Entries tagged with “disaster risk reduction”.


Back in September, HURDL released its final report on our work assessing Mali’s Agrometeorological Advisory program – an effort, conceived and run by the Government of Mali, to deliver weather and climate information to farmers to improve agricultural outcomes in the country. You’d think this would be a straightforwardly good idea – you know, more information (or indeed any information) being better than none. So our findings were a bit stunning:

  • As we found in our preliminary report, less than 20% of those with access to the advisories are actually using them
  • Nearly everyone using the advisories is a man
  • Nearly everyone using the advisories is already relatively well-off
  • The advisories were most used in the parts of the country where precipitation is most secure (see map below).

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 5.10.27 PM

This was, to say the least, a set of surprising findings. And, on their surface, they suggest that the program is another example of development failure: a project that only reaches those who least need the help it is providing.

But that conclusion only holds if this program was oriented toward development and adaptation in the first place…and it was not. The program was established in 1981 as an effort to address conditions of acute food insecurity closely linked to severe drought. The goal was simple: use short-term and seasonal advisories to help farmers make better decisions under stress and boost food availability in Mali. This program, in other words, was an effort to address a particular, acute problem (food insecurity linked to extreme drought) through a very specific means (boosting food availability). This was not a development project, it was a humanitarian response to a crisis. And as such, it was brilliant – and each of the findings above demonstrate why.

  • The goal was to rapidly boost yields of grains (and cotton), for which men have most decision-making authority.
  • The goal was to rapidly boost overall yields of grains to improve availability within Mali, and therefore targeting the wealthy farmers who had the access to equipment and animal traction necessary to use the advisories made sense.
  • The goal was to rapidly boost grain production…and much more grain is grown in the wetter parts of Mali than in the dryer areas in the north.

In short, the project was never intended to address development goals – it was supposed to address a particular aspect of a humanitarian crisis through particular means, and its design targeted exactly the right decision-makers/actors to achieve that goal. Indeed, one could argue that the rather narrow use of advisories speaks to how well designed this humanitarian intervention was. In short, the gendered/wealth-dependent character of advisory use, and the fact they are most used in areas that are already very agriculturally productive, are not bugs in this project: they are features!

The problem, then, is not with the design of the project, but the fact it continued for more than 30 years, and some 25 years after the end of the droughts. As a narrowly-focused effort to address a particular, short-term humanitarian crisis, the gendered/wealth-based outcomes of the project were acceptable trade-offs to achieve higher grain yields. But over 30 years, and without the justification of an acute crisis, it is likely this project has served to unnecessarily exacerbate agricultural inequality in rural southern Mali.

HURDL is now engaged in a project to redesign this program, to shift it from a (now unnecessary) humanitarian assistance effort to a development/adaptation project. With this shift in priorities comes a shift in how we view the outcomes of the program – the very things that made it an effective humanitarian assistance program (gendered and income-based inequality) are now aspects of the project that we must change to ensure that the widest number of farmers possible have access to information they can use in their livelihoods decisions as we move into conditions of greater economic and environmental uncertainty. In short, we now have to bridge the DRR and Humanitarian Response/Development and Adaptation divide that has so plagued those of us concerned with the situation of those in the Global South. This will be tremendously challenging, but through this process we hope to not only work with Malian colleagues to design and deliver a development and adaptation version of this program to Malian farmers, but also to learn more about how to bridge the particular time/scope emphases of these two assistance arenas.

The other day I posted on the need to reorient how we think about relief work, especially disaster risk reduction (DRR), if we are to connect relief to development, and DRR to adaptation.  Well, for those who share my concerns, I have good news.  I’m on the US Government review panel for the IPCC’s Special Report on Extreme Weather Events (SREX), which means I just got four second order drafts of chapters for the report.  They are brutally long and detailed . . . and they are fantastic.  They are an amazing effort to link disaster risk reduction (DRR) and the way that relief folks think about the world to adaptation and the way development people think.  I can’t excerpt the report yet (not for circulation, and besides, not yet out of the review process), but I think it is safe to say I can shelve the report I thought I was going to have to co-author with a colleague at work about the DRR-to-adaptation link.  We’ll just condense this into a few pages and make it something the agency and missions can wrap their heads around.

