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Chapter 9.2 Livelihoods and DRR

Disaster risk reduction and livelihoods

Photo: ODI

Thinking about poverty, sustainable development, vulnerability, social protection and livelihoods has increasingly converged in recent years. The links between livelihoods, vulnerability and DRR are well understood by many agencies, who recognise that strengthening livelihoods contributes to reducing vulnerability. The ideal is a virtuous circle, in which vulnerability reduction and livelihood promotion reinforce each other to generate resilient livelihoods, where households can anticipate and plan for changes of different kinds and adapt to them. Interventions should build on existing coping and livelihood strategies, where these have been shown to be effective.

Some strategies may be no more than enforced or short-term responses to poverty or external stresses. These may do little or nothing to reduce poverty in the longer term. For example, farmers without secure land tenure will not invest in land improvement, and children of poor families may have to go out to work instead of acquiring an education and skills in school. Strategies can also increase risk: for example, land degradation and rapid water run-off due to overgrazing or felling of timber, resulting in reduced yields of food crops or flash floods and landslides.

Livelihood support is an important component of many agencies’ DRR work, but it requires expertise in a wide range of relevant areas. These include agriculture, environmental management, health, food security, nutrition, finance, marketing, education and training, infrastructure provision, community mobilisation, organisational development and advocacy. Individual agencies working on DRR are unlikely to possess the full range of skills required, which means that partnerships between different organisations are essential.

Interventions to sustain and protect livelihoods can take place at any stage in the disaster cycle. Long-term livelihood strengthening can be part of pre-disaster mitigation strategies, integrated into development work. Shorter-term disaster preparedness initiatives can include steps to protect material assets or move them to safety as part of contingency planning. When a disaster strikes, emergency relief can be used to maintain livelihood activities – for example, by providing seeds or tools that have been lost to the disaster – in addition to supplying essential assets such as food, water or shelter. Livelihood support enables longer-term rehabilitation and recovery from disasters to proceed more rapidly, and humanitarian agencies are increasingly involved in this kind of work (see Chapter 17).

In principle, sustainable livelihoods approaches (see Section 9.4 below) reduce vulnerability, but there is still a need for careful planning about the choice and combination of livelihood practices to promote. Such planning should take into account the characteristics of household assets and their vulnerability, the economic viability of interventions, the material and other resources required, the potential social impacts and the level of institutional support that can be expected. As with all programming, better understanding of the local context (particularly markets, coping methods, social exclusion and power relationships) should be prioritised.

Box 9.1 Livelihoods analysis in DRR planning

Livelihoods analysis should be used in planning projects to identify groups whose livelihoods are most vulnerable and who are least able to cope with and recover from disasters. The analysis can be carried out using participatory information-gathering tools and secondary data. Questions to ask about livelihoods include:

  • What are the principal livelihood groups within the community, and which of these groups are socio-economically vulnerable or unable to cope and recover when a particular hazard or stress occurs? Are there particularly vulnerable people within livelihood groups (e.g. women or people with disabilities might be a vulnerable group across a range of occupations)?
  • What coping strategies do people use when they are affected by hazards or stresses (particularly the most vulnerable livelihood groups)? How sustainable are they?
  • What are the key constraints and opportunities faced by each vulnerable livelihood group (e.g. organisational capacity, access to productive resources, skills, technologies and markets, secure living conditions)?
  • Are their livelihoods affected by particular hazards, climate change or other long-term trends?
  • What are the gaps and opportunities in relation to external institutions which affect their livelihoods (e.g. technical and financial services, social safety nets)?
Adapted from K. Pasteur, From Vulnerability to Resilience: A Framework for Analysis and Action To Build Community Resilience (Rugby: Practical Action Publishing, 2011), pp. 76–77.