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How can the EUEuropean Union take forward the resilience agenda: a ten point plan



In October 2012, the European Commission published a Communication on ‘The EUEuropean Union approach to resilience’. This is to be followed by Council Conclusions and an Action Plan. The former will formalise EUEuropean Union policy in this area. The second will put flesh on the bones of the policy. The purpose of this note is to set the Communication in context and offer some thoughts on next steps.

I conclude with a ten point list of recommendations.

What the Communication says

The Communication is sub-titled ‘Learning from food security crises’. It introduces the ‘resilience paradigm’, reviews the lessons of experience, especially in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, proposes some general principles, and concludes with ten steps to increase resilience in food  insecure and disaster-prone countries.

Resilience is defined as ‘the ability of an individual, a household, a community, a country or a region to withstand, to adapt, and to quickly recover from stresses and shocks’. The paper goes on to say that ‘The concept of resilience has two dimensions: the inherent strength of an entity – an individual, a household, a community or a larger structure – to better resist stress and shock and the capacity of this entity to bounce back rapidly from the impact. Increasing resilience (and reducing vulnerability) can therefore be achieved either by enhancing the entity’s strength, or by reducing the intensity of the impact, or both. It requires a multifaceted strategy and a broad systems perspective aimed at both reducing the multiple risks of a crisis and at the same time improving rapid coping and adaptation mechanisms at local, national and regional level. Strengthening resilience lies at the interface of humanitarian and development assistance.’

The three key principles of an approach to resilience are (a) to anticipate crises by assessing risks, (b) to focus on prevention and preparedness, and (c) to enhance response to crisis. These translate into an EUEuropean Union action programme as follows:

1. Resilience can only be built bottom-up. The starting point for the EUEuropean Union approach to resilience therefore is a firm recognition of the leading role of partner countries. The EUEuropean Union will align its support with the partner's policies and priorities, in accordance with established Aid Effectiveness principles.

2. Action to strengthen resilience needs to be based on sound methodologies for risk and vulnerability assessments. Such assessments should serve as the basis for elaborating national resilience strategies, as well as for designing specific projects and programmes. The EUEuropean Union will support the development of national resilience strategies as part of wider development strategies. The EUEuropean Union will engage with partner countries and key international actors to improve the methodologies for developing the assessments underlying such strategies. In order to ensure effectiveness, the EUEuropean Union will moreover put in place a framework for measuring the impact and results of its support for resilience.

3. In countries facing recurrent crises, increasing resilience will be a central aim of EUEuropean Union external assistance. EU-funded programmes will be based on a common operational assessment prepared by humanitarian and development actors, covering medium to long-term interventions. They will focus on addressing the underlying causes of crises, notably through support for prevention and preparedness activities. It will work closely with partner countries to establish capacities to elaborate and implement strategies and Disaster Reduction Management plans at national and regional level.

4. The Commission will systematically include resilience as an element in its Humanitarian Implementation Plans. The Commission will moreover strive for joint programming of the resilience-related actions in its humanitarian and development assistance so as to ensure maximum complementarity, and to ensure that short-term actions lay the groundwork for medium and long-term interventions.

5. Flexibility will be key to responding to the needs of disaster-affected countries. The Commission will continue to ensure maximum flexibility in implementing its humanitarian programmes. For development funding, in times of unforeseen crises and major disasters, the Commission will seek maximum flexibility in mobilising non-programmed funds. Additionally, the Commission will introduce flexibility into the programme design to allow quick and timely action. The EUEuropean Union will consider the use of Trust Funds to intervene in emergency or post-emergency situations.

6. When working to improve resilience in fragile or conflict-affected states, the EUEuropean Union will pursue an approach that also addresses security aspects and their impact on the vulnerability of populations. This will include an active political dialogue with partner countries and organisations in the region concerned.

7. The EUEuropean Union will seek to replicate existing initiatives such as SHARE and AGIR, as well as successful projects on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). It will share and exchange lessons with its partners in order to multiply and scale up successful approaches - with the objective of incorporating them in national resilience strategies. The Commission will review regularly progress made on the resilience agenda, looking in particular at programming, methodologies and results.

8. The EUEuropean Union will promote innovative approaches to risk management. Working with the insurance and re-insurance industries is a particularly promising way forward. The Commission will bring forward a Green Paper in early 2013 on the role of insurance in disaster management.

