Historical archive

Resilience in humanitarian action

Historical archive

Published under: Solberg's Government

Publisher Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Oslo, 30 October 2015

State Secretary Tore Hattrem's address at a Norwegian Red Cross/IFRC-conference .

Excellences, friends, fellow humanitarians,

First of all, I would like to thank the Norwegian Red Cross and the IFRC for inviting me to speak at this important conference. We find ourselves at a critical juncture.


We are facing the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War.

Over 60 million people worldwide are fleeing war, conflict and persecution.

The war in Syria alone has forced 12 million people from their homes.

According to the UN, there are currently four so-called Level Three humanitarian emergencies: Iraq, South Sudan, Yemen and Syria. We have also seen a number of severe natural disasters over the last years – and must prepare for more to come.

Humanitarian crisis have increased in number, complexity and severity. Therefore, the humanitarian system is currently overstretched.

On the one hand, it has never reached more people in more places – from crisis and disasters in South Sudan to the Sahel, from Nepal to Afghanistan.

Yet the costs have also increased. The size of UN appeals grew by more than 600 percent in just over 10 years, from 2003 to 2015.

These appeals remain less than 50 percent funded - despite significant increases from many donors.

The increasing gap between the needs and the available resources forces us to look for new ways, and new solutions in the humanitarian field.

It is against this background – of enormous humanitarian challenges, combined with an overstretched system – that the concept of resilience is more important than ever.

Resilience has emerged in response to current global trends and challenges that affect both humanitarian and development aid.


In my remarks today, I would like to address two main questions:

First, how relevant is resilience in the future aid agenda, including for humanitarian aid?

And second, what are the areas that need to be prioritized to make progress in strengthening resilience through humanitarian action?


We know that when prevention, preparedness and risk reduction are prioritized, losses and damages from natural disasters are significantly reduced.

Most importantly, lives are saved.

For example, in Odisha, eastern India, in 1999 a category 5 cyclone devastated the coastline. It killed more than 10,000 people and caused massive destruction to housing and infrastructure.

When cyclone Phailin, another Category 5 storm, struck the same area in 2013, less than 40 people lost their lives.

This was a result of the Indian government's strong preparedness measures, including an early warning system and a network of cyclone shelters.

However, disaster preparedness and risk reduction still receives a very small proportion of aid.

For example, estimates by the Overseas Development Institute have shown that the proportion of overall aid spent on disaster risk management in the last twenty years has amounted to less than 0,4%.

Prevention and resilience-building activities can still be difficult to "sell".

Studies that better document and quantify the return on investments in resilience are needed.


Resilience in humanitarian action is of course not limited to natural disasters and climate-related hazards, though it is often referred to in this context.

It also relates to situations of armed conflict, violence or other emergencies, such as outbreaks of disease.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa illustrated the importance of building resilient health systems – systems that are capable of responding and reducing the impact on affected populations when a health emergency occurs.

As we are all aware, the current worst humanitarian crises are conflict-related.

In situations of protracted armed conflict, humanitarian actors remain on the ground for extended periods - often for several years or even decades.

This requires adopting an approach that goes beyond addressing immediate humanitarian needs - but also incorporates early recovery and resilience -building.

This must be accompanied by efforts to address the root causes of conflict, investments in conflict prevention and resolution, as well as support for sustainable and inclusive state-building.

While it is challenging to do so in the midst of a crisis, it is imperative to think more long-term.

We need integrated solutions by humanitarian, development and other partners that strengthen people's resilience to crises.

This includes investing in preparedness, managing and mitigating risk, reducing vulnerability, seeking durable solutions for protracted displacement, and adapting to new threats.

In our discussions today, we should also bear in mind that building resilience is not only relevant for crises-affected states.

It should be an on-going concern for all countries.

For example, in Europe, we see the relevance when it comes to coping with extreme weather or responding effectively to the current migration crisis.

And here in Norway, we experienced the importance and need for resilience after the terror attack in July 2011.


In several of the key frameworks that will guide future humanitarian and development priorities, resilience is now established as a key concept.

Resilience is central to the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals adopted this September, and is included in several of the goals and targets.

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction adopted in March this year establishes strengthening of resilience as a key priority.

Resilience is also highly relevant to the upcoming negotiations of a universal climate agreement in Paris.

Norway argues that adaptation through building resilient communities should be one of the pillars of this agreement.

At the World Humanitarian Summit next year, we expect resilience to be a central concept.

The fact that resilience features so prominently in all these processes shows that resilience is not just a buzzword. The concept will remain significant in the global aid agenda towards 2030.

To be able to follow-up on our commitments within these different frameworks, there is a need for a shared "resilience agenda".

What are the areas that need to be prioritized in order to collectively deliver better on strengthening resilience?

I would like to make seven points.

First: A common understanding of resilience is required.

Among others the IFRC has done important pioneering work in conceptualizing resilience.

We need to continue to refine our understanding. Its only when we have a clear common understanding of resilience, that we can together make progress.

Second: Resilience must be local. It must focus on the factors contributing to risks, vulnerability and resilience in a specific community.

This also means that we need to strengthen local systems and work with local actors that understand the local context and have access to communities. These will be present both before, during and after crises.

The National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are excellent examples, together with other national and local organisations and groups.

Third: There is a need to bridge the gap between humanitarian and development aid.

Too often, humanitarian action and development assistance have lived in their own separate worlds.

This we need to change.

This relates not only to financing of aid, but also to programming.

It will require more flexibility from donors, and challenges us to think outside of traditional budget lines.

In this regard, Norway supports the work of the UN Secretary-General´s High-level Panel on Humanitarian Financing.

Norway will work to promote better cooperation and coordination between the various UN actors, the World Bank and other development banks.

This is particularly important in areas where the humanitarian needs are greatest.

Humanitarian and development actors need to work more and better together, both at headquarters and in the field.

Fourth: Strengthening resilience will require more partnerships, and working together with a range of stakeholders.

One organization or actor cannot build resilience on its own.

We therefore need to expand multi-sector partnerships that involve national and local authorities, the donor community, relevant international and regional organizations, civil society, and the private sector.

This is not only important to mobilize new sources of humanitarian funding, but also to leverage the expertise of different sectors in areas of common interest.

Fifth: We must remember that it is the most vulnerable that are often the worst affected in humanitarian crises.

At a state level, we see that a large proportion of humanitarian needs are concentrated in fragile and conflict-affected states.

In fragile states, poor governance and weak service delivery can increase the consequences of shocks such as a disaster, an epidemic or an economic crisis.

And at the community level, it is often the poor, women, children, elderly, minorities, people with disabilities, migrants and other vulnerable groups that are the most exposed and have the weakest coping mechanisms when crises hit.

Humanitarian actors must ensure that these groups are represented so that their views, competencies and diverse perspectives are adequately taken into account.

Sixth: We must recognize that it takes time to build evidence-based approaches to strengthening resilience.

The concept will only be useful insofar as it can improve the quality and impact of humanitarian action.

This will require investing in research and innovation that can feed into the design of new methods and approaches.

It is not enough to rebrand existing programmes as resilience.

There is a need to develop concrete tools for programming, to document results and scale up evidence-based approaches.

Seventh, and my final point, we need ways of assessing whether we are actually making progress towards building resilience.

How can this be measured in a meaningful way?

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very grateful that the Norwegian Red Cross and the IFRC took the initiative to arrange this conference at this critical juncture.

We must all strive to make resilience a meaningful and practical concept that can add value to humanitarian action. Only then it may contribute to saving lives, reducing suffering and protecting the vulnerable.

Thank you.