Human Development Report 2014 – Resilience and Vulnerability

cq5dam.web.221.289At Agriculture for Impact we talk a lot about resilience and in particular how farms and rural economies can become more resilient to shocks and stresses like climate change, pests and diseases and food price fluctuations. In the new UNDP Human Development Report 2014 released recently, the concept of resilience in terms of individuals, communities and of global political systems is explored. As the report states, “resilience is about ensuring that state, community and global institutions work to empower and protect people”.

In particular the report highlights the precariousness with which we view advances in human development, improvements in peoples’ welfare and the state of the environment and global governance. Corruption, environmental and humanitarian crises, crime, changing leadership, negligence of key sectors such as health and civil unrest can all spell disaster for progress made in tackling poverty, malnutrition, food insecurity, environmental degradation and poor health. As the report states achievements in human development should not only be measured in terms of the gains made but in how secure these gains are or how likely they are to be lost when under pressure. Key then for this report is exploring the vulnerability of current progress and of future human development being sustained. The report also emphasises how human vulnerability, in this case taken as the erosion of people’s capabilities and choices, prevents human development.

Vulnerability appears to be on the increase due to continued environmental degradation, climate change and instability in financial systems. Perhaps this is contributing to the rate of progress in human development falling significantly since 2008. Globalisation increases connectivity around the world which can increase resilience but also introduce vulnerability across broader areas. If one system faces collapse its interconnectedness puts other systems at risk while national abilities to address shocks and stresses become more tied to global rules. A global system seeking to build resilience, however, can be supportive of actions at a local scale.

To understand the causes of vulnerability the report asks why certain people do better in the face of adversity than others and what enabling environment helps people become less vulnerable and thus more resilient. Typically we think of women, children and the elderly as being more vulnerable whether in terms of personal safety, health or economic freedom but what type of interventions can lessen this vulnerability? Responsive policy mechanisms, institutions and social norms that diminish vulnerability and structures that support human choice and empowerment could be included in these. For the most vulnerable groups in society, targeted and sustained interventions are needed as is addressing inequality. [Read more…]

Africa Human Development Report 2012: Towards a Secure Future

The UNDP recently released (in August 2012) a new report entitled Africa Human Development Report. It emphasizes the need for a coordinated, multi-sectoral approach to hunger and starvation in Africa. Rarely is the frustration and disbelief that the ‘spectre of famine…continues to haunt parts of Sub-Saharan Africa’, put so eloquently. Indeed, one in four Africans is undernourished and yet Sub-Saharan Africa has ‘ample agricultural land, plenty of water, a generally favourable climate for growing food’ and, in the past 10 years, ‘world-beating economic growth rates’ in some countries.

The solutions outlined in the report are not new: greater production, better access and increased human capability but this report goes further in saying these are necessary but not sufficient conditions for achieving food security. Good nutrition, robust policies, which support smallholder farmers, strong institutions and a focus on resilience are also critical. While many reports focus on some of these aspects, complex as they are on their own, this report gives an overview of the myriad of solutions that not only exist but that must come together to achieve food security.

Empowerment and human rights are also integral to the report: …’the basic right to food….is being violated in Sub-Saharan Africa to an intolerable degree’. Giving all people a voice and ensuring governments and are accountable to all people is an argument rarely used alongside the practical means of tackling hunger.

This report that lays out the issues in a powerful way, concluding that, ‘The challenge of food security in Sub-Saharan Africa is formidable, the timeframe for action tight and the investment required substantial. But the potential gains for human development are immense.’ Let’s hope the language is powerful enough to inspire action.