Seriously, those in academia will be able to teach from this report – and to be honest, it should be required reading for anyone employed by one of the large agencies that does both development and relief – and that includes all of those who work for “implementing partners.”  How often can you say that about an assessment report?

I’ll post when the document goes public – I have no idea what the timeline is, except that we are managing the comments on the second order draft, which typically means we are getting down to the end of the process.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the divide between humanitarian assistance (HA) and development – and contrary to what some would tell you, there is a significant divide there.  I am, by training, a development person – at least, that is how I tend to think.  I’ve no experience in the HA world – I have not done academic work on disasters and emergencies, nor do I have field experience addressing either.  Yet I find myself serving a fellowship in the HA Bureau of the world’s largest development agency, trying to find ways to better connect our HA efforts and our development efforts – like everyone else in this world, we have all kinds of problems fitting these two worlds together: delayed handoffs, no handoff at all, programs that have no bearing on one another, making planned handoffs impossible, etc.

Working specifically in the area of climate change, the gulf between HA and development work has become really striking.  I’ve been trying to find ways to bridge the HA/development divide via adaptation – thinking about how things like disaster risk reduction and our best practices for relief and recovery might be aligned with adaptation programming to create at least one threat that pulls us coherently from emergency intervention to long-term transformation.  What I have come to realize, in this process, is that the issue of climate change highlights the different cultures of HA and development, at least in this organization.

Simply put, it is not clear to me that the HA side of things has asked or answered the most basic of all questions: what problem are we trying to solve by addressing GCC issues?  Right now the only thing that seems to resonate with the HA side of the house is the idea that we work on climate change to reduce the need for future humanitarian intervention.  While important, that is not a development goal – that is the outcome of achieving other development goals that might lead to more resilient societies with lower sensitivity to and greater adaptive capacity for addressing climate change impacts.  To pull HA and development together around the climate change issue requires thinking about HA programming as furthering development goals – and this, quite simply, is not how most HA folks with which I interact see themselves or their work.  Instead, these folks seem to view the task of humanitarian intervention and crisis management as a goal unto itself.  If you think I am off-base, take the explanation I got from a (ranking) member of an HA office when he was asked about his office’s limited office’s participation in the planning phase of country development strategies: “That’s DA (development assistance) money. We program HA (humanitarian assistance) money.”  Really.  That was the response.  Welcome to my world.  Oh, and the world of a hell of a lot of people in this field, given how many implementing partners we fund.

So you can see the challenge here in linking things via adaptation.  Let’s look at disaster risk reduction (DRR), programming typically handled by HA organizations and specialists.  To link hydrometeorological DRR efforts (think floods and droughts) to adaptation planning requires seeing DRR as more than an end unto itself – DRR would have to fit into larger programs that contribute to development goals which have the overall effect of lowering vulnerability and therefore the need for future humanitarian intervention.  This is not how the HA community I interact with approaches DRR.  Instead, DRR is programmed in the context of specific HA assessments, and with HA-specific goals that may or may not align in any meaningful way with the much broader, longer-term project that is adaptation.

The gulf between HA and development is, therefore, probably only close-able if those on the HA side of the house are willing to reorient themselves toward larger development goals . . . and at least where I sit, that is not going to happen for both cultural reasons and reasons of mandate.  This is a serious problem – we need to close this gap, or we will prolong the programming of HA in places where a decent, coherent program of HA-development planning might get us out of a spiral of disasters.  I see HA as a foundation of development – something that could be built on to create robust change – but this will only be true when the HA side of the house decides it wants to be that foundation.

