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Climate change, environmental degradation, water scarcity, disease, rapid population growth, unplanned urbanization: in today’s world, heightened risk and fragility are threatening to reverse major development gains.

Shocks and stressors such as conflict, natural hazards and political instability can have a devastating impact. Children who are malnourished in their first 1,000 days of life may suffer cognitive and physical impairment. In times of war or disaster, schools are the first to close. Historically, humanitarian interventions have saved countless lives and restored the livelihoods of millions. But they have rarely tackled underlying vulnerabilities.

It is true that development programmes are hard to implement in fragile or deeply impoverished contexts, prone to recurrent crises. But evidence suggests that by embedding resilience in their interventions, development actors can lessen the effects of shocks and stressors, and thus more durably relieve human suffering.

For its part, by adopting a resilience perspective, the humanitarian community can ensure that people rebuild better after disasters. Resilience measures, in fact, are cost-effective on two counts: they reduce the need to spend on cyclical crisis response, while helping overcome a legacy of development gaps.

Thanks to half a century of experience, the World Food Programme (WFP) has acquired a comparative advantage in building resilience for food security and nutrition. We have invested in early-warning and preparedness systems – including supply chain management, logistics and emergency communications – that allow governments to prevent crises or respond quickly when they happen. We are helping to develop national capacities to manage disaster risk through finance and risk-transfer tools, such as weather risk insurance. Our expertise includes vulnerability analysis and mapping, as well as support to social protection systems. In several of our operations, we have developed productive safety nets through community-based asset creation programmes: this means that in exchange for food assistance, beneficiaries engage in public works – say, local infrastructure projects – that promote their food security in the long term.

This growing body of experience has informed our understanding; it is now helping shift our practice. These days, wherever possible, a “resilience lens” is applied at the stage of programme design, and subsequently at all stages of the programme cycle. We have learned that no two settings are alike, and that long-term collaboration is crucial. In each distinct context, we must determine how our actions can be best layered, integrated, and sequenced with the strategies of national governments and the programmes of our partners. WFP’s current transition to Country Strategic Plans, whereby national needs and priorities are jointly assessed and agreed with governments and local stakeholders, must be seen in this light: they provide a long-term planning framework that allows us to put resilience-building at the heart of our programmes.

More than 80%
of the world's food insecure live in countries that are prone to natural shocks and are characterized by land and ecosystem degradation
First 1,000 days
Children who are malnourished in the first 1,000 days from conception to their second birthday may suffer cognitive and physical impairment
218 million people
were affected by natural disasters on average per year over the period 1994-2013