Livelihoods at risk: what underpins our actions?

Peace & Security22 Jun 2011Reinier van Hoffen

PSO and Wageningen University brought together actors in the humanitarian aid delivery in a panel focusing on livelihood information and responses. The panel was well balanced in terms of the variety of actors and continents/situations. Two presentations focused on actual implementation whereas two others provided guidelines and standards.

This is a contribution to a 2011 online blog called ‘Innovating Humanitarianism’

Humanitarianism today is faced with many challenges. On 2-5 June 2011, the Second World Conference on Humanitarian Studies (WCHS) brought together the best of thinkers and researchers to discuss urgent questions about the changing nature of current crises and how humanitarian policy and practice can best respond to this.

The Broker hosted this conference blog, which was run by Sean Lowrie and Marieke Hounjet of the Consortium of British Humanitarian Agencies. Contributions are welcome: mail Marieke Hounjet.

The WCHS conference is organized by the International Humanitarian Studies Association (IHSA) and hosted by Tufts University, Medford, in collaboration with Harvard University, Columbia University and the Social Science Research Council.

Where humanitarian organizations might be motivated to fully consider livelihood information in targeting their responses, this may not necessarily be in the interest of other actors in the aid system. In particular not to those who exercise power through the aid targeting process.

How difficult it is to collect information was well illustrated by Lucy Harman Guera (CARE Peru). She showed that both traditional and scientific knowledge gathering had inherent shortcomings. Traditional knowledge is fading due to rural-urban migration as well as actual climate change impacting the bio-indicators that were previously used to guide the farming practices. At the same time scientific data is often not up-to-date and its evidence base is scattered. It lead CARE to organize a process of cross fertilization between both the informal and formal knowledge realms.

Sanjeev Bhanja (EFICOR) showed how both hazard and vulnerability information was collected during participatory disaster risk assessments that EFICOR carried out in Orissa, India. He also emphasized that the outcome had shown that there are many components that contribute to risk, and therefore the information collected informs a much wider response then reducing the physical impact of the hazard.

Joel Hafvenstein (Tearfund UK) then explained in his presentation how Tearfund UK had made an effort to collect all the experiences of its partner agencies (like EFICOR) and develop it into a guideline for Climate change and Environmental Degradation Risk and Adaptation assessment (CEDRA).

The fourth presentation by Sylvie Roberts representing Cathy Watson (LEGS project) presented the new Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards as prepared by the LEGS project. LEGS serves as a supplement to the existing SPHERE guidelines and follows the same format. Its preparation followed a similar process as the SPHERE guidelines.

Peter Tamas (Wageningen University, Disaster Studies) delivered a synthesis at the end of the panel discussion reflecting on the presentations in relation to the subject of the panel. He pointed to the inherent tendency of agencies to propagate their own understanding of reality and repeatedly reaffirming it by using the same tools again and again. While the efforts of tool development were highly appreciated, Peter emphasized that each organization has also a vested interest to have their approach, tool or method appreciated and accepted by decision makers.