What do climate-resilient communities look like? Ask them.

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Photo: UNDP GC-REAL

As severe droughts across the Horn of Africa become more frequent and enduring, the need for at-risk communities to build resilience to natural disasters becomes more urgent. But what is resilience in the first place?

Varying definitions among stakeholders and organizations result in uncoordinated implementation, as well as difficulties in monitoring, measuring and verifying the success, or failure, of resilience-building initiatives. 

To help gain clarity and make these interventions relevant to target groups, UNDP, through its Global Policy Centre on Resilient Ecosystems and Desertification, created in 2010 the Community Based Resilience Analysis (CoBRA) methodology and tool, enabling relief and development actors to solicit open and frank local views and perspectives on the key contributing factors for community and household resilience.

CoBRA defines people’s views and perspectives about their needs in resilience building.  It cuts out the bureaucratic and technical views that so often end up in documents only as theoretical concepts, and brings the needs and opinions of at-risk populations to the forefront of policymaking.

By using non-technical open-ended questionnaires with clear references to everyday life, we enable respondents to describe in simple terms what they believe resilience to be, for example, “being able to feed my family adequately every day.”

Other techniques include looking back at one’s own life to identify situations of both resilience and unpreparedness to face crisis. When asked about the definition of a resilient household, respondents are encouraged to search examples among neighbours and acquaintances.

The assessment then guides people to identify the factors which helped them exercise their definition of resilience during a time of disaster, and examines the communities’ levels of attainment of these resilience characteristics. It also requests community representatives to share their positive experiences on what types of interventions or services assisted them the most in building local disaster resilience.

We have piloted the CoBRA methodology in a number of locations in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, with interesting findings.

While testimonies and opinions were not uniform, respondents overwhelmingly stated that a resilient community is one where people have or can create buffers to the impacts of shocks and stresses such as drought. Access to education - not only elementary - but higher secondary and tertiary levels, water, and peace and security were seen as critical enablers of resilience. 

Resilient households, on the other hand, were consistently defined in terms of high income and assets from diversified sources. Most examples alluded to farmers who held side off-farm jobs outside of crop production and livestock rearing. Education featured again as a major asset as access to a wider-range of income-generating activities was seen to be a result of increased years of schooling. The higher the education level, the more resilient the household.

That the role educational attainment plays in building resilience is rarely addressed by disaster risk reduction programmes exposes how divergent policymaking can be from the actual needs of communities it seeks to assist. Tools such as CoBRA, which complement technical and more macro level assessments, demonstrate the value of responsive community and household-level survey methods in ensuring that development agendas are relevant to concerned populations.

Since 2014, CoBRA has been one of the tools helping organisations such as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and humanitarian and development partners in the Horn of Africa to align their resilience-related policy and programming efforts with households’ and communities’ positive insights and lessons on resilience.

Through CoBRA, we have also helped the Government of Kenya incorporate findings into the monitoring and evaluation framework of its national programme to end drought emergencies, so that the country can assess its progress in building resilience among its drought-affected communities.

Without empowered people, nations cannot be resilient.  By soliciting and valuing the views and perspectives of communities at risk and using them to drive policy, people are indeed at the center of development.

Climate change and disaster risk reduction Resilient recovery Disaster risk reduction Sustainable development Africa

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