X Close



UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction


Building Resilience of Women for Food Security  

Joshua Anthony26 October 2022

Written by Bhawana Upadhyay

A growing body of literature suggests that climate disasters such as heatwaves and flash floods disproportionately affect the most vulnerable inhabitants of rural communities.  An analysis of 130 peer-reviewed studies published in Nature Communications suggests that women and children often face disproportionately higher health risks posed by climate change impacts than others.  For example, pregnant women often experience more risks and limited access to reproductive and maternal care services during and post disasters.

UNICEF reported that due to the recent flooding in Pakistan, about 3.4 million children needed urgent humanitarian assistance and faced an increased risk of waterborne diseases, drowning, and malnutrition and more than 22.8 million children between the ages of 5-16 were out of school nationwide. The hardest-hit province, Sindh, has had nearly 16,000 schools destroyed alone. Thousands of schools were used to house displaced families. More than 400 children were killed in the floods, and many more got injured.

Likewise, the flash floods of June 2022 in Bangladesh affected 3.7 million people in 11 districts in the northern region, of which 1.9 million were women and girls.  A key finding of a rapid gender analysis undertaken by the Gender in Humanitarian Action Working Group states that 60 percent of women surviving on daily wage and rearing livestock lost their incomes.  Most affected households had no food stock and had to survive on food relief. The dry food supplied as relief was not sufficient to cover all affected households’ needs. The flooding caused a serious reduction in the food intake of those families. It was estimated that 60,000 women were pregnant in the affected area, and more than 20,000 births were expected to occur in September 2022.

In the risk framework of the Fifth Assessment Report of IPCC, vulnerability to climate change impacts is inseparably linked to adaptive capacity. The relationships between gender inequality and adaptation capacity span from unequal access to resources and opportunities to stereotypical socio-cultural norms. It is clear from numerous empirical research that social and gender inequalities are present in all spheres of human development, which is essentially why women and girls are disproportionally impacted.

The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report has identified South Asia as particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in the coming years, with critical implications for marginalized and disadvantaged communities including women and children. Unfortunately, climate disasters further reinforce the existing gender inequalities, thereby pushing rural communities into the peril of food insecurity. As a result, they become more vulnerable and incapable of bracing for future hazards and risks.

So, what could be the long-term strategy to empower women to build climate resilience for food security?

In South Asia, food security and nutrition have not improved significantly despite the region’s satisfactory economic growth. We are now barely seven years away from 2030, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target year.

The irony is that the leap toward the SDG is growing wider each year, while the clock is ticking. Working for SDG 2, 5 and 13 (Zero Hunger, Gender Equality and Climate Action) requires a holistic approach towards empowering rural women in climate-smart agriculture by supporting them through inclusive policies and practices.

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report 2022  explains a growing gender gap in food insecurity reflecting that world hunger rose further in 2021 (worsening inequalities across and within countries.

Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) through its Climate Adaptation and Resilience for South Asia (CARE for SA) project recently completed mapping and assessing of gender landscape in climate-resilient agricultural policies and practices in three South Asian countries (Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal). Key findings highlight untapped opportunities for governments and other relevant stakeholders to take forward toward not just achieving SDG 5, but also building resilience in the face of food insecurity.

Immediate attention is required towards building and strengthening rural women’s and youth networks and enhancing their linkages with extension services; Engaging private sectors in investing in climate-smart tools and machines that are sustainable and women-friendly; These tools need to be marketed with government subsidies and/or insurance coverage; Harmonizing and strengthening capacity at provincial and local levels on the concept and process of empowerment of women and youth engaged in climate-smart agriculture; Enhancing close coordination among respective National Disaster Management Authorities, concerned sectoral ministries, and province and district level Women Development Departments in the three countries.

Bhawana Upadhyay is Senior Specialist (Gender and Inclusion) at the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC).

Resilience, semantic satiation, conflation, and Maslow’s hierarchy: I can only take so much!

Joshua Anthony24 August 2022

Author: Dr Chris Needham-Bennett

I am getting worried with hearing ‘resilience’ used incautiously. The word (a general noun) which, once a welcome umbrella term to describe the results of the contributory disciplines of business continuity, disaster recovery, crisis management, emergency response, etc., has become a hackneyed media mantra. The England middle order cricket team batsmen, the Lioness’s England football team are ‘resilient’, a company or local council has ‘built in resiliency’ (whatever that is). The Ukrainians are resilient. My local community needs to achieve resilience. I need to achieve personal resilience for my mental well-being; I am not sure to what?

This blog makes two fundamental points, the first is a conflation of resilience with mental well-being, stress management and associated issues, the second is the overuse of the term and a consequent diminution of its genuine meaning.

Alexander (2013)[1] (noting several other authorities), cautioned that resilience might not have the ‘power’ to be a paradigm, yet almost a decade later—whilst it arguably is far from a paradigm—there is little doubt of a fascination with the phrase and burgeoning academic research[2] (some of which is attributable to climate change research). Moser et al. (2019)[3] note in their abstract that, ‘Resilience has experienced exponential growth in scholarship and practice over the past several decades.…it is an increasingly contested concept.’

The question to my mind is why is there such a fascination with the word? First let us discount hitherto traditional uses of the word which could include its proper application to botany, pharmacology, risk in some instances, material sciences, and metallurgy.

My increasing suspicion is that it is to do with a burgeoning societal self-obsession and narcissism combined with a notion of zero risk. Society appears to have latched onto a phrase which has been hijacked by a quasi-utopian vision which is manifested as follows.

The conflation with ‘well-being’

At the macro level, the OECD measures resilient cities using the criteria outlined below[4]. Some of these seem an expression of good economic common sense. Others such as ‘% of citizens near open space’ seem a little tentative and debatable as to their links to resilience.


