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Resilience in Simple Terms Thoughts on resilience, by humanitarian actors in the Sahel

Credit: OCHA

La Résilience en Termes Simples Des pensées sur la résilience, par des acteurs humanitaires au Sahel

Compilation by UNOCHA/ Compilation par UNOCHA For latest updates on the Sahel crisis, follow @DavidGressly and visit

While discussions continue to take place among the members of the AGIR Initiative, humanitarian actors in the Sahel at all levels share their thoughts on resilience through human stories, analysis and definitions of this key term in 2013.

Partners in the Sahel moving towards a common roadmap on resilience By the stakeholders of the AGIR Alliance

Following a series of consultations between Sahelian and West African countries, West African regional organisations, organisations of agricultural producers and pastoralists, the private sector, the civil society, financial partners and nongovernmental organisations, stakeholders involved in food and nutritional security met in Ouagadougou on 6 December 2012 within the framework of the Food Crisis Prevention Network (RPCA) to seal the Global Alliance for Resilience Initiative - Sahel and West Africa. Mère et Enfant. CRÉDIT: ECHO Stakeholders agreed to define resilience as: the capacity of vulnerable households, families and systems to face uncertainty and the risk of shocks, to withstand and respond effectively to shocks, as well as to recover and adapt in a sustainable manner. The general objective for the future set by the stakeholders is to: Structurally and sustainably reduce food and nutritional vulnerability by supporting the implementation of Sahelian and West African policies. The Alliance aims to achieve ‘Zero Hunger’, eliminating hunger and malnutrition, within the next 20 years. A roadmap, based on the Ouagadougou declaration and scheduled for 2013, will provide quantitative specific objectives and monitoring indicators. Read more »

What does resilience mean in the Sahel? By David Gressly, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel In nearly every meeting I attend on resilience, the first fifteen to thirty minutes are spent on coming up with a definition of resilience. It is then usually agreed that resilience means the ability of families, households or communities to absorb shocks. However for many who don´t attend such meetings, this still seems too conceptual and does not give a clear idea of what needs to change in practice. If we are to succeed in building the resilience of households and communities in the Sahel, those involved need to know what we are talking about. I have found that describing what happens to vulnerable households in the face of drought or major increases in the cost of food clarifies the issue. While there are other problems such as floods and epidemics that can have an impact on households, access to food is the major threat households face. Access can be limited by either a local shortfall in food production or an increase in food prices that prevents vulnerable households from purchasing food. So what do households do to survive a drought or high food prices? Read more 

Que signifie la résilience au Sahel? Par David Gressly, Coordonnateur humanitaire régional pour le Sahel Dans presque toutes les réunions organisées sur le thème de la résilience auxquelles je participe, les 15 à 30 premières minutes sont consacrées à tenter de définir ce qu’est la résilience. En règle générale, il est convenu que la résilience est la capacité des familles, des ménages ou des communautés à absorber les chocs. Cependant, pour beaucoup de ceux qui n'ont pas assisté à ces réunions, cette définition est encore trop conceptuelle et ne donne pas une idée claire de ce qui doit changer dans la pratique. Pour parvenir à ériger la résilience des ménages et des communautés dans le Sahel, il faut que les personnes concernées comprennent de quoi nous parlons. A mon avis, c’est en décrivant les conséquences de la sécheresse ou de l’augmentation du prix des aliments sur les ménages vulnérables que l’on clarifie cette question. Bien que d'autres problèmes tels que les inondations et les épidémies peuvent avoir un impact sur les ménages, l'accès limité à la nourriture constitue la grande menace à laquelle ils doivent faire face. L'accès à la nourriture peut être limité en raison, soit d’un déficit de production local, soit d’une augmentation du prix des denrées alimentaires ce qui prive les ménages vulnérables de la capacité d’acheter de la nourriture. Que font alors les ménages pour survivre à une sécheresse ou à l’augmentation du prix des denrées alimentaires? Read more »

