Learning from the Millennium Development Goals: How Can the Global Alliance for Resilience Contribute to the Achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals?

Ousman Tall, Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) Secretariat

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were globally attained but while Sub-Saharan Africa reduced poverty levels from 56.5% in 1990 to 48.4% in 2010, it did not achieve the target of reducing the poverty rate in half – to 28.25 % – by 2015. The region is faced with numerous problems that have resulted in high levels of insecurity and instability. The ecology is fragile due to climate shocks and environmental disasters, such as recurrent droughts, floods, locust threats and desertification. This has greatly affected pastoralist and agro-pastoralist activities and resulted in low production and productivity. Armed conflicts in the region have displaced a large number of the population and increased vulnerability. Crisis is persistent and inevitable, especially within the poorest areas of the region. While these challenges might seem enormous, they are by no means insurmountable. This is evident in the many policies, programmes and projects being implemented in the region and in the success stories of the Food Crisis Prevention Network (RPCA).

The development plans of most countries in the region address these persistent crises in a manner consistent with global development frameworks that do not adequately consider the local perspective and understanding of the nature and scope of the problems such countries are confronting. Efforts should be made to target the most vulnerable segments of the population within the context of resilience building, as countries in the region are faced with situations in which they have to adapt, plan and continuously adjust their responses to the realities at hand.  At the same time, they also have to transform and undertake a new development trajectory as and when necessary. This is the focus of the Global Alliance for Resilience (AGIR) which views resilience as a defining characteristic of sustainability and is based on a shared understanding of what the term ‘resilience’ means:

“The capacity of vulnerable households, families, communities and systems to face uncertainty and the risk of shocks, to withstand and respond effectively to shocks, as well as to recover and adapt in a sustainable manner”.

Priorities are defined based on the shared understanding of the major issues and through a participatory and inclusive process. Using a forward-looking approach, the AGIR Regional Roadmap seeks to complement the SDGs through the development of National Resilience Priorities (NRPs), which translate the objectives of AGIR into processes for building resilience at the national level.

AGIR builds on the following four pillars to achieve its overall objective of eradicating hunger and malnutrition in the Sahel and West Africa within twenty years:

  • Improve social protection for the most vulnerable households and communities.
  • Strengthen the nutrition of vulnerable households.
  • Sustainably improve agricultural & food production, the incomes of vulnerable households and their access to food.
  • Strengthen the governance of food and nutritional security.

Each individual country process seeks to align its resilience priorities with other national objectives that are consistent with the SDGs and other frameworks. The phenomenon of climate change is integrated in the NRPs. The requisite national policies and regulations, the structure for implementation and the institutional arrangements and modalities for support are being put in place. By promoting an intersectoral co-ordination approach, AGIR can better influence the effectiveness of interventions and help the implementation of the post-2015 Development Agenda.

During the implementation of the MDGs, most countries in the Sahel and West Africa lacked the basic information and capacity to conduct the analysis required to monitor and report on its progress. This issue was even more prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa where 61% of the countries lacked the means to monitor poverty, which is one of the main goals of the MDGs.  The SDGs implementation process is designed to correct this shortfall, especially during this early period of the implementation process. AGIR is also mindful of the need to properly measure and report on indicators. For example, in the implementation of its Regional Roadmap, AGIR is ensuring that the sophistication, complementarity, combination and harmonisation of tools are addressed at all levels in measuring resilience and that the tools are usable and affordable within national and local contexts.

The political will to support the AGIR process has been demonstrated by leaders in the region. Under the political leadership of ECOWAS and UEMOA, the AGIR Regional Roadmap is being translated into NRPs for the 17 countries in the Sahel and West Africa. These national inclusive processes for defining the NRPs are at different stages of implementation.


As these countries move towards the completion of the NRPs, other regional initiatives will have to be accelerated in support of their implementation. The harmonisation of tools for measuring resilience and the framework for monitoring resilience interventions, which are already on-going, need to be accelerated. There is also a need to strengthen the convergence, co-ordination and synergy among actors working on resilience in the region, under the common framework offered by AGIR. The Food Crisis Prevention Network (RPCA) has appealed for such actions at almost all of its last meetings. When Network members meet at the RPCA Meeting from 13-15 April at the OECD in Paris, it is hoped that this call will be reiterated with additional support for the implementation of the Regional Roadmap and for countries that have developed their NRPs.