Four areas that drive resilience. Source: OECD Regional Development[4].

Perhaps as importantly, their definition as to what is resilience is, is tinged with slightly trendy overtones of a ‘brave new world’.

‘Resilient cities are cities that have the ability to absorb, recover and prepare for future shocks (economic, environmental, social & institutional). Resilient cities promote sustainable development, well-being and inclusive growth.’

Sadly, the definition does not really define precisely what the city will be resilient to, rather it is left in vague terms of ‘shock’. It does not mention some of the more critical resilience issues lower down on Maslow’s hierarchy (1943 version; cited by McLeod 2022)[5] such as power, housing, water, sewage, defence, health, and food, without which the ability to live ‘500 metres from services or near an open space or well-being and inclusive growth’ might appear somewhat academic.

At the opposite end of the resilience spectrum, at the individual level, a simple google search of ‘personal resilience course’, offers a spectacular array of over 82 million results. A brief survey of the top five of them indicates that their duration is one day or in some cases half a day. The general view is that personal resilience is a skill or attribute that can be acquired in about 8 hours (the extreme min/max range for the duration of such courses appears to be 90 minutes to a 12-week period).

Robertson et al. (2015) expressed some reservations as to the evidence of the efficacy of such courses. Naturally since 2015 more evidence might be apparent but truly longitudinal studies of the ongoing effect of course completed a decade ago are yet to be available. Their practitioner notes state that,

‘Despite conceptual and theoretical support for resilience training, the empirical evidence is tentative, with the exception of a large effect for mental health and subjective well-being outcomes.’[6]

One BBC report cites Dr Michael Pluess from Queen Mary University of London who is testing for the resilience gene, in which case if discovered it would potentially invalidate the courses cited above.

There is a real danger that resilience, which is a fundamentally practical issue at both the macro and micro level is suborned by the burgeoning but evidentially limited literature on resilience’s relationship to well-being, inclusivity, and mental health. Such links also veneer the unpalatable hard choices that real resilience demands. Put as simply as possible we all might live near open spaces and be very inclusive, but if London’s water supply remains dependent solely on abstraction from the rivers Thames and Lee[7] then it does not matter how ‘positive’ you might feel about the City in about 20 years you will not have enough to drink (perhaps counterintuitively based on a multi-year average, London has only 100mm more rainfall than Jerusalem)[8].

Semantic Satiation

But is there any evidence that the overuse of a word diminishes somehow its value. Broadly speaking yes there is, and it is technically called ‘semantic satiation’. Smith and Klein (1990) noted that ‘Prolonged repetition of a word results in the subjective experience of loss of meaning, or semantic satiation’[9]. At risk of oversimplifying their diligent study, it works something like this; on a relatively infrequent basis I inform my partner that I love her. It seems to cheer her up. If I informed her of my love on a daily basis she would be delighted for a while, then she would suspect that I am having an affair, then she would get bored with it and then perhaps later even angry. The phrase would become increasingly less meaningful and impactful.

At a more serious level it does seem to me to do some harm. In reality a lot of ‘building resilience’ is really risk mitigation or some type or diversification in the case of supply chains. If for instance, we take Markovic’s 1952 diversification theory[10] (disputed by later critics) it does supposedly make an investment portfolio more resilient to market volatility, but the critical issue or activity is diversification which is a ‘thing’ in its own right with a word all of its own to describe it. Now one can make the argument that the end result is a more resilient portfolio, but one should not be tempted to change resilience to an activity which requires it to be a verb. Diversify is the verb or ‘doing word’; resilience is the result. Similarly, if we claim that all activities are resilience measures it somehow diminishes the utility or worth of risk assessments, risk mitigation, plans and responses all of which combine to achieve resilience.


It might be easy to dismiss these concerns as semantic academic posturing yet the power of words, their definitions, associations, and nuances are what will shape the future of resilience. I would wish resilience to remain practical, efficacious, and most importantly simple. Let us leave resilience as an ambition or end state that is achieved through an array of distinct professional activities. Let us also ensure that the fundamental hard and often costly problems associated with resilience are not whitewashed with an ephemera of pleasantries normally found at the higher altitudes of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. There may well be benefits to stress or coping management courses but let us call them just that, not personal resilience.

Dr Chris Needham-Bennett is Managing Director at Needhams1834 Ltd and Visiting Professor at University College London.

Email Chris at: chris@needhams1834.com


[1] Alexander, D. E.: Resilience and disaster risk reduction: an etymological journey, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 13, 2707–2716, https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-13-2707-2013, 2013.

[2] https://ensia.com/articles/what-is-resilience/

[3] Moser, S., Meerow, S., Arnott, J. et al. The turbulent world of resilience: interpretations and themes for transdisciplinary dialogue. Climatic Change 153, 21–40 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-018-2358-0

[4] https://www.oecd.org/cfe/regionaldevelopment/resilient-cities.htm

[5] McLeod, S. A. (2022, April 04). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

[6] Robertson, I.T., Cooper, C.L., Sarkar, M. and Curran, T. (2015), Resilience training in the workplace from 2003 to 2014: A systematic review. J Occup Organ Psychol, 88: 533-562. https://doi.org/10.1111/joop.12120

[7] https://web.archive.org/web/20150325074128/http://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/water-strategy-oct11.pdf

[8] https://www.sdjewishworld.com/2011/11/20/rain-in-jerusalem-almost-as-much-as-london/

[9] Smith, Lee, Klein, Raymond Evidence for semantic satiation: Repeating a category slows subsequent semantic processing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, Vol 16(5), Sep 1990, 852-861

[10]  Portfolio Selection, Harry Markowitz – The Journal of Finance, Vol. 7, No. 1. (Mar., 1952), pp. 77-91