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An evaluation of the Wolaita zone of Ethiopia found that, despite significant improvements in communities’ capacities to both absorb recurring disasters and to adapt their livelihoods based on experience of recent disasters, the area remains extremely vulnerable to recurring climatic stresses.

After several decades of investment in development have led to limited impact on the quality of life of people in resource poor countries, the Building Resilience Through Education (BRTE) programme aims to progress research and education across a range of disciplines including agriculture, education, engineering and healthcare.

BRTE originated through this evaluation of the impact of Concern Worldwide’s twenty-five year engagement in the Wolaita zone of Ethiopia, which was conducted by UCD’s Centre for Humanitarian Action in collaboration with Wolaita Sodo University and has led to a new partnership programme between both universities, announced this week.

Dr Pat Gibbons, Director, UCD Centre for Humanitarian Action at the UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science, and the co-ordinator of the BRTE project, commented: “Due to the protracted and recurring nature of climatic shocks and stresses in this area of Ethiopia, there is a need for a paradigm shift in the way aid is delivered to meet immediate life-saving assistance while working towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals”.

“Humanitarian action and development stakeholders need to seek new ways to engage with vulnerable African communities to achieve greater societal transformation and work towards a more equitable agenda for humanity”, he added, highlighting  education as a key factor in bringing about this change over the next four years.

Professor Orla Feely, UCD Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Impact said, “The BRTE partnership demonstrates that universities, such as UCD and WSU, are increasingly becoming key actors in multi-stakeholder partnerships to develop solutions which address the implementation of the UN’s SDGs. The diversity of skills, novel and inter-sectoral approaches needed to develop solutions to the SDGs aligns with our aspirations and goals”.

Over the next four years, the BRTE partnership will pursue the following objectives; building critical infrastructure, that will enable sharing of education and research between BRTE partners; establishing an educational platform that will build human capital and transform livelihood; and developing research and innovation capacity that will radically promote social and economic well-being.

Dr Berhanu Kuma, co-ordinator of the BRTE Programme at Wolaita Sodo University, welcomed the continued and enhanced partnership with UCD and the BRTE partners, describing the programme as a  “tremendous opportunity for our staff to explore research and innovation that will help to improve the livelihoods of the people of Wolaita”.

He continued, “WSU staff, from a range of disciplines, will be able to share knowledge and skills with their peers at UCD and apply their learning to the Wolaita context. Exposure to the procedures and systems at UCD has already encouraged changes in mindset and we hope to bring these innovations to fruition over the next 4 years”.

Connell Foley, Director of Strategy, Advocacy and Learning at Concern Worldwide, stated, “The vulnerability to recurring drought has plagued the poorest in Ethiopia for decades. In defining a resilience framework, we are finding technical solutions to building an asset base that protects people from these climatic shocks”.

He stressed the need for innovation so that communities and households will not only be able to absorb and to adapt to key risks but will also have the tools to transform their livelihoods and lives.

In partnership with Concern Worldwide, Future Analytics Ltd and the Network on Humanitarian Action, they have secured €2.1 million in Horizon 2020 funding, for the 4-year programme, through the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, Research and Innovation Staff Exchange (RISE) scheme.