9. For countries facing recurrent crises, the EUEuropean Union will work with host governments, other donors, regional and international organisations and other stakeholders to create platforms at country level for ensuring timely exchange of information and coordination of short, medium and long term humanitarian and development actions to strengthen resilience.

10. The EUEuropean Union will promote resilience in international fora including the G8, G20, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), the Rio Conventions, the process for revision of the Millennium Development Goals, the development of Sustainable Development Goals and discussions on the follow-up to the Hyogo Framework for Action of 2005-2015. Resilience will feature as a key theme in its partnerships with organisations such as FAO, IFADInternational Fund for Agriculture and Development and WFP, as well as UNISDR, the World Bank, and civil society organisations.


The Communication in context

There are two areas of context I would like to explore. The first is to look at the range of the substantive agenda, and the second is to understand the evolution of the EU’s thinking of the topic.

For both purposes, a convenient starting point is the work Margie Buchanan-Smith and I led at the Institute of Development Studies in the mid-1990s. In 1994, we organised a conference on ‘Linking Relief and Development’, which generated an annotated bibliography, a conference report, and a special issue of the IDSInstitute for Development Studies, Sussex Bulletin which included papers by a number of donors. We noted then that the subject of linking relief and development was not new, but that there had been a resurgence of theoretical and practical engagement with the topic. Resilience was at the heart of the analytical work reviewed, especially on food security. Margie and I explored the practical implications for both relief and development programmes. We also examined some important issues: the need for different kinds of strategy in different kinds of country; cost-effectiveness and financial trade-offs; institutional incentives; and state capacity. The overview of the IDSInstitute for Development Studies, Sussex Bulletin is available online. Honestly, it is worth reading!

  1. Substantive range of thinking on resilience

In 1994, our work focused on food security, albeit in a range of contexts, from drought or flood through to war. In nearly twenty years since then, the agenda has diversified, as exemplified by the work of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (ISDR) or the Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR). It is not surprising that natural disasters feature prominently, reflecting such major catastrophes as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami or the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Climate Change is a major theme in analysis of vulnerability and resilience, as exemplified for example by the IPCC Special report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters. The Report identifies increased vulnerabilities in areas such as heat stress, flooding and storms, not just in rural areas, but increasingly in cities and towns. Resilience is a major theme of the report. It also includes risk transfer in its model, hinting at the high level of interest in insurance mechanisms.

There has also been an increase in work on macro-economic vulnerability and resilience. As early as 2000, the Commonwealth Secretariat published a state-level Vulnerability Index, referring especially to small states. The global financial crisis of 2008 led to more work of this kind. For example, ODIOverseas Development Institute (London) work on the crisis specifically examined vulnerability to shocks and recommended a new ‘compact for crisis-resilient growth’. Subsequent work in 2011 examined the need for and experience of macro-economic shock facilities, including IDAInternational Development Association (of World Bank) facilities and the EU’s own V-FLEX.

Internationally, the global food crisis of 2008, as well as subsequent shocks, stimulated additional work on resilience, both in terms of the security of global food supplies, and the need to strengthen social protection in poor countries. Social protection, of course, has become a major development theme.

Finally, there has also been more interest in the role of the private sector – for example as a result of the work on humanitarian assistance carried out by the World Economic Forum (whose Global Agenda Council on Humanitarian Assistance I chaired).

Many donors are concerned with these wider aspects of resilience. For example, it is notable that DFIDDepartment for International Development now has a ‘Growth and Resilience Department’ which deals explicitly with sustainability and vulnerability of economies and households.

In this context, it is somewhat surprising that the new ECEuropean Community Communication focuses so strongly on food security, and on essentially local programmes in the Sahel (AGIR) and the Horn of Africa (SHARE). Both are found, interestingly, on the humanitarian section of the EUEuropean Union website. There are references to wider issues and to macroeconomic shocks (including a reference to V-FLEX), but there is no reference to social protection.

It is also disappointing that the analytical themes taken from the IDSInstitute for Development Studies, Sussex Bulletin on Linking Relief and Development are not more strongly reflected in the Communication, especially the issues of cost-effectiveness and financial trade-offs.

  1. Resilience in EUEuropean Union thinking

Given the substantive context, it is not surprising that ‘resilience’ has deep roots in thinking about linking relief, rehabilitation and development, including in the EU. An interesting question, then, is about the intellectual and programmatic trajectory of this issue. If the current focus on resilience is genuinely new, that is one thing. If, on the other hand, the ideas are relatively well-established, but have not been operationalised, then it is necessary to look much more closely at institutional practice and accountability.