Breaking the myth of growth as a panacea: Development actors to identify, protect and build resilience of the poorest people in the Sahel By Cyprien Fabre, Head of Regional Support Office West Africa, ECHO (Directorate General Humanitarian Aids and Civil protection)

Since the 2005 crisis in Niger, the humanitarian community has focused its efforts on the widespread problem of malnutrition. Acute malnutrition started to be measured regularly uncovering appalling malnutrition rates in Niger and, it quickly appeared, throughout the Sahel. Malnutrition management was steadily improved, in spite of the constraints faced by national health systems. With some time and effort, tackling malnutrition is steadily becoming a higher priority for governments in the region. It nevertheless also appeared that those malnutrition rates remained high even in ‘good’ agricultural years, and even in areas with substantial agricultural production. In the Sahel it seems there is no direct connection between agricultural production and malnutrition. And yet, the majority of development projects in recent decades have supported national policies focused on agricultural production with an emphasis on food selfsufficiency and export sectors. But recent studies of the household economy in the Sahel have contradicted the cliché of rural environments where levels of wealth are homogenous. Read more »

Some perspectives on resilience building in Sahel By UNDP West and Central Africa Regional Center colleagues Nathalie Bouché, Poverty Practice Leader & Sophie Baranes, Regional Practice Coordinator, crisis prevention and recovery.

UNDP's tagline "Empowered lives. Resilient nations." reflects the growing importance of the concept of resilience in international development discourse, prompting partners to ensure that human development results are built to last against the spectrum of diverse and multiple stresses or shocks, including food price hikes, climate-induced natural disasters, epidemics, conflicts. Looking into a comprehensive definition of Resilience in the Sahel Although definitions of resilience are still work in progress among actors and practitioners within and outside the UN system they commonly refer to the ability of people, communities or countries to effectively deal with stresses and shocks. The capacity to ‘deal with’ is however variably depicted as a capacity to anticipate, prevent, prepare for, accommodate, absorb, or recover from these stresses and shocks in a sustainable manner. What does building long term resilience in the Sahel require? Read more »

What does resilience mean for 13 year old Minthi? By Léna Thiam, Education specialist in Emergencies in Plan International- West Africa Regional Office

Resilience, resilience, resilience… Everyone speaks about it in the humanitarian world. This word has become actually very “trendy”. But what does resilience really mean? According to Boris Cyrulnik (the person who invented the word), it is the art of navigating in the torrent.

I would define resilience as the human capacity to thrive after difficult circumstances in our life. In humanitarian terms, resilience has the power to give hope to children, women and men in order to rebuild their lives. Minthi´s story is a good example of how resilience can help improve people´s life . 13 year old Minthi managed to escape Islamic groups and save her studies. Minthi is 13 years old and in the 6th grade.

Minthi. CREDIT: Plan International

Her smile hides the challenges she faces trying to learn each day. Eight months ago, Minthi arrived in Segou with her family, leaving the violence in her hometown of Kidal behind.


Women and Resilience in the Sahel: flexible and indestructible By Beatrix Attinger Colijn, Regional IASC GenCap Adviser in Humanitarian Action Boris Cyrulnik is considered the founder of the concept of “resilience’” and has described it, as one can read below, as the art of navigating in the torrent. Bringing the concept to the Sahel region, where torrents are rather scares, one might better compare it with the art of walking through a sand storm. Were you ever caught in a real sand storm and tried to walk upright with a clear vision of where you were going? – Right! When I imagine a typical landscape in Niger, I see camels and men riding them elegantly; and looking around I see some women, carrying water buckets back to the huts, sitting on donkeys riding to the field, or keeping together a group of goats. Being a woman in Niger - and in the Sahel at large - means you are at the very end of the world’s gender equality index list and you might belong to the 63% of Niger’s population living below the poverty line, two thirds of whom are women. The cultural and legal framework will also imply that you will have very limited access to education, land, and heritage. And when a crisis sets in on the region and your life, you will not only have to overcome the inequality of opportunities for women but also the hardship the crisis imposes on the population.

