Resilience in complex food crises: The case for building better evidence

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©WFP/Giulio d'Adamo

Impact Evaluation in the humanitarian space Resilience in complex food crises: The case for building better evidence

In 2019, the world recorded 135 million "acutely food-insecure people in crisis or worse". More than three quarters of them lived in countries affected by conflict or extreme weather events.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to almost double this figure to a projected 265 million. Long-term projections indicate that food security will be increasingly affected by future change in climate, through increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns and greater frequency of extreme weather events.

Complex and recurring food crises, driven by conflict, extreme weather events and economic shocks, have challenged the humanitarian community to think beyond meeting immediate food needs. An integrated approach to food assistance, which also focuses on people’s ability to continuously prepare for, respond to, and recover from shocks and stressors, is imperative to prevent humanitarian situations from spiralling into protracted crises.

Understanding Resilience

The concept of ‘resilience’ is useful because it connects shorter-term actions to improve food security and wellbeing with longer-term development objectives. The Food Security Information Network defines resilience as the “capacity to ensure that shocks and stressors do not have long-lasting adverse development consequences”. WFP views resilience as a set of capacities that are associated with improving long-term wellbeing while dealing with complex food security challenges.

A resilience approach recognizes that people’s food security situation changes as they face seasons, climatic or other shocks or stressors. That is, households who may have the same food security status at one point could be in very different situations a few months later. Therefore, examining resilience through the lens of food security and nutrition requires capturing transitory shocks, identifying sources of recurring food insecurity like lean seasons, and mapping recovery trajectories. This calls for repeated measurement of food security outcomes that allows for observing short-term changes in addition to long-term trends.

WFP’s Office of Evaluation has developed the Climate and Resilience Impact Evaluation Window in partnership with the Asset Creation and Livelihoods Unit and the Climate and Disaster Risk Reduction Programme, as well as the World Bank’s Development Impact Evaluation group. The decision to open the Climate and Resilience Window is based on the recognition that WFP needs rigorous evidence to support operations in contexts affected by multiple shocks and stressors, with increasing frequency and intensity. Windows are portfolios of six or more impact evaluations on a specific thematic area, developed as part of WFP’s new strategy for centrally managing and delivering  impact evaluations. Under the Climate and Resilience Window, WFP will work with programme teams and implementing partners to understand how the organization can effectively contribute to resilience building.

Today, governments, NGOs and international organizations employ a range of interventions that would support individuals, households and communities to maintain food security and nutrition in the face of shocks and stressors. These include activities that aim to meet immediate food needs, build assets and skills that support or diversify livelihoods, and strengthen institutional capacity. A central part of these efforts is measuring the impact of programmes aiming to strengthen resilience. To date, resilience literature has largely looked at the overall impact of individual programmes or packages of interventions that focus on improving  resilience. However, there is a need for better understanding of how individual interventions or activities, aimed at improving specific well-being outcomes, can be effectively combined to strengthen and sustain resilience. It is also important to understand whether large integrated packages of support, which are costly, can be made more cost-effective through better understanding how individual components (e.g. asset transfers, training, etc.) contribute to resilience. Identifying the synergies between different activities or interventions will not only improve programming but will also allow us to reach the most vulnerable communities and individuals efficiently.

An Evidence Agenda for Resilience

There are three broad evidence priorities for resilience, which would help us design programmes that simultaneously address the long-term capacities required to improve food security and nutrition, while meeting immediate food needs:

  1. WHAT interventions are best suited for building and sustaining the capacities to absorb and adapt to shocks and maintain a positive food security and development trajectory?  Assisting individuals and communities to progress from needing humanitarian support to a development trajectory calls for multi-faceted programming, tailored to needs of different communities/individuals facing different conditions at different points in time. WFP programmes often have programme activities which focus on specific outcomes, ranging from shock mitigation, and livelihood diversification, to institutional strengthening. Understanding how individual programmes or activities contribute to different resilience capacities would be critical in developing programmes that not only build but also sustain resilience.
  1. HOW can these interventions be combined or sequenced to ensure that multiple and complementary resilience capacities are developed? WFP has continuously aimed for better integration of its resilience activities to ensure that communities can access the necessary services to strengthen and maintain their resilience over time. To support further integration, it is critical to know what an effective ‘resilience package’ would constitute in different contexts, and who will benefit most from it.
  1. WHEN are individual resilience interventions most impactful in overcoming the effect of shocks, stressors, or seasonal variations in food security? Evidence indicates that seasonal variations puts considerable stress on food security.  Understanding the impact of timing allows WFP to accommodate this inherent variability throughout the year in its own programming, while also gaining important information on how households bounce back from shocks or stressors.

Faced with complex emergencies, its critical for WFP to ensure that programmes sustain and strengthen progress made towards ending hunger and malnutrition. Better understanding resilience will help WFP to design and deliver programmes that put long-term development goals at the centre, even as we serve on the frontlines of conflicts, disasters and other humanitarian crises.                                                                                                                                                                 

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Watch our video introducing WFP’s Impact Evaluation Strategy here.