LWR has a long history of development programming aimed at building the resilience of vulnerable communities affected by multiple shocks and stressors, such as natural disasters, conflict, and climate change and variability. This blog series, Reflections on Resilience, will examine emerging issues, innovative approaches and new resources in resilience work. It seeks to stimulate learning, reflection and dialogue among development practitioners, researchers and decision-makers interested in the linkages between resilience and development practice. Read part one. Read part two. Read part three, Read part four, Read part five.
As our flight started its descent toward Kathmandu’s airport, I marveled at the immensity of the Himalaya Mountains through the airplane window. I had left Kathmandu exactly nine months ago, on the night before the devastating earthquake that changed the lives of millions of Nepali people. I had been eager to go back to Nepal since the moment I learned about the earthquake: eager to see friends and colleagues that had gone through that ordeal, and who were themselves a testimony of ‘resilience’ in face of unimaginable challenges.
And it was precisely the concept of ‘Resilience’ that brought me back to Nepal.
Resilience across borders
‘Resilience’ is a term that has been increasingly adopted in the international development field, and yet, the growing community of resilience practitioners is just starting to understand how to design, implement and measure resilience in complex environments, where people are affected by multiple shocks and stressors.
For LWR and its local partner organizations implementing a trans-boundary resilience project in the Nepal-India border, working on resilience has been a fascinating journey. The project is being implemented along the border between Nepal and India, in the Narayani/ Gandak and Koshi river basins, and seeks to improve communities’ ability to cope with the effects of floods and increase their adaptive capacity.
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The project team met on a cold January morning in Kathmandu. The winter has been one additional hurdle for people already struggling to recover from the impacts of the earthquake. Due to the fuel crisis and the border blockade, electricity had been restricted and the supply of some goods was running low.
As we conducted the mid-term project reflection session, three important aspects evidenced the relevance of this trans-boundary resilience initiative:
- Innovating approaches to reflect, learn and measure resilience. The project is approaching resilience from a continuous learning perspective, and is prioritizing spaces to share lessons and reflect about resilience impact. During the meeting in Kathmandu, the team tested a novel process for resilience reflection that includes resilience storytelling, participatory mapping, and overlapping resilience concepts with monitoring and evaluation (M&E) data. A case study about the experience is under preparation. In addition to its novel approach to resilience reflection and learning, LWR is working with Yale University to test a new tool for resilience measurement.
- Exploring resilience building in ‘trans-boundary’ settings. The porous nature of border communities in the Narayani/ Gandak and Koshi river basins has provided the project with a new perspective on resilience building. These communities are closely interconnected by cultural, socio-economic, political and geographic factors. In order to strengthen their capacity to cope with and adapt to the impacts of the monsoon, the project is looking at cross-border collaboration and information exchange through Community-based Early Warning Systems (EWS), institutional strengthening / advocacy groups (e.g. citizen forums), livelihoods strengthening, and gender awareness for resilience building.
- Embracing complexity. In a participatory mapping exercise the project partners identified the multiple, simultaneous shocks and stressors that have impacted the project since it started in March 2015. In addition to the April 2015 earthquake, the project implementation has been affected by the fuel crisis, drought conditions, the impacts of the monsoon, the Nepal/India border blockade, the political crisis and strikes. Resilience-building efforts often take place in messy, unpredictable environments. Working on resilience initiatives is about identifying disruptive factors, reflecting about their impacts on the project’s activities, and adapting accordingly.
There were very important lessons about resilience that emerged throughout the meeting. But perhaps the most important lesson of all came from walking through the streets of Kathmandu, witnessing the impacts of the earthquake in the cracks on ancient temples, on wooden structures built to support their walls, on the few piles of rubble left behind.
I observed the people around me and tried to imagine what they have been through in the last nine months. And I admired profoundly their resilience, as they strive to rebuild and improve their livelihoods, despite the many challenges that they continue to face.
That is the face of resilience that Nepal has taught me, and that I will always remember.