There is a positive correlation between the implementation of the AGIR Regional Roadmap and the achievement of some of the SDGs – especially goals 1 & 2 (ending poverty and hunger respectively) – in the Sahel and West Africa, and support for the implementation of AGIR in any form is either direct or indirect support for the implementation of the SDGs.

Useful links

OECD work on the Sustainable Development Goals

Resilience of Economies to Exogenous Shocks

NAECAida Caldera Sanchez and Giuseppe Nicoletti, OECD Economics Department

Countries are subject to economic shocks originating from long-term trends such as demography and short-term events such as financial crises, but healthy economies should be resilient to both. It is important to understand the factors that shape a country’s economic resilience, defined broadly as a country ability to contain long and short-term vulnerabilities as well as its capacity to resist and recover quickly when shocks occur. Ideally, whatever the shock, policies should be such that they help the economy remain close to its welfare potential in a sustainable way, notably in terms of jobs, incomes and quality of life.

Sources of short-term vulnerabilities include financial crises, sovereign debt crises, commodity price fluctuations or volatility. Longer term issues include ageing, declining dynamism, rising inequalities and environmental degradation. Resilience to short-term shocks also has implications for long-term sustainability because large shocks can lead to significant upheaval (as witnessed by the recent financial crisis), increasing risk and uncertainty for households, investors and governments and have negative effects on the potential for increasing welfare that cannot be easily reversed.

Countries can strengthen the resilience of their economies to shocks through better detection and analysis of structural trends, for instance with an increased focus on long-term scenarios, as well as a better monitoring of macroeconomic and financial vulnerabilities; and by strengthening policy settings to address long-term challenges and mitigate the vulnerabilities that can lead to costly shocks, as well as strengthening policy settings that can help to mitigate the shock impact and speed the recovery.

The OECD identifies five types of short-term vulnerabilities that are most often linked to severe financial crises, deep downturns in economic activity or both:

  1. Financial sector imbalances, e.g. excessive leverage, maturity and currency mismatches, high interconnectedness of banks and their common exposures.
  2. Non-financial sector imbalances, such as imbalances in the balance sheets of households and non-financial corporations.
  3. Asset market imbalances, most notably equity and real estate busts.
  4. Public sector imbalances, in particular doubts about the sustainability of public finances that can lead to high risk premiums on government debt.
  5. External sector imbalances, such as persisting current account deficits.

Monitoring these country-specific vulnerabilities can be useful in warning of severe recessions and crises and should be an essential part of a country strategy to strengthen resilience. To assist countries, the OECD systematically reports vulnerability indicators in both the Economic Outlook and country Economic Surveys. Vulnerability indicators should be and are complemented with other monitoring tools and in-depth assessments that provide a holistic view of country risks, as even countries without significant domestic or external imbalances can be affected by external shocks through spillovers and contagion via trade, financial and confidence channels.

From a longer-term perspective, the OECD has pointed at three major factors that could continue to generate difficult challenges for the global economy:

  1. A slowdown in global growth, mainly related to ageing and deceleration in emerging economies, but also due to uncertainties concerning the rate of innovation and skill development.
  2. A tendency for inequalities to continue to rise, partly due to the nature of technical progress that raises the demand for the highly-skilled.
  3. Rising economic damages from environmental degradation due among others to climate change.

To raise awareness about these long-term challenges, the OECD has developed long-term scenarios and has increasingly focused on forward-looking analysis in various areas, including productivity, income and wealth inequality and the environment, for example in The Future of Productivity and The Economic Consequences of Climate Change.

Policies should be geared towards mitigating the build-up of vulnerabilities and prepare the economy to deal with structural challenges, combining both structural and macroeconomic dimensions and including international coordination in some areas.

For instance, preventing or soothing the effects of financial crises requires macro-prudential regulation to limit banking sector instability and excessive pro-cyclicality; tax policies that avoid special treatment of housing or corporate debt, to help reduce the risk of asset price bubbles; and monetary and fiscal policies that mitigate the impact of shocks. Structural policies can facilitate worker mobility (e.g. active labour market policies and flexible housing markets) and the turnover of firms (e.g. lifting barriers to entry and competition) thereby improving resilience by accelerating the reallocation of resources across firms and sectors in response to shocks.

Similarly, addressing longer-term challenges requires structural policies – such as those affecting innovation, market experimentation, labour force participation and skill formation – that inject dynamism in markets and make the most of the knowledge economy to sustain both productivity and employment growth in the context of ageing. Policies should also target redistributive mechanisms and education systems to improve equality of opportunities and contain the tendency for inequality to rise. Finally, early action is needed via a policy mix of carbon pricing, reduction of fossil fuel subsidies and other targeted measures to avoid environmental damage that affects future growth potential and welfare.

