USAID must improve on resilience, understand fragility — Rajiv Shah

Rajiv Shah with staff from the search and rescue team in Haiti during the 2010 earthquake. In a speech at the the Brookings Institution on Thursday, Shah wants USAID to sharpen their focus on fragile areas. USAID_IMAGES / CC BY-SA

The U.S. Agency for International Development has to do a “more focused job of delivering on the resilience agenda,” according to agency chief Rajiv Shah.

In a speech at the the Brookings Institution on Thursday, Shah outlined USAID’s new three-part commitment to helping end extreme poverty. He said the agency will increasingly focus on public-private partnerships, country programs that demand mutual accountability and disaster-prone, fragile areas and communities.

On this last point, the USAID administrator commented that “America makes disproportionately more investments in fragile areas” than other countries, but that the agency and others need to do a better job of helping to understand fragility and how to measure it.

Shah wants USAID’s sharp focus on fragile areas to be better informed by knowledge of when the agency can be “hopeful,” and when it needs to be more “cautious” about what investing in fragile communities and states can achieve.

With populations living in extreme poverty — under $1.25 per day — increasingly concentrated in conflict-prone and fragile states, donors and aid organizations around the world have turned their attention to the factors that can help countries, communities and individuals more easily cope with recurring crises and shocks.

“It’s probably not possible to end extreme poverty, so long as the same low income communities get hit with the same catastrophes over and over again,” he said, adding that it remains to be seen “how far you can go” with building resilience to help stave off the worst impacts of conflict and natural disasters, since this is still a relatively new focus for the U.S. donor agency.

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    Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.