Two years after the publication of the IDSInstitute for Development Studies, Sussex Bulletin, the ECEuropean Community published, in 1996, its first Communication on Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development. It built very much on the IDSInstitute for Development Studies, Sussex work, using some of the same vocabulary. For example, it observed, using our words, that

‘The basic justification for linking relief, rehabilitation and development is simple and sensible: disasters are costly in both human life and resources; they disrupt economic and social development; they require long periods of rehabilitation; they lead to separate bureaucratic structures and procedures which duplicate development institutions. At the same time, however, development policy too often ignores the risks of drought and other shocks and the need to protect vulnerable households by helping them to develop "coping strategies". If relief and development can be linked, these deficiencies could be reduced. Better "development" can reduce the need for emergency relief; better "relief can contribute to development; and better "rehabilitation" can ease the transition between the two.’

The Communication called for a ‘global strategic planning policy’, and for a high degree of coordination, between donors and internal ECEuropean Community services. It also identified a ten-point set of recommendations, including political analysis, conflict prevention and investment in disaster preparedness. Interestingly, the Communication examined different kinds of emergency (including conflict-related) and also looked in detail at different sectors: macro-economics; food; and health. Careful reading of this document is highly recommended.

A further Communication on LRRD was published in 2001. The Communication reaffirmed the basic principles of LRRD and reviewed the EC’s own experience in the field. It concluded that

Firstly, on the basis of experience gained in international donor initiatives, suggestions are made to facilitate co-ordination on a more systematic basis. The international community must improve its response to disasters and other crises in a developmental perspective. There are no easy solutions to complex situations. Increased co-ordination, systematic exchange of information and better working methods could however reduce the negative effects of the existing gaps. The paper identifies what the Community can contribute to this process;

Secondly, measures are proposed to readjust and streamline the Community’s own instruments, working methods and internal institutional mechanisms. New instruments, and additional funding are not proposed. Country Strategy Papers, which form the basis of the new programming process for ECEuropean Community co-operation, must be used as the central reference for guiding different interventions at different stages in the crisis cycle, and, through the inclusion of conflict indicators, as a forward planning and preventative tool. This will allow interventions to be decided in a longer term perspective. In the implementation phase, increased flexibility and rapidity for mobilising development and co-operation funds will be needed with a view to facilitating the take-over from emergency interventions and, where appropriate, from the Rapid Reaction Mechanism.’

As in the previous Communication, there was a great deal of discussion of different kinds of emergency and of external and internal coordination problems. The Communication identified three main problems, viz: (a) slow decision-making procedures, (b) choice of implementing partners and (c) the ability to mobilise resources through appropriate instruments. It called for an Addendum to be written to Country Strategy Papers, to define strategic priorities with respect to LRRD and to explain how different instruments would be linked. An 11-step action programme was proposed.

It is pretty hard to track EUEuropean Union policy since 2001, but both ECHOEuropean Community Humanitarian Office on the humanitarian side and DG Development/Devco on the development side have published policies which deal in different ways with risk management, disaster preparedness and related topics. The policies of ECHOEuropean Community Humanitarian Office can be found here; those of Devco here.

In 2005, the EUEuropean Union agreed a European Consensus on Development. There are repeated references in this document to vulnerability, risk, disaster preparedness and management, and resilience. The Consensus was updated in 2011, in Agenda for Change. Similar themes appear, with reference to resilience, with specific reference to climate change, other natural disasters, and conflict-related problems in fragile states.

ECHO agreed its own Humanitarian Consensus in 2007. This has a chapter entitled ‘Aid continuum/contiguum’, which includes sections on reducing risk and vulnerability through preparedness, and on ‘transition and early recovery, and ensuring the link to development aid’. It identifies LRRD as a specific comparative advantage of the EC, ‘in particular at the meeting points between Community policies in the area of humanitarian aid, development, food security, public health and human rights, including through Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development (LRRD), disaster risk reduction and preparedness strategies’.

As to implementation, the main source of information is in the EU’s own evaluations. ECHOEuropean Community Humanitarian Office has carried out a series of thematic evaluations, including on disaster preparedness, disaster risk reduction mainstreaming, livelihood interventions and donor coordination, as well as many situation-specific evaluations where LRRD might be expected to feature (Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Haiti, Sudan). I have not read them all, sorry. However, the thematic evaluation on mainstreaming is interesting, because it points to the operational difficulties hinted at earlier. Practice runs ahead of policy in many instances, the report says, but is constrained by inadequate funding frameworks, poor staff capacity, and poor coordination with and by partners: all familiar themes. It is recommended that the Commission develop an Action Plan.

