Livelihoods Change over TimeResponses of Communities and Agencies to Chronic Crisis

Disasters and the ensuing humanitarian response significantly change the livelihoods, institutions, and power relations of affected communities. Yet there are many gaps in the understanding of the impact of crisis on people’s livelihoods and on the humanitarian programs designed to address the impacts of crisis. The study is designed to improve our knowledge of livelihoods in crisis, to enable humanitarian agencies to better address the protection of livelihoods, and to enable policy makers to have a better understanding of the institutional drivers of livelihoods change. After monitoring in northern Ethiopia for two years, the study has acquired funding for more in-depth monitoring at the household level for an additional two years.

There have been numerous studies of the impact of recurrent crisis on livelihoods and the institutions that shape livelihoods, but a major constraint to improved understanding is that most of these studies are one-off assessments, usually conducted well after the crisis. Few studies have actually captured the process of change as it occurs in a crisis. To address the gaps in current knowledge about the how livelihoods change in crisis, this research will include a number of community studies capturing change over time in response to crisis and the response to humanitarian programming in crisis and programming aimed at preventing or mitigating crisis.

The research will be conducted collaboratively with humanitarian agencies and research institutes in the host country. A total of four country studies are anticipated, including Sudan, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, and Haiti. In each country, a geographic-area prospective longitudinal study will be conducted initially over a three-year time period, with the possibility to extend it to five years. One of the important elements of the study will be to ramp up the measurement of change in the event of a shock or acute crisis, so that change processes as directly influenced by such crises can be better understood and mitigated.

The overarching objective of the proposed research is to enhance the understanding of how livelihoods change in response to stress and crisis, and to improve humanitarian practice in responding to disaster and improving livelihoods. The study has four specific objectives: to understand livelihood changes at both the household and institutional level, and the factors driving these changes over the long term; to develop improved methodologies for measuring livelihood change over time in crisis situations to facilitate cross-contextual analysis and permit broader analysis of livelihoods change; to work with agencies to improve livelihoods programming in humanitarian emergencies and facilitate institutional change processes; and to improve the exchange of research results between academia, humanitarian organizations, and communities. Each study is preceded by a scoping mission to estimate costs, to establish field-based partnerships, and to refine methods and tools.

The first output for each case study will be a baseline assessment report, and change will be monitored on an annual basis thereafter by household surveys and qualitative study of the institutional drivers of change. These will result in annual reports to the host agency and the relevant authorities in the host country government.

Beyond these paper outputs, the intent of the research program is to improve humanitarian programming and the policy response to preventing, mitigating, and responding to crises. To this end, annual or biennial consultations will be held with all the collaborating agencies, research institutes, government partners, and others interested in the question. Other outputs will include improved methodologies of livelihoods measurement in crisis and documentation of good practice in livelihoods programming.

After monitoring in northern Ethiopia for two years, the study has recently acquired funding to monitor for an additional two years. The results from this study are helping to shape the way in which agencies analyze and intervene in situation of chronic vulnerability or protracted crisis. Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) programs encompass many different kinds of activities, but share the fundamental objective of enhancing the capacity of vulnerable communities and policy makers to identify, reduce, and manage risk at the local, regional, or national level. Ethiopia is one of the most food-insecure countries in the world, but only recently has the food security problem begun to be understood in terms of a complete analysis of livelihoods, rather than simply as a food supply problem.

The intended impact of the project is to improve both the programmatic means of preventing, mitigating, and responding to crises, and the policy response of governments and international organizations. This will be achieved through careful documentation of the research itself, and through outreach mechanisms like the consultations with partners described above.

This study is a collaborative effort between members of Tufts/FIC and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at TuftsUniversity. Each country study under this project will collaborate with an international humanitarian agency and its local partners at the level of field projects, and each will develop partnerships with in-country universities or research institutes as well as the relevant in-country disaster management or disaster response authority.

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