Section 1: ActionAid’s approach to emergencies

1.3

Principles that guide ActionAid’s work in emergencies

ActionAid’s human rights-based approach (HRBA) guides our response to disasters. The following tables set out the eight core human rights principles that ActionAid follows, and contextualises these for disasters.

This handbook will not give you a step-by-step guide for implementing emergency response and resilience programmes – there is no standard template that can be rolled out in any context. What this handbook aims to do is to explain the key principles of ActionAid’s approach to emergencies, and provide some practical guidance and examples from our work in different countries to help you put them into practice.


Principle Quick Links


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Principle 1

Putting the active agency of people living in poverty first – and building their awareness of rights

Minimum standards for ActionAid programming

  • People living in poverty and their organisations have been actively involved in the drawing up of all local rights programmes.

  • Programme activities or strategies exist that enable people living in poverty to analyse and reflect on the conditions and causes of poverty and inequality, linking this with rights and the violation of rights.

  • We have supported the active, free and meaningful participation of people living in poverty.

  • We have addressed and understood vulnerabilities, strengthened people’s resilience and helped respond to basic needs in ways that are sustainable, strengthen rights and generate alternatives.

  • People living in poverty have organised themselves and mobilised as rights activists.

  • Our fundraising and communications work represents people living in poverty as active agents, not victims.

  • Our fundraising and campaigning actively engages people living in poverty, respecting them as rights holders and giving them a voice.


Minimum standards in disaster contexts

In emergency response

  • We put people living in poverty and exclusion and affected by disasters at the centre of our response, addressing basic needs (material, psychosocial and information needs) as basic rights and combining programme and policy to build their capacity to manage the design, procurement and implementation of emergency response programming.

  • We conduct assessments in partnership with disaster-affected communities in order to analyse their situation, raise awareness of their rights and mobilise them and their institutions to take action.

  • Our programme activities or strategies enable ongoing analysis and reflection on the conditions and causes of vulnerability, people’s rights and rights violations and the causes of the inequality, exploitation and exclusion that underlie these, through mechanisms such as women’s and youth forums.

  • Our emergency responses promote accountability to disasteraffected communities as a ‘non-negotiable’, building their capacity and agencies to hold us and others to account.

In emergency preparedness

  • We put people living in poverty and exclusion (so vulnerable to shocks and stresses) and people experiencing disasters at the centre of our preparedness work, led by women.

  • We work with communities to analyse the stresses and shocks they are vulnerable to, and the structural causes behind it (including multiple denial of rights, powerlessness, etc).

  • This analysis informs the design and implementation of disaster preparedness plans, building the necessary knowledge, skills, capacity, institutions and linkages to be able to prepare for, prevent and mitigate the impacts of disasters, at the same time building the capacity of women to facilitate this process.

  • We mobilise people and institutions to

    1. negotiate and mobilise resources to ensure our analysis feeds into state policy and action on disaster preparedness,

    2. implement disaster preparedness plans in collaboration with the state and others and

    3. act in the event of a disaster to lead an emergency response.


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Principle 2

Analysing and confronting unequal power

Minimum standards for ActionAid programming

  • We have analysed and understood the impact of unequal power relations within groups of people living in poverty, and between them and other actors/duty bearers.

  • We have challenged all forms of discrimination and prioritise working with those who are most excluded.

  • We have specifically analysed and understood power relations between women and men and worked on strategies to address them.

  • We have analysed the impact of our own power in partnerships and alliances.

  • We have a clear critical pathway, laying out how change will happen, based on a thorough analysis of power and rights.

  • Comprehensive power analysis informs our campaigns, which seek to shift power.

  • Our fundraising narrative recognises the role of unequal power relations in causing poverty and the importance of addressing this.


Minimum standards in disaster contexts

In emergency response

  • ActionAid and partners have a solid understanding of the unequal power relationships that perpetuate and exacerbate the vulnerability of people living in poverty and exclusion to the stresses and shocks which lead to disasters. Our analysis recognises that disasters exacerbate existing discrimination and power imbalances.

  • Our programme framework clearly articulates how we intend to work in partnership with disaster-affected communities to move them from a context of disaster (caused and exacerbated by powerlessness) to a context of resilience. Integrating resilience building into emergency response and recovery is a key component of this.

  • ActionAid and partners put in place mechanisms to counteract the traditional ‘aid/recipient’ relationship between humanitarian agencies and disaster-affected communities

  • We use disasters as an opportunity to redress power imbalances between men and women. Unapologetically we promote the leadership of women in emergency response, recovery and resilience building.

  • Our fundraising and communications activity during emergencies articulates the role of unequal power relations in causing the disaster and/or exacerbating its impact on the poorest and most excluded.

In emergency preparedness

  • Our analysis recognises the power relations between men and women. We build the capacity of women to lead emergency preparedness and response work.