Evaluations on the development side do not seem to have covered disaster prevention and preparedness in the same detail. There seem to be no specific thematic evaluations, and the key words do not appear in a table of themes covered in country level evaluations since 2000. However, there may be more detail in evaluations related to food security or health – or the countries where resilience-related topics are especially relevant.

Now, it has taken some time to get to this point, for which apologies, but I conclude that there has been a high degree of strategic consistency for nearly twenty years in EUEuropean Union thinking about the range of topics covered by the term ‘resilience’. This is good news, in the sense that successive generations of policy-makers have reached similar conclusions. On the other hand, one cannot but ask why it is that the same problems recur, along with very similar solutions. Could it be the case that there is something awry in the analysis, such that the ‘solutions’ proffered somehow miss the mark. Is an ‘Action Plan’ enough?

Next steps

My reading of the Communication on Resilience and my review of the context lead me to make ten recommendations.

First, the writing of Council Conclusions is an important part of the policy-making process, but will only be really effective if any changes in emphasis or substantive content are carried back into formal policy. I have written earlier about the ambiguity of the EUEuropean Union policy-making process, asking exactly how Council Conclusions are reflected in policy-making. It is notable, for example, that Communications are not usually re-written after the Council has deliberated. I recommend in this case that the Council Conclusions be absolutely unambiguous about which elements of the analysis and recommendations in the Communication are agreed and which are not – and that the Council instruct (not ‘invite’ or ‘suggest that’) the Commission produce a revised policy incorporating the Council Conclusions.

Second, the Commission has promised an Action Plan ‘in the first quarter of 2013’, ‘to set out the way forward on the implementation of these principles’ (the principles being the ten points reproduced at the beginning of this note). It is presumably necessary that the Action Plan be held back until the Council has issued Conclusions and formally agreed and/or revised the policy. Perhaps the Commission will  produce a draft Action Plan which the Council can agree or amend at the same time as it considers the Communication?

Third, if I were the Council, and even more the European Parliament, I would want to make sure that the full implications of the final decisions on resilience were incorporated in the Regulations covering the Development Cooperation Instrument and the European Development Fund, both currently in the final stages of approval. As far as I can see, there are only marginal references in the draft documents to the topics covered by the Communication. The Council should probably mandate amendments in its Conclusions.

Fourth, frankly, if I had been writing the Communication, I would have paid more attention to the two elements of context I have dealt with in this note, certainly referencing and making better use of the EU’s own and not insignificant history, and also, more importantly, providing more detail on the evolving context of the debate about resilience. I would also have paid more attention to the cross-cutting analytical themes from the IDSInstitute for Development Studies, Sussex Bulletin of 1994 and the subsequent Communication of 1996. For example, it would have been useful to say more about resilience issues in different kinds of country, about financial trade-offs, and about institutional incentives. This would have led to a different text of Sections 1-3 of the Communication, and maybe of Section 4. The Council could do this job itself, in its Conclusions, or it could ask the Commission to produce a revised text, as part of a definitive policy-making process. Or it could just ignore the problem and allow the current text to stand, recognising that it could have been written differently, and that if not amended, it will remain on the books, so to speak – but deciding to focus its effort on the principles and action points.

Fifth, then, when it comes to the ten action points, I recommend that the Council celebrate the emphasis of the Communication on national resilience strategies, incorporating national risk assessment registers and vulnerability analyses. However, I recommend that a point be added on international risk and resilience, including natural and economic hazards. These need to be measured, acted upon and monitored in the same way as national hazards. Global imbalances or trade risks need as much attention as local rainfall. By the way, the World Economic Forum Global Risk work is a useful reference point on this topic.

Sixth, the Council should definitely endorse the recommendation on insurance, and agree the production of a Green Paper on the subject. It should, in addition, mandate better engagement with the private sector, both international and national. There is a considerable literature on the principles that should be followed, and quite some experience in working with the private sector on a range of topics related to resilience. This probably does not need a Green Paper type consultation, but could be a chapter of the revised policy that will need to be produced when the Council has finished its work.

