Browse by Theme: Resilience

From afar, the southern African countries of Madagascar and Malawi will not figure in conversations about the disasters affecting the world. When I told people I was going there on an emergency response deployment they looked at me baffled and asked: “Why – what’s happening there?”

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People have a certain image of what constitutes an emergency. To someone you ask in the street they would probably imagine panic, chaos and people desperately trying to save their families. And that is true but not always the case, as emergencies get more drawn out due to long-standing conflict, like in Syria, or are slow-burning crises such as Ethiopia’s drought brought on by the climate impacts of El Nino. In these situations, emergency is embedded in everyday life – thinking about the safest route to go to the market or children dropping out of school becomes a part of daily life. And this is when it is not so easy to differentiate humanitarian and development approaches as short-term creeps into long-term.

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Two recent CARE workshops have helped frame for me the resilience discussion that has come to dominate development discourse over the last five years. In fragile contexts, can we afford to be ambitious with our programming goals to encompass both gender transformative action and crisis adaptation? And more to the point, can we afford not to?

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Last month I visited Tigray, Northern Ethiopia, to interview farmers and livestock traders faced with the drought effects of one of the most devastating El Niños in 50 years. What are their coping strategies in the face of extreme weather patterns? How are those strategies linked to national and international market systems? And how, through these systems, can we bring about a better deal for those in the supply chain typically made more vulnerable by drought – namely, women?

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After disasters many international agencies, including CARE, undertake a whole range of projects to help affected people recover, including the construction of houses. These may be described as all sorts of things, including temporary shelter, transitional shelter, durable shelter, semi-permanent shelter, core houses or permanent houses. Which description is used often seems almost arbitrary, decided by a mixture of assumptions about people’s recovery, donor mandates and priorities, government policy and the level of expertise available in agencies. The description rarely matches reality.

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CARE has been working in India for over 65 years, and over that time a large part of its work has been responding to and supporting recovery from disasters. Many of these humanitarian projects have involved emergency shelter and housing reconstruction. Indeed, since 2000, CARE has built over 8,000 houses for some of the most vulnerable people who have lost their homes in disasters. A number of other agencies have undertaken similar construction programmes over the years. So what has the long-term effect of these projects been? Is the approach right, and given both the scale of typical disasters in India and the increasing quality and reach of government response, is the approach still relevant and appropriate?

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I met several Syrians in Jordan and Turkey during a recent visit (mid-January). All of them said they just wanted the war and the violence to stop so they could go home. Some were more hopeful than others that this would happen soon. But that’s what they all wanted.

So, what if we try to be a bit optimistic. Are we ready to respond if we get what we’re asking for?

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