Building resilience in a complex environment


The 2011 Horn of Africa food crisis demonstrated that building community resilience is more urgent than ever.  This paper highlights the impact of CARE’s four-year Regional Resilience Enhancement Against Drought Programme (RREAD), including finding the optimal balance of approaches that result in increased food and livelihood security. It suggests that building resilience must involve an institutional as well as a technical lens, working within socio-ecological systems, and across environmental, social, ethnic and political borders.

Key findings:

  • Approaches for addressing vulnerability in drought-prone, cross-border regions should acknowledge the unique and complex characteristics that define and determine livelihoods. The need for mobility, the management of resources across borders, and approaches that are conflict-sensitive are critical elements of successful programmes.
  • There is consensus that policy responses need to reconfigure in order to strengthen linkages between emergency drought response and long-term development programmes to address the fundamentals of sustainable livelihoods in the drylands. Understanding the drivers of vulnerability. including that of the ecosystem, will improve the success of resilience building.
  • Partnerships is a vital driver of effective resilience building and must underpin the transition to more integrated emergency/long-term resilience building initiatives. Sharing learning and benefits plays a central role. These partnerships should be between:
    • institutions with immediate and longer-term responses to drought
    • informal and formal local government
    • public and private sectors
    • different ethnic or national border communities (and also within communities between genders and between socio-economic groups)
  • Gender equity must be a fundamental element of community resilience building as it enables all individuals of a community to be empowered economically, enhancing capacity for flexibility.
  • More integrated approaches are needed to address multiple risks, with emphasis on gender, conflict sensitivity, natural resource management, governance and economic security.
  • Improving access to markets and supporting viable economic alternatives to diversify livelihoods away from reliance on a single source of income and sustainable natural resource management are vital support processes. However, if pursued, diversification requires careful planning and risk assessment.


Standley, S. (2012). Building resilience in a complex environment (Briefing Paper 04). London: Care International UK.