Responding to natural disasters soaks up a large proportion of funding dedicated to humanitarian actions each year. The last 20 years have seen the number of natural disasters double and the consensus among major aid agencies is that climate change will only exacerbate this. Asides from the implications of climate change, global population and economic growth will expose more people and assets to disasters over time.
So it would seem prudent for the aid sector to invest more heavily in initiatives which prepare the most vulnerable communities to face down these new challenges. Are we seeing shifts in foreign aid which reflect this?
According to a UNDP report, aid funding remains far too weighted towards emergency response (around 70%), and too little is dedicated to the kinds of disaster risk reduction activities (around 13%) which help communities prepare for the worst. No one denies how this set up is failing future beneficiaries in terms of leaving them vulnerable to future shocks, while also wasting limited aid funding in responding to avoidable disasters.
But what are organisations like ACTED doing NOW to help prepare disaster-affected communities for a future in which cyclic shocks become more frequent, less predictable and impact more people?
If you live in an area which is affected year on year by droughts or mudslides, you and your community will naturally develop ways in which to adapt so as to minimize their impact in future, through for example planting more drought resistant crops or building new houses away from areas affected by the mudslides.
While such responses seem obvious, such actions are only effective if the shocks are cyclical in terms of scale, timing, and the area affected. This is less and less the case, particularly in relation to the droughts affecting the Sahel region. Multiple factors, which include climate change, but also include conflict, poverty and a lack of understanding of how an ecosystem functions, all combine to stifle the ability of communities to prepare for and withstand these shocks.
In its THRIVE programming, ACTED is going back to basics; exploring the ways that humans interact with the ecosystems in which they live and upon which their livelihoods rely. The ‘THRIVE’ approach (Towards Holistic Resilience in Vulnerable Environments), could represent a new frontier in disaster risk reduction (DRR). THRIVE reimagines DRR through renegotiating the contract between individuals, communities and the land, with the goal of making natural resource management a key pillar in defense against natural disasters.
THRIVE dares the aid sector to delve deeper into the lives of the communities which they help, to come to a greater understanding of the the interplay between the ecosystem, social networks, governance and local economies. But what this approach entail?
THRIVE revolves around three pillars:
Revive: the first stage where interventions aim to rehabilitate degraded soils by taking steps to rehydrate exhausted groundwater and reduce soil erosion caused by harmful practices such as neglecting organic fertilizers. This involves encouraging communities to rethink the choice of crops they cultivate, promoting reforestation and ensuring that animal grazing is not contributing to the further degradation of soils.
Emerge: revolves around streamlining the value chains which bring an agricultural commodity from the farm to the market. This approach looks at each phase in the life of a commodity and critically examines what can be done to both ensure the processes involved are sustainable, and that all measures are being taken to maximize the incomes coming back to producers. This involves supporting access to climate-smart inputs, financial services, market information and business skills. It also explores local governance structures (legal and policy frameworks) to see how these can be adapted to meet the needs of producer communities.
The Emerge pillar is crucial for ensuring farmers have access to the tools, knowledge and skills needed to maximize yields and minimize waste, while also reassessing how a community can make the most of existing or emerging transport, storage and value-addition services.
Integrate: chronic poverty and dwindling resources are a flammable mix: Many of the pastoralist, farming and herding societies across the Sahel and beyond, experience deep social tensions as more and more people come to rely on the fruits of a shrinking natural resource base. ACTED recently wrote about the situation in the Sahel where such tensions have fueled a number of the region’s most bitter conflicts, resulting in mass displacements which have the added impact of forcing farmers from their land.
The Integrate pillar revolves around dialogue. This is especially crucial in contexts with a legacy of tensions and inter-communal conflict over commonly held natural resources such as water and land. THRIVE thus integrates community discussions to enable the identification of shared areas for collaboration, for example, working together to reforest a hilltop which is causing landslides affecting common infrastructures such as roads.
THRIVE is the practical synthesis of over ten years of programming and institutional learning across the African continent. Although it remains a concept in development, elements of the approach have already proven themselves in Eastern Africa; of the 317 projects which ACTED implemented in the region between 2010-2019, over half of these included THRIVE components.