  • We understand the power relations between various groups, and how vulnerability exacerbates power imbalances (e.g. people living with disabilities and ethnic and religious minorities etc). Our preparedness analysis examines vulnerability from their perspective.

  • We analyse state preparedness planning from the perspective of facilitating the security or promoting the insecurity of people living in poverty and exclusion (so vulnerable to shocks and stresses) and people experiencing disasters.

  • We work in collaboration with different actors, including communities and wider civil society, to put right the inequalities which underlie vulnerability and power imbalances.


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Principle 3

Advancing women’s rights

Minimum standards for ActionAid programming

  • We have ensured that women have the confidence to identify and challenge different forms of subordination and exploitation.

  • We have supported the capacity development of women living in poverty and their organisations.

  • We have confronted unequal power relations between men and women, including within our own organisation.

  • We have carried out gender analysis and gender budget analysis to cement this commitment.

  • We have connected women living in poverty and their organisations with others to build solidarity and strengthen the movement for change.

  • Our fundraising and communications work is gender-aware and challenges stereotypes.


Minimum standards in disaster contexts

In emergency response

  • We consciously take sides with women in emergency responses, prioritising their material, psychosocial and information needs.

  • We promote women’s leadership during all phases of emergency response, recovery and resilience building.

  • We bring women and women’s institutions together to participate in the design, planning and implementation of emergency responses.

  • We programme women’s rights into our emergency responses as a cross-cutting issue.

  • Our fundraising and communications work in emergencies portrays women as active agents of change, whilst presenting the reality of their situation as hardest hit.

  • We engage women and their institutions (e.g. community based women’s groups) in policy work.

In emergency preparedness

  • ActionAid, partners and communities we work with understand ways in which women are disproportionately affected by disasters.

  • We support the capacity development of women living in poverty and their organisations, so that women can lead the process of immediate relief and recovery.

  • Our preparedness work facilitates and promotes the role of women as leaders in their communities.

  • We invest in building the capacity of women and their institutions to analyse their own vulnerabilities and devise strategies to reduce the impact of disasters.

  • We mobilise women and women’s institutions (e.g. community based women’s groups) to participate in disaster preparedness and engage governance to make the state accountable at local, national and international levels.


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Principle 4

Building partnerships

Minimum standards for ActionAid programming

  • We have identified strategic partners who can help us achieve our goals.

  • We are prioritising partnerships with organisations that are constituted by, genuinely represent or strongly connect with people living in poverty.

  • We have built credible partnerships based on our principles, building trust and mutual understanding and developing clear agreements.

  • We have identified partners with the capacity or the potential to implement high quality and high impact programmes.

  • We have supported our partners’ organisational and institutional capacity development.

  • We are linking our partners with others at all levels, from local to national and international (especially facilitating connections with social movements and engagement in international advocacy and campaigns).


Minimum standards in disaster contexts

In emergency response

  • We work in collaboration with others including partner I/NGOs, social movements/community organisations, and with the state, local government and relevant authorities. We also work with disaster-affected communities (particularly women and women’s institutions).

  • We support enhanced co-ordination by working with government and relevant humanitarian co-ordination mechanisms, both in the disaster-affected country and internationally.

  • We implement our emergency response alongside both existing partner organisations and new organisations that can add strategic value to our response in line with our HRBA in emergencies.

  • We use disasters as an opportunity to build the capacity of partners to implement emergency preparedness and response work that respects and strengthens rights, supports recovery of livelihoods, empowers women and promotes solutions for long-term change.

In emergency preparedness

  • Our preparedness planning process is undertaken in collaboration with partner organisations, at both country and LRP levels.

  • Our preparedness planning process identifies and addresses capacity gaps at partner level.

  • Our preparedness work is increasingly implemented through consortia with a view to increasing collaboration and co-ordination.


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Principle 5

Being accountable and transparent

Minimum standards for ActionAid programming

  • We can show evidence of our primary accountability being to people living in poverty.

  • We are satisfying all relevant secondary accountabilities.

  • We can show the impact of all our work on children.

  • We have fulfilled the requirements of our open information policy, by making information about our programmes and budgets available to all stakeholders in accessible formats.

  • We are using our own accountability as a foundation for strengthening people’s ability to hold their governments to account on their rights obligations.


Minimum standards in disaster contexts

In emergency response

  • We can show evidence that our primary accountability is to people living in poverty and exclusion and affected by disasters.

  • Our responses adhere to international humanitarian standards and codes of conduct, e.g. Humanitarian Accountability Partnership policies (e.g. on the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse by aid workers), Sphere, People in Aid, and we orient our policies to align with these.

  • We establish complaint mechanisms as standard in our emergency responses.

  • We develop and use tools for delivering accountability to disaster-affected communities (e.g. social audit), and share these with others.

