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Lessons learnt from urban livelihoods programmes

Groupe URD invited the representatives of a number of key humanitarian actors to debate the lessons learnt from livelihoods programmes in the Haitian capital on Friday 6 December 2013. This event, which was organised as part of an evaluation of a programme implemented by the British Red Cross (BRC) in the area of Delmas 19, was also an opportunity to clarify aspects of the operational context in the neighbourhoods and to shed light on the approaches used by these different actors

Many of the NGOs involved in emergency relief following the earthquake of 12 January 2010 have gradually moved towards the sustainable development phase, notably via programmes which aim to reinforce livelihoods. These organisations, who did not all have experience in this kind of activity in urban environments, had to develop approaches and tools to deal with the challenges of the difficult context in the neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince. Indeed, in addition to the differentiation and large number of people which are characteristic of cities, Port-au-Prince has the specific characteristic of having been devastated by a major natural disaster which caused incalculable damage. Social cohesion was affected, due to the movement of the population within the city. There is also weak structuring of relations between communities; basic community organisations and the committees (which emerged after the earthquake) do not generally have any experience in community development activities and lack legitimacy. This explains to a great extent why the majority of NGOs are obliged to include organisational reinforcement in their plans. Due to the delays in the organisation of local elections, local authorities also suffer from a lack of legitimacy to negotiate on the part of communities.

In addition, the continuing insecurity in many neighbourhoods leads to actors adopting security strategies which have an impact on the quality of their actions, notably concerning timeframes.

For activities in camps, the situation is no less difficult; due to their temporary character, operations need to be of a temporary nature. The organizations who conduct operations in camps also mention a form of suspicion between the members of committees. It therefore appears more difficult to envisage sustainable livelihood capacity building projects for camp populations.

 Different approaches to identifying beneficiaries for livelihoods projects

The workshop participants [1] discussed the approaches used to identify beneficiaries. The table below summarises the different approaches which exist; the actors present at the workshop apply one or other of these. It should nevertheless be noted that things may not be so clear-cut in reality.


BRC Figure 1


 Six important lessons learnt from urban livelihoods programmes

  • From the beginning, the affected population or beneficiaries should be given clear and structured information about the nature of the programmes (the activities planned and the means allocated, the expected results, the methods and the time-frame).
  • Projects should be of an appropriate and realistic length for post-crisis programmes (enough time for analysis, support and monitoring).
  • The appropriate skills are necessary for post-crisis activities. It is fundamental that inexperienced NGOs should establish partnerships with competent organisations. In relation to loans, avoid informing the population about partnerships between NGOs and micro-finance institutions as people generally do not understand that NGOs can become involved in lending.
  • It is necessary to envisage providing partner community organisations and beneficiaries with support and capacity building.
  • A lot of precautions need to be taken if cash grants are to be made. Once these have been made, it will be very difficult to involve the beneficiaries in a system based on loans.
  • Very good knowledge of the context and needs in the neighbourhood where you will be active is necessary. This knowledge should be updated during the project. Certain organizations even commissioned studies during their operations.

In conclusion, the growing culture of aid dependency in Haiti in recent years is a major obstacle to the creativity of the local population. This is one of the negative aspects of the way aid has been provided. In order to prepare for the response to possible future crises, humanitarian actors need to continue testing money transfer methods to improve and consolidate them in order to minimise as much as possible the perverse effects of assistance. In the meantime, it is necessary to tackle current challenges: building the capacity of national actors (Haitian Red Cross, national NGOs and public authorities) and reconciling humanitarian approaches (focused on vulnerabilities) and development approaches (focused on capacity building).

[1] The NGOs represented at the workshop or who took part in the discussion were: Oxfam (Quebec and Great Britain), Entrepreneurs du Monde (EDM), Catholique Relief Services (CRS), the French Red Cross, the British Red Cross, Konsèy Nasyonal Finansman Popilè (KNFP), Groupe URD, Fonkoze and Action contre la Faim (ACF).