Resilience: New Utopia or New Tyranny? Reflection about the Potentials and Limits of the Concept of Resilience in Relation to Vulnerability Reduction Programmes

from Institute of Development Studies
Published on 30 Sep 2012 View Original

Can resilience bring something new to poverty alleviation?

A new analysis by researchers at from the Institute of Development Studies tries to shed light on the advantages as well as the dangers of adopting resilience in vulnerability reduction programmes.

In the last two decades, the concept of resilience has made its way into academia where is now becoming a central paradigm in many disciplines, possibly replacing sustainability as the ultimate objective of development.

At the same time, practitioners and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are now increasingly exploring its implementation in the field. The concept is becoming so influential that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) explicitly mentioned and defined it in its recent report on extreme events and disasters.

In UK, while the term was almost completely absent from any official documents until the early 2000s, it is now publicly recognised as a central objective for the Department of International Development, alongside poverty reduction and economic growth.

How should we see this emerging trend? Is that a good thing? In particular can the concept of resilience bring some new and positive element to the field of poverty reduction and development, or is this just a way to mask some of the current challenges we are facing in achieving the Millennium Development Goals?

The IDS report found that while there is little doubt that resilience thinking can be useful, the term also has its limitations and needs to be used with some caveats in mind. Resilience is a useful concept especially because it helps us adopting a holistic view of the problem. It brings communities of practice to the table who have so far had difficulties to communicate and to work together. But the development community still doesn’t know enough about how to use resilience – therefore, before it becomes a key framing concept in development, we need to clarify a couple of issues:

Resilience is not necessarily always good or positive: Strengthening the overall resilience of a particular community may be at the detriment of a marginalized group within that community.

Discussions about the importance of building resilience as a tool for poverty alleviation are flawed: There is no direct relation between poverty reduction and wellbeing on one hand, and resilience building on the other. In fact people can be very resilient and very unwell.

There is some risk of manipulation: In the context of climate change adaptation there is a real danger of mis-use, or abuse of the term, as it seems to be increasingly co-opted to accommodate rather than to challenge forms of development that have clear responsibility in climate change and other global environmental problems.

Can resilience bring some new element to the field of poverty reduction and development? It can certainly help as a process, but we need to understand it better before we can use it, and more importantly resilience cannot - and should not - be used as a replacement for poverty alleviation interventions.