Responding to crises: What can we do? What's next?

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Although sometimes over used, the word 'crisis' accurately describes many challenges of today's world, such as climage change, war and refugees, economic volatility, pandemics, and the continuing unmet needs of the poor, hungry, and neglected. While much has been achieved--in reducing the incidence of poverty and infant mortality, especially--our bright hopes for the future could be dimmed by shocks that can overwhelm nations, international organizations, communities, and citizens.

UNU-WIDER's 'Responding to crises' conference, held in Helsinki in September, aimed to improve knowledge about continuing, unexpected, and future crises. It also served as a forum to discuss the options available for governments, international agencies, NGOs, civil society and private citizens to respond.

The conference paid close attention to the economic and social impact of crises, the tensions that arise in responding to continuing crises while dealing with the unexpected, the resourcing of responses, and what the future might bring-for better or for worse.

Continuing crises

For the world's poorest people, each day is a crisis of finding work, enough to eat, and safety. Even for those who escape poverty traps, other challenges present themselves, especially in fragile states with weak governance and a lack of human rights. Gender violence, as a whole, is all too pervasive. Continuing crises such as poverty and hunger were the focus of the Millennium Development Goals and, as the new Sustainable Development Goals indicate, are still of critical importance today.

Unexpected crises

The crises of the future will come in many different shapes and sizes. Wars, pandemics and natural disasters can sometimes be predicted, but we very rarely know when they will happen or how far-reaching their impact will be. In recent times, mass migration, Zika, and Ebola have reared their heads. Similar unexpected crises will, regrettably, continue to emerge. One of the best ways to limit their impacts is to raise the general level of development and thus ensure that countries have the resources and skills to respond in the most effective manner.

Future crises to grow from current problems

Even for crises that we've seen coming for a long time--such as climate change--the international community has been slow to act. The world continues to expect innovation and technological progress in addressing this vital issue. Certainly progress on renewable energy, and its take-up, is accelerating. But clearly more action is needed if the potentially catastrophic impact of climate change is to be limited. Some politicians continue to put forward the view that prosperity comes before the environment. But if we destroy the planet, what are the chances of maintaining and raising the living...

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