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Addressing weather shocks: Promoting resilient aspirations for the rural poor - 2020 Resilience Conference Brief 19

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INTRODUCTION

There is wide recognition that building the resilience of the rural poor requires helping the affected recover from shocks such as negative weather shocks. Myriad investments and policies respond to such shocks by helping the poor rebuild their assets and prior livelihoods. However, new research from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) suggests that individual welfare is also intimately tied with what an individual aspires to achieve in the future—that is, a person’s aspirations in realms such as income, assets, education, and social status. It is less clear how weather shocks affect the aspirations of the poor, and what role—if any—policy can play in promoting resilient aspirations following shocks.

To aspire means to seek to attain or accomplish a particular goal. Aspirations play an important role in everyday decisionmaking. They help determine whether individuals make investments to better themselves economically and socially, and whether they engage in potentially profitable economic risk taking. As a result, having high aspirations can improve the resilience of the poor in the face of increasingly common weather shocks.

A growing body of research also suggests that negative weather shocks may dampen long‐term economic prospects for the poor. Individuals exposed to adverse weather shocks invest less in education and health than those not so exposed. Furthermore, adverse weather conditions have been linked with reduced survival probabilities of girls, more birth defects, a decrease in life expectancy, and even increased political violence.

These findings hint at a relationship between adverse weather shocks and aspirations. Weather shocks may lead to changes in individuals’ everyday realities—such as their health or the levels of violence and instability in their communities— which can negatively affect aspirations. Further, lower aspirations may help explain reduced productive investments following shocks. Such a feedback loop would have major implications for resilience.

New IFPRI research on rural Pakistan suggests that adverse weather shocks indeed lower the future‐looking aspirations of the poor. This finding is consequential because it suggests a double burden of such shocks: they deplete the income and assets of the poor today while also contributing to lower aspirations for (and thus investments in) the future. This double burden demands a double role for resilience strategies: to restore the livelihoods of the poor today while also raising aspirations for the future. These findings are consistent with IFPRI research in rural Ethiopia on the formation and impact of aspirations. The various IFPRI studies suggest that the poor suffer from especially low aspirations, and having higher aspirations may reduce poverty and improve resilience by leading to greater productive investments.

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