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Chapter 9.5 Livelihoods and DRR

Issues to consider in livelihoods-centred DRR

Photo: ODI

9.5.1 Integration

Livelihoods are interdependent and all productive enterprises depend on other people or facilities. For example, farmers need buyers for their produce and transport providers to get to markets; small businesses need goods to sell or tools and equipment for manufacturing, as well as clients; and everyone needs labour. At community level, even small problems have knock-on effects: bad weather could push the price of agricultural produce up, but also restrict farmers’ purchasing power for other goods and services; if a footbridge is washed away by a flood, this can add considerably to the time and cost of getting to market to buy and sell.

DRR projects need to adopt a similarly integrated approach where livelihoods are concerned. Livelihood promotion must be supported by livelihood protection. Many different kinds of intervention can help to make livelihoods more resilient, but choices should be made with a specific purpose in mind and as part of a package of measures that will reinforce each other. Sometimes a single area of intervention can produce multiple benefits in terms of livelihood gains and risk reduction. For example, community-managed reforestation projects lead to increased supplies of wood, fodder and wild fruits for consumption or other uses in the home, or for sale; they also contribute to a more resilient environment by reducing soil erosion, lessening landslide risk and conserving water.

Box 9.3 Livelihood adaptation to climate variability and change

Because livelihoods are interconnected, local adaptation to shocks and stresses requires a range of complementary approaches, both long and short term. These might include:

  • adopting physical adaptive and mitigation measures, such as excavation or re-excavation of canals, ponds, irrigation channels and storage facilities for retaining rain water;
  • adjusting existing agricultural practices: changing cropping patterns, planting drought-tolerant crops, better storage of seeds and fodder and adopting alternative, cash crops;
  • adjusting economic activities, including livelihood diversification, facilitating access to markets, developing small-scale cottage industries;
  • strengthening local institutions, including self-help programmes, capacity- building and awareness-raising for local institutions;
  • strengthening formal institutional structures, such as local disaster management committees and financial institutions; and
  • formulating policies to promote adaptive livelihood opportunities.
Adapted from R. Selvaraju et al., Livelihood Adaptation to Climate Variability and Change in Drought-prone Areas of Bangladesh: Developing Institutions and Options (Rome: Asian Disaster Preparedness Center and UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, 2006),, p. v.


Case Study 9.3 Integrating livelihoods and resilience programming

The Chars Livelihoods Programme (CLP) works with households on river islands (chars) in north-west Bangladesh. It aims to improve the livelihoods, incomes and food security of at least a million poor people. The CLP supports disaster resilience through five complementary areas of activity:

  1. Household infrastructure. Homesteads are raised on a plinth to put them above expected flood levels: this protects houses, gardens and livestock. Latrines and tube wells are also raised to ensure uninterrupted access to water and prevent contamination.
  2. Asset transfer. The programme provides the poorest families with livelihood assets, mainly cattle (the type found on the chars can swim well and can be kept on plinths for long periods during the flood season). Fodder crops are planted around the edges of the plinths, which also gives added protection against erosion by flood waters.
  3. Social development. Families receiving CLP support have to attend group meetings and training on community and socio-economic development topics and disaster preparedness.
  4. Disaster relief. CLP has an emergency fund to respond to food price rises, provide blankets during cold spells and repair houses after cyclones. Families are sometimes evacuated to the mainland during floods. In the bad floods of 2007, CLP provided food and animal feed to over 11,000 households.
  5. Building financial capital. Village savings and loan groups enable families to build up savings against future shocks and provide access to credit in times of hardship.

Studies and evaluations indicate that participating families have become more resilient to a range of shocks and pressures than similar families in villages not covered by the programme.

A. Barrett et al., Impact of the Chars Livelihoods Programme on the Disaster Resilience of Chars Communities (Bogra: Chars Livelihoods Programme, 2014),

9.5.2 Communities

The household is the basis for many livelihood activities and hence is often the focus of livelihood interventions. However, there is also a collective dimension that should not be overlooked. Individuals and households depend to varying degrees on the support of the community at large and its institutions, for example those that manage water sharing and access to land or that arbitrate disputes. Larger-scale communal facilities that play an important part in protecting and promoting livelihoods, such as tree nurseries, greenhouses and grain stores, have to be managed collectively. Community and local organisations can also generate collective action and promote social cohesion.

At the same time, as Chapter 6 (Communities and participation) shows, communities are not homogeneous. There are differences and sometimes divisions within them, and they contain both elite and marginalised groups. Those holding wealth, power and authority may dominate local institutions, control access to resources and discriminate against or exclude other parts of the community. In addition, local institutions, including those that are broadly representative of the whole community, often lack capacity and require technical and financial support.

