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Type Report
Title Investigating resilience thresholds in sub-Saharan Africa
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2014
The post-2015 development agenda is leading to a focus on eradicating extreme poverty by 2030 – or
‘getting to zero.’ This is a very important aim. But poverty in this case is defined as $1.25 per person
per day which is indeed highly extreme. And as people cross this line ‘absolutely nothing special
happens’ (Pritchett, 2013).
In particular, people who live just above the poverty line are vulnerable to be pushed back into poverty
due to shocks and stresses. 75% of people living in developing countries, around four billion people,
live on less than $4 a day (World Bank, 2013) and are exposed to individual or household shocks
(such as ill-health, loss of job, death and theft) or shocks experienced by the whole community (such
as drought or flooding). According to the 2014 World Development Report, ‘There is growing
evidence that adverse shocks - above all, health and weather shocks and economic crises - play a
major role in pushing households below the poverty line and keeping them there’ (ibid). And some of
these shocks, including climate-related events and economic shocks are likely to increase in the
Getting to zero, and staying there, involves not just ensuring that people currently in poverty escape
from living in it but also that people do not fall into poverty in the future. Of course, households have
varied ways of coping with such shocks – some may experience only a transitory impact; for others
this can be long term. For households in low-income countries, the most effective safeguard is a
large asset base that they can draw upon, but poorest households are the least likely to have
sufficient income, savings, and assets to do so (del Ninno et al., 2001) and may resort to negative
coping strategies, forced into sacrificing long term gain for immediate survival needs.
This raises the question as to whether there is a ‘resilience threshold’ or ‘security from poverty line’
(Sumner, 2013): a line that, once people are living over, means that they are highly unlikely to live in
poverty in the future. If there is such a threshold, what form would it take? For instance, would it be
based on achieving a certain level of income/ expenditure; a particular number of years of education
or access to a particular type of (informal) insurance arrangement?

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