Members' Research Service By / October 16, 2015

Risk and resilience: many lessons to be learnt

Written by Patryk Pawlak Perhaps you remember the times when ‘comprehensive approach’ provided excitement for all foreign policy wonks in…

EPRS Seminar ' Global Trends. Risk and Resilience in Foreign Policy ' in cooperation with the EU Institute for Security Studies
Written by Patryk Pawlak
EPRS Seminar ' Global Trends. Risk and Resilience in Foreign Policy ' in cooperation with the EU Institute for Security Studies
EPRS Seminar ‘ Global Trends. Risk and Resilience in Foreign Policy ‘ in cooperation with the EU Institute for Security Studies

Perhaps you remember the times when ‘comprehensive approach’ provided excitement for all foreign policy wonks in Brussels in 2013? Well, times have changed and all the talk these days is about ‘resilience’. Whatever the problem at hand – hybrid threats, jihadi propaganda, climate change, or refugee crisis – the answer is the same: resilience, resilience, resilience. But what is resilience actually? DG EPRS – together with the EU Institute for Security Studies – hosted a seminar on 29 September 2015, on Global Trends: Risk and Resilience in Foreign Policy with Romano Lasker (UN OCHA), Hugh MacLeman (OECD DAC), and Antonio Missiroli (EUISS). Elmar Brok MEP, Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, delivered the closing remarks.

So what is resilience and why does it matter? An EPRS briefing answers these and other questions on the subject. In a nutshell, resilience is about building or strengthening the capacity of individuals, local communities or governmental institutions to withstand, to adapt, and to recover quickly from stresses and shocks like natural disasters, financial problems or military conflict. According to OECD DAC, these types of crisis are becoming more frequent and more costly – requests to deal with the impact of disasters have increased by 660% since 2000, peaking at 18.6 billion in 2015. Also, the inter-connectedness of the global economy means that crises in one part of the world can impact other parts of the world: the increase in food prices in Mozambique in 2010 and subsequent riots are closely linked to a drought that hit Russia– one of the world’s main exporters of wheat – the same year, which then led to soaring global wheat prices. As highlighted by Romano Lasker, dealing with such complexity requires abandoning the ‘silo mentality’ and combining different policy perspectives: development, humanitarian, and global security. The panellists shared some stories and lessons to illustrate what resilience is all about.

  1. Resilience is not just about understanding the risks, but also about identifying and strengthening the assets at different layers of society.

A report by the National Academy of Science of the United States suggests that for Syria – a country marked by poor governance and unsustainable agricultural and environmental policies – the 2006-09 drought had a catalytic effect, causing widespread crop failure and mass migration of farming families to urban centers, increasing inequalities, and eventually contributing to political unrest. Five years into the civil war, a socioeconomic and damage assessment report by UNRWA, claims that, even if the conflict ceased now and GDP grew at an average rate of 5% each year, it is estimated that it would take the Syrian economy 30 years to return to 2010 economic levels. With such a gloomy outlook, it is surprising to find any assets that can help people better manage the shocks associated with the ongoing conflict. Yet, the OECD DAC work focuses at a regional level to strengthen the capacity of existing and emerging local authorities in improving service provision for conflict affected and at-risk communities. Hugh MacLeman also demonstrated that shifting the focus from national to regional level also offers new politically acceptable entry points for engagement in the crisis.

  1. Resilience is about understanding the impact of risks at different layers of society – from household to national levels – and how assets are employed at each layer.

EPRS Seminar ' Global Trends. Risk and Resilience in Foreign Policy ' in cooperation with the EU Institute for Security Studies
EPRS Seminar ‘ Global Trends. Risk and Resilience in Foreign Policy ‘ in cooperation with the EU Institute for Security Studies

Romano Lasker further stressed the need to involve the many local actors, business, military, and diaspora in resilience-building. An example is the work done by OECD DAC and the UN country team in Lebanon to perform a resilience systems analysis looking into ways to better meet the needs of refugee communities. The vulnerability of these communities continues to have far-reaching economic, social, political, human and environmental impacts across the whole of Lebanese society. As refugee numbers in Lebanon continue to increase – from 6 290 in 2012 to almost 1.1 million in September 2015 – it becomes increasingly difficult – economically but also politically – for the Lebanese government to respond to needs. However, for the private sector, this constitutes a growing market segment. As a result, many of the UN partnerships have refocused on the private sector where previously engagement was limited.

  1. Resilience requires understanding the linkages and inter-dependencies between these risks and assets at each layer.

Hugh MacLeman and Romano Lasker both highlighted a need for better understanding of the linkages between risks, and illustrated this point with their experiences in Somalia. Among the many challenges, they mentioned effectively engaging the Government of Somalia. For several decades, the complex situation in the country has been approached with an emphasis on fragility, while putting less emphasis on progress on the peace and state-building goals of the New Deal. Hugh MacLeman underlined that, by re-focusing the analysis and the dialogue around resilience, OECD DAC has seen a renewed engagement from the Government in what is perceived as a forward looking and positive agenda, rather than one rooted in an analysis of past grievances. A key outcome of this engagement in a resilience analysis is a re-commitment to implementation of New Deal Peace and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs) and plans to develop a comprehensive national resilience plan, with EU support.

20150615EP_BrokAntonio Missiroli offered several examples of the most pressing challenges for the EU and highlighted interlinkages between external developments and internal security – a fact that will surely be reflected in the Global Security Strategy that High Representative Federica Mogherini is expected to present in June 2016. Elmar Brok MEP closed the event, pointing out that the European Union has failed to anticipate events too many times, and hence is seldom adequately prepared to deal with emerging challenges – the current refugee crisis being a good illustration. For this reason, MEP Brok hopes that the document presented by HR/VP Mogherini will address this failing by defining clear goals and an interdisciplinary approach towards addressing risks such as terrorism or financial instability.

Do you have an opinion on the risks currently facing the European Union? What might be done to better address them?


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