With the global population exceeding 7 billion, the earth’s resources are under increasing strain, resulting in more crises and people needing help than ever before. In response, the Red Cross has evolved its approach to providing aid.
As the numbers rise – more conflict over limited resources, more weather-related disasters, more poverty and food crises – the Red Cross is bridging relief aid and development for a more sustainable future.
Alyson Lewis, resilience team manager, says: “In the communities where we work overseas, people face extremely difficult situations, often made worse by underlying poverty. This makes it difficult to break away from dependency on aid.
“At the British Red Cross we are constantly reviewing the way we work, aiming to be more effective, and as a result we’ve developed a ‘resilience approach’ for international programmes. This means whether we’re working on emergency response, disaster recovery or a longer-term programme, the result will be a community better able to withstand future threats to their wellbeing.”
The resilience approach helps people identify risks ahead of time, reduce these risks, and be ready to respond after a crisis. As a result, lives are saved and people can recover quickly, with less need for emergency aid.
“Building resilient communities depends on the context and understanding the risks people face,” says Alyson. “In Nepal, a country highly prone to disasters, local people have identified a need for practical skills and knowledge to help them prepare for an earthquake or act in the immediate aftermath of one.
“Poor quality construction in the Kathmandu Valley means the majority of buildings are likely to cause many deaths in the event of an earthquake. In February, we started supporting the Nepal Red Cross’ three-year programme to address the risks of earthquakes and other hazards locals are concerned about, such as landslides and epidemics.”
Another major risk for many communities is lack of access to food. More people die from hunger than HIV, TB and malaria combined. Pregnant women and children are more vulnerable to malnutrition, and climate change is predicted to increase child malnutrition by an additional 20 per cent by 2050.
Breaking the cycle of hunger is not impossible. However, it requires governments and organisations to invest in developing long-term resilience, such as improving irrigation and agricultural practices, and supporting women in small-scale farming. This can make a huge difference as women are usually responsible for a lot of the work in producing food for their families, but they often lack access to resources.
In Africa this year, millions of people across the Sahel have suffered from a terrible food crisis.
However, Habsatou Abdulaye, who lives in Burkina Faso, where regular food crises occur, has a different story to tell. As part of a Red Cross programme which helps women establish vegetable gardens, she’s managed to grow enough food to help her eight children survive this year’s drought.
As she draws water, from the well the Burkinabe Red Cross helped build, there is no shade and you can almost hold the heat, it’s so heavy. But it’s clear what Habsatou means when she says: “I feel like this project takes you from heat and puts you in a fresh place.”
From relief to resilience
“Resilience isn’t a quick fix answer,” says Alyson. “But it’s an approach that, given time, can help vulnerable communities and individuals to cope, and maintain their dignity when facing adversity. What distinguishes resilience from bare survival is people anticipating, dealing with, and recovering from crises without becoming dependent on handouts and without compromising their long-term prospects.”
Mina Mondol, who survived Bangladesh’s 2009 Cyclone Aila, but lost her home, knows exactly what this means.
“Me and my husband used to be daily labourers in the fields,” Mina says. “But after the cyclone there was no work.”
However, following support from a British Red Cross programme which helped survivors establish different and sustainable ways to earn a living, Mina’s family is thriving.
“We’ve started our own business cultivating and selling crabs,” she says. “It’s going really well. We’ve even made enough money to build a new home.”
With future savings, Mina and her husband plan to send their three daughters to school. They have high hopes for the future, and it seems likely, no matter what crises they may face, they will never again experience the sort of hunger they did after Cyclone Aila.