• Opinion by Vidya Diwakar (Brighton, United Kingdom)
  • Interpress service

Yet we are far from these commitments, and multiple crises – now known as “polycrises” – such as conflicts, disasters and extreme poverty are converging on low-income and lower-middle-income countries, requiring systemic changes in our efforts to eradicate poverty.

The scale of the challenge before us is undeniable. Poverty has long been concentrated in some low- and lower-middle-income countries that continue to experience conflict and high numbers of conflict-related deaths, and large numbers of people affected by disasters from earthquakes, floods, fires or droughts.

These are just two causes of impoverishment and chronic poverty, which are often combined with other crises and shocks including ill health.

However, this is not just a problem at the country level. The challenge we face increasingly due to polycrisis in many parts of the world is that inequalities within countries are also worsening. The complex and often multi-layered nature of today’s crises means that policymakers must develop long-term solutions, rather than extinguishing crises as they arise.

Our work on Chronic Poverty Advisory Network (CPAN) in Afghanistan saw that the pandemic, layered with the transition of power, drought and increased economic crises, all combined to drive poverty and a dramatic increase in hunger.

Its consequences were particularly troubling for certain groups, not least women and girls, and with intergenerational consequences.

IN Nigeria, research points to a confluence of hardships over the years experienced by the poorest populations due to sequenced, interdependent crises. The poorest households pre-pandemic were more likely to experience hunger and sell agricultural and non-agricultural assets to cope with covid-19 in 2020.

As time went on, they were also more likely to pay more than the official price of gasoline in 2022 during a rampant economic crisis, and to expect drought and delayed rains to negatively affect them financially by 2023.

But despite interconnected crises, most governments and international agencies respond to each disaster individually as it occurs. This can limit the effectiveness of poverty eradication efforts or create additional sources of risk and vulnerability in the midst of polycrises.

For example, the singular focus of many countries responding to covid-19 often diverted resources from other interventions including peacebuilding operations, and thus allow new conflict risks to emerge.

Working “in” and “on” polycrises: centering equity and risk

To achieve the goal of eradicating poverty and reducing extreme inequalities, it is important to respond in a way that is sensitive to working in places experiencing polycrisis. This requires, as a minimum, upholding the principles of “do no harm” and being sensitive to local conditions and contexts.

At the same time, we need to find ways to proactively work with polycrises, by responding to multiple crises simultaneously rather than one at a time. In other words, build on learn from conflict contextswe must work in and on polycrises on the way to zero poverty.

Many countries were working “in” polycrises when responding to climate-related disasters during covid-19. For example, the government of Bangladesh adapted its cyclone preparedness plan through various measures, including changing the dissemination of messages through public notices and digital methods, and combining early warning messages with messages on the prevention and protection of covid-19.

Afghanistan breaks down needs by sector, severity, location and population groups within its territory overview of humanitarian needswhich when considered holistically can help ensure responses that prioritize benefiting people in poverty.

There are equally important lessons learned from working “on” polycrisis. World Food Programme’s business plan in response to covid-19 was regularly updated to consider evolving layered crises and support prevention measures, scaling up direct food assistance and strengthening safety nets.

There are also examples that we can benefit from to reduce poverty from localized decision-making, which relies on the knowledge that local communities, women’s rights organizationsand local disaster risk management agencies have approximately populations in the areas where they operate.

Flexibility in financing is important in this process in order to be able to respond to rapidly changing contexts and needs.

Working “in” and “on” polycrisis together requires matrix thinking, rebooting and reworking what we know about the complexities of intersectionality. While we previously recognized intersecting inequalities primarily by identity markers, such as gender, caste and socio-economic status, we need to become increasingly aware of how inequalities between people and place converge over time, and how we can my equity in risk-informed responses.

This requires a fundamental shift from one-off technocratic approaches to crisis management. For example, although social protection – direct financial assistance to people – was heralded as an important mitigation measure during covid-19 and in response to recent food and energy price inflation, cash transfer programs averaged only four to five months during the pandemic.

Social protection could be adapted to increasingly target the vulnerable as well as people in poverty, and within these categories the people who have arguably been most disadvantaged by these crises. Recovery programs by governments and international agencies also need to go beyond what they usually do to build people’s resilience in times of uncertainty.

Disaster risk management agencies within government could also consistently integrate conflict considerations in their business. There is examples of preventive measures for example, early warning systems based on local, customary knowledge that could be built upon in this process.

Investments in coordination between disaster risk, social protection and peacebuilding agencies, as well as multilateralism between governments, civil society and international organizations more broadly, are needed to anticipate and adapt to systemic risks.

But this risk-informed development will only take us so far, if equity is not centered alongside risk management. Just as crises are becoming increasingly layered and interdependent, we must similarly integrate our responses to break the link between polycrisis and poverty.

Vidya Diwakar is a research assistant at the Institute for Development Studies and Deputy Director, Chronic Poverty Advisory Network

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