More international co-operation will also be needed to support global supply chains and trade, to boost the provision of global public goods that are increasingly important – such as basic research, intellectual property rights legislation, competition policy and the climate – and to tax bases that are increasingly mobile across borders, thereby limiting tax avoidance. Cooperation in these areas will help address long-term challenges with positive repercussions on innovation, growth and welfare.

Identifying policy tools to enhance overall resilience is complicated by the existence of trade-offs among policy objectives and interactions in both macroeconomic and structural policy settings. In times of crisis, macroeconomic policies that aim at reducing the severity of the downturn and stimulate the recovery may have unintended consequences by increasing vulnerabilities down the road, for instance by increasing public debt ratios or building-up central banks’ balance sheets and generating ample liquidity. Structural policies aimed at sustaining dynamism and knowledge-based growth could at the same time tend to increase earning gaps and favour continued structural adjustment. The consequences for inequality and workers’ well-being will have to be addressed including via fiscal measures, which however will be increasingly constrained by the need to manage public debts.

Useful links

OECD work on economic resilience

Lessons in recovery

wBalloons-EiffelEight giant balloons from Japan floated in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower this weekend, a reminder of one of the worst natural disasters of recent times – and of the determination of survivors to rebuild their region.

The balloons were raised by students taking part in the OECD Tohoku School, an innovative educational project launched in northeast Japan following the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Over the past two-and-a-half years, around 100 young people from schools in Tohoku have been working together to plan an event in Paris to show off their region and to demonstrate its recovery.

“It’s not just adults who are working to help our region prosper, it’s students too,” explains Yurina Sato from Yanagawa Junior High School in Fukushima prefecture. “It’s a strong message to local people that we are moving forward.”

The results of the students’ work were on display this weekend. Over two days, the students staged an ambitious set of activities on the Champ de Mars in central Paris that reflected on the earthquake and tsunami on 11 March 2011, and the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, and looked forward to Tohoku’s rebuilding.

Visitors also had a chance to sample the region’s culture, including an energetic “deer dance” – a traditional performance that’s taken on a new significance since the disaster. The elaborate costumes and drums used in the dance survived the disaster unscathed and are now presented as a symbol of the region’s resilience.


But it was the future that dominated many of the student projects. A team from the Yanagawa school has been working with a local producer to create a new line of fruit jellies, which they’ve started retailing in their area. “We’ve sold at least 8,000,” says Yurina Sato. “We want to help local industry in our region.”


Unsurprisingly, the region’s energy needs were on many minds. Kaoro Kanno is one of a group of students from Adachi High School that worked on measuring radiation levels around the school and on exploring possibilities for renewable energy.


“The disaster was a turning point,” Kaoro says. “We have to do something now. We thought that if we miss this chance, then who will do it?” Students at Kaoro’s school have been working on using hot springs in the area as an energy source, and are hoping their experiments will lead to the creation of a real source of sustainable energy.


As well as teaching the students valuable new skills, the OECD Tohoku School may also have lessons for Japanese education. The project challenges traditional styles of teaching and learning by putting students in the driving seat. “In this project, it is students who are taking the initiative, not teachers, not the school,” explains Chikato Nakamura. “It’s a big difference.”

Chikato is on the team from Iwaki city that came up with the idea of raising the balloons above the Champ de Mars. Walking under them, he explained that the four blue balloons, hoisted to over 21 metres, represented the height of the tsunami surge in his area. Against them, the four red balloons represented the determination of Tohoku’s people to recover from the disaster.


Chikato is hopeful not only about his region’s prospects, but also about the project’s impact on other Japanese schools: “I think Japanese education should do more project-based learning,” he says. “When you study just with a pen and paper, it’s not really learning. Doing actions outside the classroom is really important.”

Many thanks to Saki Kinnan of Osaka University for help with translation.

Useful links

OECD Tohoku School

The OECD educationtoday blog will have more coverage of the project later this week.

Wake up and save the coffee: Making development climate-resilient

Click to read teh report
Click to read the report

Today’s post is by Michael Mullan of the Climate, Biodiversity and Water Division of the OECD Environment Directorate

Compared with species extinctions, heat waves, and hunger, the prospect of lousy coffee was, unsurprisingly, not a major focus of the latest IPCC Fifth Assessment report. Yet, a minor inconvenience for consumers could be a serious challenge for Ethiopia and Colombia, two major coffee producing countries facing growing risks from climate change. A new OECD report describes what they’re doing to sustain development in a changing climate.