Resilience Niger- CREDIT: Rein Skullerud

Resilience in my language is translated into being flexible and indestructible. The food security crisis has long demanded coping strategies from the population at risk, such as labor migration within countries or across borders. If the male head of the family leaves home in search of work, it is the woman who stays behind with the children, in Niger usually in high numbers, and it is her who will have to reinvent the means to provide for the livelihood of the family. Read more Âť

World Food Programme and resilience building in the Sahel By Corinne Stephenson, Communication Officer in WFP, Regional Office Resilience is a multi-faceted, long-term objective that includes access to basic services (education, health, water and sanitation), food and nutrition security, improved livelihood base and productive safety nets. Resilience can only be achieved with leadership of the governments, ownership by the communities affected and in partnership with all UN actors, donors and non-governmental organizations.

WFP’s presence in vulnerable areas, its understanding of vulnerability, focus on community participation and support to education – particularly that of girls – makes the organization a key player in the resilience agenda. We can inform policy-making by governments, work with communities through food- and cash-for-work to build durable assets (improve land and water conservation, for example) and work with partners to give the projects the technical rigor necessary to have a lasting effect on the lives and livelihoods of people we serve. What are the principles for action to build resilience? Read more »

What does resilience mean for Amadou & Moussa? By Esther Huerta García, Communication & Social Media Officer OCHA Sahel These young boys below might not have participated in the global debate around resilience in the Sahel region. Still, they know very well what it means to live in a family whose resilience has been completely eroded.

Losing resilience - in very simple terms Amadou and Moussa live in Mali and are among the generation of children that have missed a whole year of school in 2012 due to the food crisis. Their parents, after this year´s drought, were forced to reduce the quantity and quality of food they could give to their children.

Children playing in Mopti- CREDIT: ECHO

When food is not sufficient,this is the first strategy many households follow to adapt to this new situation. After that, as the crisis continued, the family was forced to sell their livestock and take out a loan. They had nothing left. Read more »

How international aid can support resilience By Andrew Thow, Humanitarian Policy Officer, OCHA Since the first signs that the food and nutrition crisis in the Sahel was getting worse in late 2011, ‘resilience’ has become the most talked about topic in humanitarian policy circles. We must get better at preventing recurrent crises in the Sahel and other regions. On this, everyone agrees. But when we talk about doing business differently, what exactly does that mean?

Niger, 2012: Man in Molia village tends vegetables.CR: D. Ohana, OCHA

Resilience is just a word, and when we are talking about families and communities it sounds simple enough. People are resilient when they can cope with hardships. Farmers with drought-resistant crops won’t lose their livelihoods when the rains fail. Well-nourished children can get a better education and so provide for their own families in the future.

But the word ‘resilience’ is also being used to sum up a series of changes in the way the international aid system supports people and countries affected by recurrent crises. In particular, it has come to mean more closely integrating short-term humanitarian relief and longer-term development assistance, so that together they are more effective. Many governments in the region have taken the lead in preparing national plans to do just that. The UN has a common approach on building resilience in the Sahel, which brings together its different programs. CREDIT- Pierre Peron, OCHA

Read more »

The Keyhole Garden – Everyday Resilience in Action By Michael Hill, Senior Writer in Catholic Relief Services (CRS) For many of us, a vegetable garden is a relaxing diversion as well as a welcome source of tasty, fresh produce for our dinner tables. But such a garden can transform the lives of those who struggle to get enough to eat. The Keyhole Garden, named for its shape, is grown on a raised bed made of locally available materials. Its waisthigh design makes it easy for those too old to work the fields to maintain. Properly situated, it can provide crops year round – and a fantastic way to build a family's resilience.