Seventh, I recommend that the Council endorse the idea of joint development and humanitarian operational assessments and action plans, but that it go further in demanding that the assessments and action plans be linked to country strategies and national indicative programmes. There were strong ideas about this in the 1996 and 2001 Communications. Given that the CSPs are already being prepared for the next period of country programming, it is important that any changes be introduced quickly, before such documents are approved. Given the far-reaching nature of the resilience agenda, changes are likely to be substantial. For example, should social protection be mandated as one of the three priority sectors in each and every country programme?

Eighth, it is important that the Commission and the Council work together on instruments, both macro-economic and other. For example, will there be sufficient funds available, in the right form and at the right speed, if a global food crisis or financial shock require macroeconomic assistance. The Food Facility was created in 2010 as a special purpose vehicle with limited funds, which have now been spent. The same applies to V-FLEX, created specifically in response to the global financial crisis. Should the Council not mandate long-term shock instruments? And should it not also take a view on climate funding for adaptation, perhaps mandating a large increase in funding for the GCCA?

Ninth, there is an obvious issue about inter-service cooperation and accountability. It is notable that action on resilience requires contributions from both the Development and Humanitarian Commissioners, but also that different Member State oversight bodies are involved, CODEV for development and COHAFA for humanitarian aid. Will the Council insist on a single line of reporting for matters related to resilience? And what will be the incentives to underpin accountability? Should the Commission be required to list milestones and results and report against them? If so, should these not form part of the ‘contract’ with the Commission embedded in Council Conclusions?

Finally, the Council would do well to clarify whether or not the new policy on resilience applies to the Commission or to the whole of the EU. Unusually, this is somewhat ambiguous in the Communication: documents of this type normally aspire to shape EUEuropean Union policy as a whole, rather than just that of the Commission. Probably, the Council will judge that the policy should apply mainly to Commission programmes and not bind Member States. If so, the Council might consider inserting a preamble which binds the whole of the EUEuropean Union to core principles, and perhaps also a post-script which commits Member States to work better together on this topic. If the latter is included, there should be accountabilities and targets, as for the Commission itself.

In sum, I guess what I feel about the Communication is that it is strategically correct, but seems like work in progress. That offers a real opportunity to those writing the Council Conclusions and eventually to those writing the Action Plan. The European Parliament also has a role, not least with respect to the DCI and Humanitarian Instruments and the Multi-Annual Financial Framework.




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# RE: How can the EU take forward the resilience agenda: a ten point planSimon Maxwell 2013-02-26 11:54
I'm indebted to John Burton, ex-DFID, now KPMG, for sharing this IMF paper by Abdul Abiad and others, which demonstrates greatly increased resilience in developing countries (and also demonstrates why those interested in resilience need to focus on both macro-economic and household issues). Summary pasted in below the link. Note resilience is defined as defined as the EMDEs’ (emerging market and developing economies) ability to sustain longer and stronger expansions,and to experience shorter and shallower downturns and more rapid recoveries. 'Policy space' is a key factor, i guess equivalent to asset-holding at household level.

Our main findings can be summarized as follows. First, EMDE resilience has increased markedly over the past two decades. These economies are spending more time in expansion, and downturns and recoveries have become shallower and shorter. The performance of the past decade was particularly impressive for many EMDE regions, with emerging Europe being a notable exception. In fact, the past decade was the first time that EMDEs spent more time in expansion, and had smaller downturns, than advanced economies.

Second, various external and domestic shocks are associated with the end of EMDE expansions. Among external shocks, sudden stops in capital flows, advanced economy recessions, spikes in global uncertainty, and terms-of-trade busts all increase the likelihood that an expansion will end. Among domestic shocks, credit booms double and banking crises triple the probability that an expansion will shift into a downturn by the following year.

Third, good policies are associated with increased resilience. Specifically, greater policy space (as measured by low inflation and favorable fiscal and external positions) and improved policy frameworks (as measured by countercyclical policy, inflation targeting, and flexible exchange rate regimes) are associated with longer expansions and faster recoveries. There is no clear relation between resilience and structural characteristics , such as trade
patterns, financial openness and the composition of capital flows, and income distribution. Few of these characteristics are robustly associated with the duration of expansions and the speed of recoveries.

Fourth, the improvements in policymaking and the buildup of policy space in many EMDEs account for the bulk of the increased resilience during the past decade. Some shocks, such as spikes in global uncertainty, have become more frequent in the past decade, but many other shocks have become less frequent, such as banking crises and credit booms. Overall, fewer shocks account for about two-fifths of the improved performance in EMDEs. Greater policy space and better policy frameworks account for the remaining three-fifths.
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