Coffee first grew in Ethiopia (although the story of the dancing goats is probably a myth) with the temperate highlands providing ideal conditions for cultivating high-quality Arabica beans. Coffee production accounts for about one-third of export earnings and it supports millions of households. Historically, agricultural productivity has been low but this is now changing. As part of the rapid growth of the wider economy, coffee production has increased dramatically in the past decade. Continuing this growth will help to realise Ethiopia’s goal of reaching middle-income status by 2025.

Climate variability and climate change could knock these plans off-track. Ethiopia’s coffee farmers depend on rainfall rather than irrigation, but it’s hard to predict how climate change will affect precipitation: projections for Ethiopia in the 2050s range from 25% drier to 30% wetter. And as temperatures increase, the area of land suitable for cultivating Arabica coffee will shrink. There are practical steps that can be taken now, such as planting more trees for shade, but these will only go so far. New varieties of coffee could be required – and these can take decades to develop. By the time that climate change manifests itself, it would be too late. Preparations must start now.

To do this, the government has launched the Climate Resilient Green Economy initiative. As part of this process, 1000 potential adaptation options were identified for the agricultural sector and, from these, 41 immediate priorities were identified. These range from improved provision of weather data to enhancing access to credit and supporting economic diversification.

The striking thing is that 38 of the 41 priorities identified for agriculture were already being implemented to some extent. The primary need is to scale-up and support co-ordination of these actions, rather than radically change course. This makes sense given uncertainty about the future changes and the potential to change course in response to new information.

Despite Colombia having a very different context to Ethiopia, there are parallels between their approaches to building resilience to climate change. Coffee accounts for $2.8 billion of exports from Colombia and coffee growing supports hundreds of thousands of people. However, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) estimated that agricultural productivity (including coffee) could decline 45% by the end of this century. A formal adaptation strategy will be released this year, but there has already been considerable progress made: gathering evidence on likely impacts; building capacity of farmers to prepare for climate change; and implementing adaptation measures.

Looking outside of agriculture, Colombia relies heavily upon hydropower for energy, but limited storage capacity means that the system is vulnerable to droughts. Climate change is projected to increase this risk. In reconciling climate change and the energy demands from economic growth, the government has identified a range of measures: improving energy efficiency, diversifying supplies, and conserving watersheds and ecosystems. As was the case for agriculture in Ethiopia, these measures all have the potential to yield near-term benefits while building resilience to potential risks.

Climate change is sometimes viewed as being too big, too complicated or too uncertain to prepare for. Ethiopia and Colombia are showing how it is possible to “cross the river by feeling the stones” – identifying practical steps to address current issues, while preparing for the longer-term consequences of climate change.

Useful links

OECD work on adaptation to climate change

OECD Environment Directorate

Disasters and the traps of poverty and wealth

UN HQ in Haiti after the earthquake

Today’s post is contributed by John Mutter, Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences/Professor of International and Public Affairs and Director of PhD in Sustainable Development, Columbia University, NY

We like to categorize disasters into two types – natural and man-made. 2011 has begun with massive flooding in agricultural regions of Northeast Australia causing shoppers to brace for the inevitable increase in food prices that will soon follow. Just one death so far though and no doubt the rugged Australian farmer will get through this latest assault by Nature.

In 2010 we had a very well publicized example of a disaster of the man-made type in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico where 11 workers were killed and an enormous drilling structure incinerated and crumpled onto the sea floor causing an oil spill of historic proportions that threatened the Gulf coast. Pundits kept upping the drama of the event from the worst environmental disaster ever, to Obama’s Katrina, Obama’s 9/11 and even Obama’s Cuban Missile Crisis! None of this proved to be true and given the scale of the event itself – more oil released into the ocean than ever before – the scale of environmental damage seems to be not so great, not compared to what we all thought might be the consequences. We were all expecting thousands upon thousands of oil soaked seabirds but there were relatively few and just days after the seafloor gusher was finally plugged there was hardly any oil to be found anywhere.

On Boxing Day the New York Times published an extensive analysis of what went wrong 50 miles offshore Louisiana, the mistakes that were made many from inaction by workers on the drill rig though disaster was staring them in the face. The Times did not say so outright but it does seem that disaster could have been avoided. Certainly people will be held accountable. Someone will be blamed; perhaps many people will share the blame.

Who do we blame for the earthquake in Haiti earlier in the year on January 11th that killed around a quarter of a million people? (more…)