Women working: Credit WFP

For a family whose diet is dominated by a starchy staple crop -- corn or cassava or rice -- such vitamin and nutrient-rich additions to meals can mean the difference between sickness and health. The garden can also provide produce to sell, income that helps the family withstand a bad harvest. Catholic Relief Services has taught thousands of families around the world how to build these transformative gardens, and now we're bringing the idea to the Sahel.

Watch how simple it is to make one:

Maabisi Phooko and her keyhole garden. CREDIT: Kim Pozniak/CRS

For more information on CRS in the region, see

Mali: Beyond food relief: building community resiliency Words and photos by Maria Mutya Frio, Food Crisis Communications Manager in World Vision, West Africa Regional Office We’re in the middle of a 120-hectare field, baking under the scorching sun but Kiasy Mounkous, village chief of Ouane commune is all smiles. He stretches out his arms as he proudly shows us the land his community prepared for the planting season.

San province in southern Mali was one of the hardest hit areas by the food crisis in West Africa. In the Sahel belt, more than 18 million people across Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Senegal and Chad have been affected. Droughts in late 2011 significantly decreased harvests, depleting food stocks that led to shortages in many provinces. This year, excessive rains inundated crops.

Food supplies in markets dwindled as prices soared. For many families, especially children, this meant not having enough to eat day after day. The youth migrated to neighboring villages in the hope of getting better food security.


Le sahel peut-il sortir du cycle des crises alimentaires? Quelques réflexions pédagogiques sur la définition de la résilience en matière de nutrition

Par Salimata Wade, Professeur Titulaire de Physiologie et Nutrition Humaine, Université Cheick Anta Diop (UCAD), Dakar (Senegal)

« Les êtres humains, confrontés aux difficultés de la vie, réagissent de façons diverses : les uns cèdent à l’accablement, les autres, mus par une force étonnante, expriment une capacité à résister et à se construire »

Durant les 5 dernières années, malgré l’existence de zones à risque, la production de céréales a augmenté en Afrique subsaharienne (CILSS). Et pourtant, depuis les années 70, la production alimentaire per capita au Sahel est la plus faible du monde et ne peut nourrir la population toujours croissante.

Quelques points qui peuvent expliquer en partie la crise nutritionnelle au Sahel L’agriculture et l’élevage sous-développés et inadaptés Les pertes post récoltes L’augmentation croissante d’aliments importés (blé, riz) La crise alimentaire et financière mondiale récente mais durable L’absence d’industries de transformation alimentaires Les changements climatiques Satisfation des besoins nutritionnels à travers l´exemple du Sénégal.

Présentation de Prof. Wade. À droite, Prof. Wade et Recteur M. Ndiaye

Read more »

La résilience dans le domaine de la Sécurité Alimentaire Par Xavier Huchon, Délégué sécurité alimentaire Afrique de l´Ouest et sahelienne/Croix Rouge francaise

Renforcer la résilience dans le domaine de la Sécurité Alimentaire signifie élargir les capacités de choix des populations fragiles. Cela passe par l’amélioration des moyens d’existence des ménages et de leur capital (monétaire, cheptel, terre, etc.) afin de leur permettre à long terme de mieux résister et s’adapter aux chocs.

Khadija habite un village de la région de Zinder (Niger). Elle est bénéficiaire d’une intervention de la Croix Rouge. Son témoignage : «sans votre appui j’aurais été dans l’obligation de vendre ma dernière chèvre pour acheter à manger. Grâce au transfert monétaire, j’ai acheté du mil, du sorgho, des condiments pour nourrir ma famille ainsi que des semences ».

Aujourd’hui Khadija a commencé à récolter son champ avec son mari et confie que les récoltes seront si prometteuses que le ménage pourra en bénéficier jusqu’à la prochaine campagne agricole.

