common reference point. Now more than ever, a resilience-based approach is needed in development and humanitarian work to recover from the effects of the Syrian crisis and the negative impacts of the COVID-19.

In 2015, the Jordan Response Plan (JRP) adopted a resilience-based approach to mitigate the effects of the Syria crisis. Resilience has since been the glue that brings Jordan’s development and humanitarian partners together. The London conference on Syria and its neighboring countries in 2016 marks a turning point and seals the Compact and partnership between the international community and Jordan. Five years later, we should critically deconstruct the concept of resilience to amplify its power, to address vulnerability, sustain standards in service delivery, and to push for social cohesion during the COVID-19 health crisis and enable refugees and members of impacted communities to have opportunities to build self-reliance.

Today, as we mark the UN’s 75-year milestone anniversary of founding Charter, and with the added stressors brought by COVID-19, a better understanding of what resilience means can be a key to building forward better. Gender-responsive crisis recovery, climate change mitigation and integrated solutions for host communities and refugees are some of the factors that can lead to greater resilience, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.


Beyond COVID-19

The pandemic has added urgency to tackle the root causes of fragility in order to create better conditions for refugees and vulnerable groups. It has put resilience back at the core of the recently launched Jordan Response Plan 2020–2022. The JRP strongly encourages a mid- to long-term approach to self-reliance for all, recognizing that this cannot be achieved overnight.

UNDP’s rapid assessment on COVID-19’s impact on households in Jordan shows that more than 85 per cent of the most vulnerable households reported to have faced difficulties in meeting even basic needs like food and rent during the first few weeks of the lockdown. Even amongst the general population, almost three quarters reported similar difficulties. These findings serve as a magnifying glass on inequalities. Understanding who is affected, where and in what way is important so that response and recovery measures can be designed to reach also those furthest behind. Otherwise the economic impact of lockdown measures may have long lasting impact on vulnerable households and reverse human development trends.

Other assessments have shown that women and youth are the most affected by the crisis. These are the same groups that were struggling before the socio-economic impact of the crisis. The stressors put on Jordan’s limited natural resources have been further exacerbated.


Resilience is a joint endeavor

Rather than approaching resilience from an individual perspective, the protracted refugee crisis coupled with the evolving pandemic crisis warrants a renewed focus and a systematic approach enhancing resilience of the economy, society and communities in Jordan.

Since the onset of the Syria crisis, individual vulnerabilities and building individual resilience have been center-stage to interventions. Today and after nine years of crisis, efforts need to be stepped up to address underlying vulnerabilities of institutions, local authorities, and communities and structural inequalities. These include gender inequality, poverty, the digital literacy gap and connectivity, climate change impacts and marginalization of youth. Responding to these inequalities which are experienced and exacerbated in vulnerable communities warrants a systemic and institutional approach.


Recover bottom-up

While none of us know the future, there is an opportunity to recover better and sustain development gains by enhancing the resilience of local institutions and infrastructure.

We already know that the first responders in crises and emergencies are locally anchored. First responders are families, youth, and women in particular, who oversee and manage a majority of unpaid work and household chores. We also know that this work increases during emergencies such as the COVID-19 crisis.

Since first responders are local, decentralized responses and local governance systems can benefit from these networks and thus be in a better place to ensure quick recovery by building resilience, mobilizing youth, and enhancing self-reliance of vulnerable groups in their communities, and to foster social cohesion that in turn also prevents violent extremism.

To conclude, Jordan and its international partners must continue to work hand in hand as there is no shortcut to addressing underlying factors of fragility, widening inequalities, and delivering on the needs of refugees and host communities alike. The key is purposeful investing in resilience not only of individuals, but of communities, local institutions and national systems and institutions. The return on investment is clear, a society and economy readiness to withstand future shocks and crises.