Resilience Realities: Resilience and Development Practice in Vanuatu

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


This report draws on two weeks of fieldwork undertaken in November 2015. Discussions and interviews were held in communities with different histories of engagement with development organisations, exploring their experiences of Tropical Cyclone Pam and the on-going El Nino event. The findings reflect on themes found in the academic literature to synthesise recommendations for those responsible for development programming and practice. Analysis focuses on four topics: the significance of differences between social groups in determining resilience outcomes; the nature of local resilience among communities with little or no experience of development interventions; the consequences of development actions for local resilience; and the potential of an alternative framing – resourcefulness – to support a transformation in relationships between communities and different government authorities. Key lessons emerge from this analysis. The difficulties of addressing the complex manner in which social difference is produced and reproduced must be a central concern for development practitioners. Without explicit attention to the deep roots of social and cultural difference, resilience interventions will reinforce or exacerbate existing patterns of vulnerability and exclusion. This remains the case even when participatory approaches such as village development or disaster risk committees are adopted as a mechanism to secure representation of different social groups. In communities that are isolated from development assistance, local resilience is underpinned by intricately woven and diverse livelihood practices and supported by the ability to capitalise on relationships with actors at other scales. There are, however, important limitations to local resilience, much of which is wrapped up in the marginalisation of communities from outside support and formal institutions of government. Deeply pernicious forms of resilience are also in evidence, in particular in practices of gender-based violence and ostracism of women from other islands. These issues must move higher up the development agenda if resilience programming is to lead to equitable improvements in wellbeing. At the same time, the fieldwork evidence suggests that interventions can undermine local resilience and develop dependency on NGOs as sources of resources, knowledge and skills. NGOs need to develop strategies that gradually build effective and supportive relationships between communities and different levels of government as part of a long term exit strategy. Finally, the report considers the potential shortcomings of resilience as a framing for development. In development programming and practice, resilience is associated with other frameworks in order to address issues of power and equity. This reflects the neutrality of resilience; it is a concept that has the potential to challenge inequality but is not inherently anti-poverty. As such, adopting a resilience discourse carries a risk, as resilience can and has been taken up by policy makers to justify the continued marginalisation of poor communities from government support. In programming terms, there is cause for significant concern that the weaknesses of resilience overlap with longstanding weaknesses in development practice in supporting communities to challenge resource distribution and the iniquitous effects of public policy. The report closes by proposing an alternative framing – resourcefulness – as an important counterpoint to resilience programming. Resourcefulness aims to support local people to engage in processes that lead to changes that are locally conceived and locally felt. The central concern is with practical support to secure a more equitable share of resources, via a framing that was found to resonate with the interests and priorities expressed by communities during fieldwork.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherOxfam Australia
Number of pages52
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2016

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