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Lessons from BRC’s Urban livelihoods recovery interventions in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Bonaventure G. SOKPOH

Following the 12 January 2010 earthquake, the British Red Cross (BRC) began, in June 2010, to implement an integrated recovery programme in Port-au-Prince, including livelihoods, shelter and water, sanitation and hygiene activities. The livelihoods component of the programme involved main two stages: 1) Cash grants, and vocational and business training and 2) the establishment, training and provision of loans to microfinance groups, as well as the provision of loans and training to small and medium-sized businesses to support their growth, and thus job creation.

This article focuses specifically on lessons learned from the implementation of the livelihoods component of the BRC urban recovery programme, from April 2010 to December 2013. It is a shortened version of a wider, internal study completed on the same topic, which focuses on issues relating to assessment, decision-making and management. The study findings lead to six key learning points that should be taken into account when BRC staff and Movement partners are conducting assessments for, designing and implementing future livelihoods recovery programmes in disaster-affected urban areas. These learning points should also be of use to other humanitarian and development agencies implementing livelihoods recovery programmes in disaster-affected urban areas.


1. Understanding needs: Basic goods and services vs. livelihoods promotion in urban areas.

Initial emergency livelihoods assessments must ascertain the basic goods and service needs of the affected urban community who generally rely on the market to meet their needs. For cash interventions, understanding the needs of the affected population is crucial to adapt the amount and ensure targeting reaches the most vulnerable. Predetermining transfer values and the number of households to be covered is not appropriate.

A more detailed assessment, supported by coordination and information sharing with other agencies, needs to follow soon after in order to better understand the livelihoods recovery and promotion needs of the affected community. The importance of utilising livelihoods frameworks and tools that are appropriate to the urban area is also essential. Livelihoods frameworks such as the SLF or the Household Economy Approach (HEA), which informs the BRC HES Guidelines (Hammond and Atkinson 2012), can help to develop a better understanding of both the basic needs and the livelihoods profiles of the affected population. In addition, various tools adapted to the urban context are now available and others are under development. Tools that are particularly useful are the CaLP Cash Transfer Programmes in Urban Emergencies Toolkit (Cross and Johnston 2011); the ACF – International guide to identification of vulnerable people in urban environments (Levron 2010); and the RAM and Market Analysis Guidance (MAG) [1] developed by BRC, American Red Cross, the International Federation and ICRC [2]. The challenge, however, is not simply the stockpiling of tools, but their effective utilisation. The response in Port-au-Prince shows that more needs to be done in raising awareness of the tools and training of staff in their effective utilisation.

To deliver such high-quality assessments that are relevant to the urban area, effective recruitment and mobilisation of internal surge capacity is essential.


2. Translating assessments into timely and relevant urban programmes.

Timely and relevant programmes depend on timely assessments and the necessary skills and experience to translate assessment results into response options, programme design and, ultimately, a well implemented, managed and flexible programme. In urban areas, this is all the more important given the propensity for rapid change arising from population movements and fluctuations in markets driven by disaster impacts and aid inputs. While cash transfers can be vital in providing for immediate urban market needs post-disaster, a clear strategy on how they will contribute to livelihoods promotion, or another sector objective (for example, shelter, health or water and sanitation), needs to follow soon after.

For BRC to be able to effectively respond to such needs in future urban programmes, a case could be made for the development of stronger skills in livelihoods recovery and programme management, beyond the current focus in the BRC on the development of skills and expertise in cash transfer programming (through membership of CaLP).

[1] The RAM is intended to be used for an initial quick assessment of markets post-shock to inform response options analysis (with limited shelf life), while the MAG is intended to facilitate integration of market analysis into the different phases of the programme cycle from two weeks to one year post-shock.

[2] Further tools and resources relevant to implementing urban livelihoods response and recovery programmes can be found in the HES Guidelines (see Hammond and Atkinson 2012) (currently being updated) and Appendix 2 of BRC’s Learning from the City study (see Kyazze et al. 2012). A further useful portal is the International Federation’s Livelihoods Resource Centre: http://www.livelihoodscentre.org/