Opinion piece - RIO+20: an opportunity to build the resilience of those who need it most

Published: 15 June 2012 15:26 CET

By  Kristalina Georgieva, Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian aid and Crisis Response, European Commission
 Bekele Geleta, Secretary General, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

On June 20th, the much anticipated Rio +20 Summit on sustainable development will bring together a wide range of decision-makers from governments, the business world and the humanitarian sector. The meeting's ambition is important and huge:  to come up with ways to prepare ourselves and the world's most vulnerable communities for the impact of climate change and extreme weather.

The summit offers an important opportunity for all nations to shape “The Future We Want” – by integrating social, environmental and economic resilience to climate change into all development strategies. To achieve this daunting task, we need to bring together all relevant expertise and summon substantial political will under the flag of resilience. That will be our common responsibility in Rio.

We have no time to waste: the Earth's population already exceeds 7 billion people and keeps growing; combined with the rise of droughts and floods and other climate change-related disasters, this means that more people than ever suffer from hunger, conflict over resources, loss of livelihood means and other risks. We owe this growing group of vulnerable people a global anti-disaster strategy – one that overcomes bureaucratic rigidities, targets our resources better, and incorporates the hopes and potential of nations large and small, rich and poor, to withstand and adapt to the effects of climate change.

Among these most vulnerable people is Amina, a young woman from the Tigray region of North Ethiopia, an area which has suffered from recurrent food crises in the last 30 years.  Amina has five children and is the head of her family. In 2009, she received a cash loan of 124 Euros through a Red Cross assistance programme, which also trained Amina on how to fatten her cattle, grow sustainable crops and sell her produce at the local market for the best price.

Thanks to this programme, Amina's annual income has gone from 254 Euros to almost 509 Euros. The difference allows her to feed her family, send her children to school and run a small farm. As a result, Amina has been able to cope with the terrible food crisis that has affected her country and the rest of the Horn of Africa this past year.

Amina's story is an example how thoughtful investment in a long term solution improves the resilience of vulnerable people to climate change and allows them to live with dignity and a degree of certainty. In terms of effectiveness and value for money, such investment goes far further than the short-term provision of emergency aid. This is why today the international community needs to do much more to boost resilience by building stronger bridges between humanitarian and development aid. This is the only way to break the vicious circle of drought and hunger which affects millions of people in the countries of East Africa and the Sahel.

Examples of successfully linking relief and development aid for the benefit of resilience already exist. One such example is the initiative SHARE (Supporting Horn of Africa Resilience), in which the humanitarian and development arms of the European Commission have taken a long-term commitment and invested 250 million EUR to support the Horn of Africa's recovery from the recent drought, improve food security and strengthen the preparedness for future disasters in the region. 

Another example is the initiative that the Red Cross Red Crescent is taking to dedicate 10 per cent of the  income from disaster appeals to programmes and actions that build long-term resilience of the crisis-hit communities, long after the cameras are gone from the crisis site. Likewise, the European Commission is spending 8-10 per cent of its humanitarian budget on disaster reduction and resilience. In this way, we not only save lives today, but we also make them worth living tomorrow.

What would Amina tell us if she took centre stage among those 20,000 well-intentioned and open minds at the Rio Summit? That we should be as brave as she is, that we should offer solutions which provide certainty in an increasingly uncertain world, that if we consider the return on the investment that was made in her future and scale up quickly to apply the same formula globally, we could make a quantum leap in sustainable development. No doubt, and no time for indecision.

Read more on the IFRC's approach to building resilient communities.

Rio+20 on the web