François Grünewald

“Resilience” – buzzword or useful concept?

When we spoke of resilience in 1999, in our report on the famine in Bar El Ghazal, it was not understood by some. This concept from the field of psychology, which describes the capacity of individuals to absorb and survive stress and adversity, was being applied to the living conditions of the inhabitants of the great wetlands of the Nilotic depression in Southern Sudan, one of the harshest environments imaginable. The concept of resilience could also be applied to humanitarian operations in Southern Sudan, which are very fragile as they are dependent on the presence of expatriates, the security situation and flight authorizations from Khartoum.

Now in 2012, it is the latest fashionable concept. With the strategic importance it has been given by DFID and the European Commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva (initiatives in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel), it has practically become unavoidable. The RESILIENCE research project, launched in 2009 (CARE Holland, Groupe URD and the University of Wageningen), has led us to clarify the issues behind this word: resilience, or the capacity of systems to absorb shocks and bounce back, is, in the end, the result of a broad spectrum of phenomena, in which international aid can play its part: anticipation of changes (climatic threats and economic, demographic and technological changes), risk prevention and reduction, strengthening of response capacity and strategic choices for development (climate change adaptation and poverty reduction). All around the world resilience is being stretched, as can be seen from the agro-pastoral crises in the Sahel or urban warfare methods which are making access to healthcare, water, food and energy more and more difficult. It is there to be seen every day, whether for the survival of communities or in the bomb-ravaged city of Homs.

It may have become a fashionable concept, but that is a good thing! It remains to be seen how it will be used, and it is to be hoped that a new “buzzword” will not replace it too quickly.

François Grünewald