  • We can show how our emergency responses positively impact the lives of children affected by disasters.

  • All parts of the organisation understand their responsibility to ensure their actions do not negatively impact on ActionAid’s reputation and/or compromise our ability to support disaster-affected people.

  • Key documents relating to our emergency programmes and budgets are accessible to all stakeholders.

  • We assess and work to meet the information needs of people affected by disasters, so they have the means with which to hold us and others to account.

In emergency preparedness

  • Preparedness plans are developed in partnership with people living in poverty and exclusion (vulnerable to shocks and stresses). Plans are shared with the affected people for feedback and updates.

  • Budgets and plans for specific preparedness projects (e.g. DIPECHO) are made available to all stakeholders in accessible formats.


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Principle 6

Monitoring, evaluating and evidencing our impact

Minimum standards for ActionAid programming

  • We are tracking relevant indicators and have credible baseline data so we can measure change, showing the outcomes and impact of our work. This applies whether we are working in a local rights programme, a multi-country campaign or fundraising.

  • We are cost- and carbon-conscious in all our work, being careful how we use both ActionAid’s resources and natural resources.

  • We are monitoring and reflecting on change processes in a participatory way on an ongoing basis.

  • Our future plans are informed by what we are learning and evidence of what is effective.


Minimum standards in disaster contexts

In emergency response

  • Each new emergency response builds on our learning from previous responses.

  • We use data from rapid and needs assessments (undertaken by ActionAid and others) to generate baseline indicators used to monitor our response.

  • The success of our preparedness work in minimising disaster deaths and material/economic losses for people living in poverty is evaluated as standard during evaluations of emergency responses.

  • We put in place high quality management systems such as Oversight Groups to guide and monitor our response.

  • We conduct regular evaluations including real time evaluations to examine our progress and generate learning to feed back into ongoing and future responses.

In emergency preparedness

  • Preparedness plans at country and LRP level are dynamic documents, updated regularly to remain relevant to changing contexts.

  • We share lessons from our preparedness work across countries and contexts, to facilitate ongoing sharing of best practice.


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Principle 7

Linking work across levels to address structural change

Minimum standards for ActionAid programming

  • We are working towards lasting gains at the local level and beyond by tackling structural causes of poverty and rights violations (for example, changes in law, policy, procedure or budget allocation in favour of people living in poverty).

  • We are connecting local rights violations to national and international factors and to recognised human rights legal frameworks.

  • We are connecting local struggles with national and international movements, and connecting local issues to national civil society change processes.

  • We are connecting work on different objectives/key change promises and connecting grassroots programme, campaigning and fundraising work.

  • We are facilitating communication and information flows between local, national and international levels.


Minimum standards in disaster contexts

In emergency response

  • Our analysis of disaster contexts recognises the links between local rights violations and contributing factors at national and international levels.

  • In emergencies we mobilise and strengthen the agency of people affected by disasters, particularly women, creating the horizontal links necessary to facilitate such work.

  • We link these groups and institutions to national level forums (disaster management forums, national platforms) who review state level policies and practices.

  • We develop and share examples of best practice with international level actors, advocating for changes in laws, policies, procedures or budget allocations in favour of people living in poverty and affected by disasters.

In emergency preparedness

  • Our preparedness plans are rooted in an in-depth analysis of the structural causes of poverty and vulnerability in any given context.

  • We build capacity at community, local, national and international levels to prepare for, prevent and mitigate the impacts of disasters.

  • We build capacity at community, local, national and international levels to prepare for, prevent and mitigate the impacts of disasters.


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Principle 8

Being solutions-oriented and promoting credible and sustainable alternatives

Minimum standards for ActionAid programming

  • We are putting forward credible alternatives to challenge dominant models and paradigms that undermine people’s rights.

  • The alternatives we propose and support are sustainable, being cost- and carbon-conscious.

  • We have developed these alternatives with people living in poverty, our partners and allies.

  • We encourage innovation and experimentation and are not afraid of failure – but are quick to learn.

  • We are connecting our work on alternatives in different areas.

  • We have created some space for dreaming and visioning the future.


Minimum standards in disaster contexts

In all our emergency preparedness, response and resilience work we seek to integrate the seven core components of ActionAid’s HRBA in emergencies:

  1. women’s leadership in disaster preparedness, response and resilience building

  2. accountability to disaster-affected communities

  3. local partnerships in emergency preparedness, response and resilience builing

  4. combining scientific information with community experience and traditional knowledge

  5. adequate funding and aid effectiveness

  6. linking emergency response to resilience, building longer term change processes

  7. creating a loss and damage framework to enable disaster-affected people to claim their rights.

This represents an alternative to the traditional top-down humanitarian model. These alternatives are designed and implemented with people living in poverty and affected by disasters, our partners and allies.