A local approach to building resilience

July 24, 2012

–Nicholas Rutherford is the Director of AidEx. The opinions expressed are his own.–

South-South Cooperation is currently and correctly being cited as a route to cutting poverty and increasing food security in the developing world, with recent plaudits including Ban Ki-moon and Amina Mohamed. The premise is that two or more developing countries achieve goals through mutual cooperation and exchanges of knowledge, skills and resources.

It’s an argument that has long had currency within the development community. But the idea has started to capture the attention of the humanitarian world as more and more governments, NGOs and UN agencies realise the importance of long term planning and local self-sufficiency when it comes to responding to emergencies in developing countries.

Traditionally, the humanitarian model followed a familiar pattern whereby a disaster would strike and the international community would arrive, often bringing everything they needed – including tents, food and medicine – with them. This kind of approach would last throughout the emergency phase and into the weeks and months of the reconstruction period. And, while it was well intentioned and often practical, it did not always sufficiently address the role the local community could play – either as interested parties who could be active in preparing for a flood or drought, or as potential suppliers of food once that crisis had actually hit.

In some ways, events have forced our hands. Earthquakes such as the one in Haiti, or droughts of the kind we are seeing in Mali, Niger and the Sahel are stark reminders that humanitarian needs are growing but that many crises could still be prevented or contained.  Mega-trends such as climate change, population growth and rapid urbanisation are putting a strain on humanitarian budgets and adding layers of complexity to the ways in which we are able to respond and meet the needs of hungry, malnourished people.

Against this backdrop organisations such as the World Food Programme are doing powerful and pioneering work to place local communities centre stage when it comes to ensuring their immediate food security and longer term nutritional needs. By working with farmers to help develop and supply crops in countries such as Burkina Faso, WFP is simultaneously sourcing a new network of food suppliers, putting money into local economies and also ensuring countries have a stock of easily accessible and nutritious food – not just for when disaster strikes but in the weeks and months that follow.

The private sector has also started to invest in this kind of smart approach, as demonstrated by the recent launch of President Obama’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. As part of their involvement, private actors will not only invest $3bn in food security projects but will also bring considerable expertise to help improve the technology needed to ensure more and more people have the means to secure their food supply now and in years to come.

Overall, the forward-thinking approaches we are seeing today give me hope – that we have already discovered some of the solutions to meet the humanitarian challenges of tomorrow.


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