Khadija (avec son fils au dos) discute avec un travailleur de la CROIX ROUGE FRANCAISE

Plus de photos de Khadija Read more »

Some personal reflections on resilience in the Sahel By Joachim Theis, Regional Child Protection Adviser in UNICEF West & Central Africa Resilience has certainly become the new buzz word in the Sahel. The resilience agenda makes a case for ending the recurrent food and nutrition crises in the Sahel. My first exposure to international development came in the mid-70s when my parents supported the

humanitarian response to the drought in Niger. Ten years later I worked in the Sudan during another famine. At the time, we identified desertification as the culprit – now we blame the food and nutrition crisis on global warming.


Whatever the cause, it is bad and it does not seem to go away. Billions of dollars have been spent over the past forty years on humanitarian response in the Sahel, but the frequency and severity of food and nutrition crises in the Sahel do not seem to decline. So, mobilizing governments and development actors to build resilient families, communities and nations in the Sahel and to end the recurrent food and nutrition crises is a compelling proposition.

Credit: UNICEF Niger/2012/Asselin

See 5 more reflections on resilience

Oumou Moussa: a resilient woman

Video by UNOCHA, with the contribution from CBM

Watch here:

Due to drought and poor harvests, a food crisis is looming in Niger. There are solutions. In a village just outside the capital, Niamey, Oumou Moussa is helping to feed her community with the produce from a garden that she started with the help of international NGO, CBM

La résilience au Tchad Par Ahmat Payouni, coordinateur de l´ONG Secadev à l’est du Tchad

La résilience dans un contexte d’urgence signifie qu’on cherche par tous les moyens à renforcer les capacités des populations victimes d’une catastrophe naturelle ou humaine à résister, à subvenir à leurs besoins. A l’est du Tchad, nous vivons dans un environnement naturellement fragile. Ces dernières années, cet environnement est davantage fragilisé par les évènements survenus au Darfour, notamment l’arrivée massive des réfugiés soudanais mais aussi par la désertification. Vu que les populations de cette région sont très dépendantes de l’agriculture, de l’Elevage et du commerce, chaque fois que l’année est déficitaire, les hommes et les animaux souffrent de malnutrition. Dans un contexte d’urgence comme celui là, la résilience signifie renforcer les capacités de ces populations pour qu’elles puissent développer des stratégies qui leur permettent de résister à ces chocs. Pour le Secadev, cette résilience se traduit par la mise en place des stratégies qui encouragent les populations à pratiquer le maraîchage, à utiliser les semences plus adaptées aux conditions climatiques, la diversification des cultures, à bien gérer les sources d’eau et les productions agricoles. Read more »

Agriculture et résilience : Semences et Espoir au Sahel By FAO

L'assistance de la FAO à la région du Sahel, frappée par des sécheresses durant quatre des cinq dernières années, cible les personnes vulnérables afin qu'elles passent sans encombre la période de soudure tout en leur offrant la possibilité de renforcer leur résilience face à de futures situations d'urgence. Donnons la parole à quelques bénéficiaires rencontrés en juin 2012. Ils parlent de leurs espérances suite à l'appui dont ils ont bénéficié. Car lutter pour renforcer la résilience des populations, c'est aussi, en terme simples, redonner de l'espoir, faire en sorte que les bénéficiaires regardent vers l'avenir avec confiance. L'une des bénéficiaires de cette assistance est Ouma Moussa, mère de deux enfants. Elle fait partie des 170 femmes du village de Kirari (nord du Niger) qui ont reçu un assortiment de 50 kg de semences de légumineuses offert par la FAO en même temps que des outils agricoles basiques et des intrants.

CREDIT Issouf Sanogo/FAO

FAO provides emergency assistance-CREDIT Issouf Sanogo/FAO

Ouma Moussa affirme que la petite parcelle de 100m2 qu'elle cultive peut produire jusqu'à 70 kilos de pommes de terre, des choux, des laitues, des tomates et des poivrons. Bien que les pommes de terre aient été introduites récemment au Sahel, "mes enfants les adorent", dit-elle. "Je les mets juste à bouillir." Prochain objectif : acheter une vache Read more »

Resilience in simple terms / La Résilience en Termes Simples