An interesting post at Blood and Milk yesterday led a commenter to note that we shouldn’t use the terms “international development” and “aid” interchangeably – that the “real big story about development is exactly that it is NOT all about aid, but about domestic elites establishing pro-growth rules.”

For me, this raises two issues – the first is about the relationship between aid and development, and the second about the character of development itself.  Alanna Shaikh, who writes the Blood and Milk blog, added a new post today that addressed the first.  In this post, Shaikh argues “You can, and do, get development without aid. I’m pretty sure you don’t get it without economic growth.”  Well, sort of.  I currently work in one of the world’s largest development/aid organizations.  I am the climate change coordinator for the Bureau most directly responsible for our aid activities (as opposed to our development activities).  This puts me in something of an odd position – I am a development/environment person tasked with thinking and program-building for the long-term in an aid organization that is often reactive in its programming and its mandate.  Why, then, did I take this position?  Because of the need to better connect aid to development (and vice versa).  Right now, aid and development exist in very different worlds – even in the same building, there is little communication or coordination between these two missions.  This galls people on both sides of the divide, from leadership down the line.  The vision of an agency like mine is that aid should transition to development, ideally seamlessly (though at this point we would take any sort of transition).  Adaptation to climate change is one area where such transitions can be created out of existing programs – our aid teams work on hydrometeorological disaster risk reduction (DRR), and our development side works on adaptation to climate change.  These are very similar areas of work, differentiated largely by timeframe.  One of my jobs over the next few years will be to better connect our hydromet DRR and adaptation programming to build one connection between aid and development – a thread that we might use to close other aid/development gulfs (such as in food aid and agricultural development).

Aid may not be the same thing as development, but it should not be seen completely separately from development – my Bureau sees its constituency as that component of the population that is largely left behind by economic growth programming.  Nobody debates that a significant percentage of the population slips through the cracks of economic development programming – our job is to ensure that those who slip through the cracks do not remain there, but have an opportunity to recover and participate in society, politics and the economy.  So, when I hear someone argue that there can be development without aid, I strongly disagree – at least at the national scale (communities are a different issue).  At the national scale, you cannot have socially or environmentally sustainable development that abandons a significant portion of society to its fate.  Aid is critical to development – or it should be, if only we could better coordinate aid and development efforts.

Second, I am deeply concerned by the continued connection of development to economic growth.  The linkages between human well-being and economic growth are shaky at best (most correlations can be readily challenged and dismantled) – largely because development, globalization and growth do not really work the way people seem to think they do (my book is an exploration of this point).  Further, economic growth cannot be eternal.  3% growth per year for everyone forever is simply beyond the physical capacity of the planet.  I’m pretty sure that development is going to have to detach itself from economic growth (ironically, this would mostly entail simply acknowledging the reality of what’s been happening around the world for the last 60 years) if it is ever to accomplish its end goal – the improvement of the human condition in this world.

Finally, a thought on the two metastories of development that Shaikh raises at the end of her post.  I agree that development is neither all success or all failure – it plays out differently in different places, and we have better understandings of why in some areas (health, for example) than in others (transportation development, for example).  I would argue that this is a symptom of a larger problem – we really don’t understand what is happening in the Global South most of the time, and as a result we are often measuring and analyzing the wrong things when we do project scoping or evaluation work.  Our assumptions about how the world works shape the way we frame our questions about the world, and the data we gather to answer those questions.  The problem, simply put, is that we are often asking the wrong question.  Sure, every once in a while our assumptions align with events on the ground, and a project works.  But the rest of the time, our assumptions do not align with reality, and we run into difficulty understanding what is happening in particular places, and why particular projects fail.  The end result?  A seeming random set of project outcomes, where things work in one place but not another for reasons that seem hard to discern.  There are more fundamental metanarratives of development out there than success or failure – they are narratives about how globalization works and how development works that shape our very ability to assess success or failure.  And those narratives actually misinform many of our best efforts.