Extended family support, social capital and reciprocity and social networks are very important, especially in crises and among poorer households. They play a role in home construction, repair or improvement, and even in relocating houses. They also come into play during disaster events, for instance to help move or store possessions at risk. Social capital is more effective in smaller events which affect only a few households; in larger disasters, where whole communities are affected, capacity to assist others may be more restricted. Livelihoods approaches can help in creating social capital and social organisations because they focus on communities’ immediate everyday needs, whereas the threat of disasters may appear remote.

NGOs and other agencies generally support community ownership and management of DRR efforts. However, there can be no certainty that a community will favour such programming, or that it is willing and able to participate. Even communities that do support a programme’s aims may be reluctant to take responsibility for managing it, providing labour for construction, purchasing materials or looking after ongoing operations and maintenance. These issues have to be investigated and, where necessary, negotiated with community institutions. It can also be difficult to encourage very poor people to invest their time and labour in activities that benefit the community as a whole, such as repairing roads and irrigation systems, because their immediate household needs have to take precedence. In such cases, food, cash or vouchers may be needed as an incentive to participate. It tends to be the most prosperous people in the community who get involved in voluntary community committees, increasing the likelihood that interventions will favour people who are most active on the committees.

9.5.3 Local infrastructure

Local or community infrastructure (such as irrigation channels, storm drainage, tube wells, water pipes, sewerage and sanitation systems, flood defences, retaining walls, reservoirs, roads, bridges and footpaths) is vital in protecting livelihoods and stimulating economic activity. Other facilities, such as schools, health centres and public shelters, also make important contributions to community well-being and resilience. Construction, rehabilitation and strengthening or retrofitting of such infrastructure forms an important part of many DRR interventions and often has a rapid and significant impact. It also creates jobs locally, provides opportunities for skills training and can make use of local materials and technologies.

However, planners have to consider how to set priorities regarding individual infrastructure components and their contribution to livelihood development and resilience. Whereas large-scale infrastructure programmes are planned and implemented by central governments, sometimes with support from bilateral and multilateral aid agencies, building local-level infrastructure is sometimes a piecemeal process and a wider variety of organisations may be involved. Nevertheless, experience shows that it is possible to fund and implement some forms of infrastructure provision or upgrading (e.g. water and sanitation, drainage, tracks and paths) through local partnerships involving communities, NGOs, local government and businesses.

Obtaining the right materials can be costly and may require some form of external financing, but communities commonly make some contribution, particularly their labour and locally available materials. Traditional and indigenous knowledge can be applied effectively to infrastructure building, though it often requires engineering expertise to ensure that structures are built and repaired properly to make them as hazard-resistant as possible, and hazard and risk assessments will be required to ensure they are placed in safe locations. Moreover, agencies working on infrastructure often invest only in construction, with little provision being made for ongoing operation and maintenance or for transferring relevant technical skills to communities and their organisations. Ownership of, and responsibility for, infrastructure also need to be established and agreed from the start.

Box 9.4 Types of community infrastructure

Roads and bridges Local roads, walkways and small-scale pedestrian and road bridges which provide physical, social and economic connectivity (e.g. access to markets and services) as well as the local and national road system beyond
Water and sanitation Drainage ditches, channels and drains, piped and boxed culverts, embankments, retaining and protection walls, small water reservoirs, ponds and earthen dams, river inlets and minor irrigation works, shallow wells, pump houses and localised distribution systems, locally improvised waste disposal and composting plants
Education and health Modest educational and health facilities, often in remote areas or informal settlements. These may have been constructed, adapted and managed by the communities themselves with little or occasional outreach or oversight support provided by the respective authorities
Social and cultural Locally run resource centres, childcare facilities, playgrounds, religious centres, graveyards, community centres, multi-purpose halls
Energy Off-grid community and household based energy generation and distribution systems, including diesel generators, biogas plants, solar home systems for electrification and micro-hydros
Economic Community- and household-level capital, such as the buildings, capital, assets and stocks within micro-enterprises and home-based industries (e.g. agriculture, workshops) that produce goods and deliver services. Local marketplaces, including covered markets and community shops
ICT Small ICT-based installations exist in some communities catering to their need for information, communication and early warning messages. Community telephone/internet access points, local communication masts and other improvised communication devices
Adapted from UNDP, Guidance Note: Community Infrastructure Rehabilitation (New York: United Nations Development Programme, 2013),, p. 30.