Section 7: Programming in Emergencies

Section 7: Programming in Emergencies

This section provides detailed guidance on key programming areas in disaster response. It is intended to help managers, field staff and partners design disaster response programmes. This section builds on Sections 2–6, which summarise the key operational activities that should be implemented during a disaster response. This section describes how ActionAid approaches disaster response in several key programme areas:

  • human rights based approach (HRBA)

  • accountability

  • communicating with disaster-affected communities

  • women’s rights

  • psychosocial work

  • livelihoods

  • food security

  • non-food items

  • conflict sensitivity

  • policy.


Key Points

  • Human rights-based approach – ActionAid believes that poverty is a violation of human rights; poverty underlies and is exacerbated by people’s vulnerability and their inability to cope with shocks and hazards. Disaster-affected people living in poverty have the right to assistance.

  • Accountability is the responsible use of power in the interests of people living in poverty and exclusion and affected by disasters. This is done through various tools and techniques including community-led assessment and change plan and implementation processes, social audit, community reviews, public hearings, economic literacy and budget accountability for government (ELBAG) etc, in accordance with international standards that ActionAid is signatory to.

  • When disasters strike, people need information as much as they need shelter, food, water and safety. By providing the right information, at the right time, from the right source, lives and livelihoods can be saved.

  • Advancing women’s rights is unapologetically taking sides with women living in poverty and exclusion and affected by disasters. Our response must take into account women’s specific needs and right to protection and dignity. We strengthen and facilitate women’s leadership and ensure that they effectively lead the assessment, response, preparedness and resilience building process.

  • Pychosocial work is an essential component of our response that is built on 4 Rs: relive/ re-grieve, recreation, rebuild, refer. We enable community-based volunteers to facilitate and support the process.

  • Livelihood support enables affected communities to maintain and rebuild their ability to support their families and build resilience for future disasters.

  • Secure access to food is a universal human right. Support can be provided through food distribution, cash support, cash transfers, lobbying government. All interventions must link to the restoration of livelihoods and resilience to future disasters.

  • Providing non-food items (NFIs) in emergencies is essential to ensuring the safety, security, health, dignity and wellbeing of people affected by disasters. This will primarily depend on the context, but usually includes clothing, kitchen utensils, hygiene kits etc.

  • Conflict sensitivity is the ability of an organisation to understand the conflict and power dynamics in the context it operates in, and the interaction between intervention and that context. This understanding is applied to minimise negative impacts and maximise positive impacts on conflict throughout the emergency response and resilience building cycle.

  • Policy should start from day one and is a core component of emergency response. It should be led by community demands and should link local, national and international discourse.


Human rights-based approach (HRBA) in emergencies

ActionAid’s HRBA approach and the principles that guide long-term social change work also apply in disasters.

There are eight key principles that guide ActionAid’s disaster response:

  1. we put people living in poverty first and address immediate needs as basic rights in emergencies, enabling their active agency as rights activists

  2. we analyse and confront unequal power

  3. we advance women’s rights

  4. we work in partnership

  5. we are accountable and transparent

  6. we monitor, evaluate our impact, critically reflect and learn to improve our work

  7. we ensure links across levels – local, national, regional, international

  8. we build credible alternatives to the traditional top-down model of humanitarian response.

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Examples of HRBA programming in practice

Case Study:

Syria refugee response

The following example describes the programme design for an on-going response in a refugee camp in Jordan housing over 120,000 refugees fleeing in the conflict in Syria.

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Accountability in emergencies

Accountability is defined as the responsible use of power; it can be understood as an obligation on the part of decision-makers or those with power to account for the use of their power. Accountability is usually seen as being about compliance and counting: assigning performance indicators and safeguards against corruption and inertia. But accountability is fundamentally about shifting the balance of power. Through raising their voice and exercising their rights, people can demand just and accountable governance.

In disaster situations there is an increased risk of mismanagement and misappropriation of available funds and resources, which deprives people living in poverty and exclusion of the support they are entitled to. Accountability therefore has to be a key part of ActionAid’s approach to emergencies.

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Communication with disaster-affected communities

What is communication with disaster-affected communities?

When disasters strike, people need information as much as they need shelter, food, water and safety. By providing the right information, at the right time, from the right source, lives and livelihoods can be saved.

At the same time, if people have access to useful information during disasters they can make their own choices and decisions, and become more active participants in the process of their own recovery and claiming their rights. They can feed back, complain, voice their opinions and, in doing so, hold agencies like ActionAid – and other bodies like local and national government – to account.

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Case Study

SMS project in Isiolo, Kenya

Since May 2011, ActionAid has been partnering with a consortium called Infoasaid, the aim of this initiative was to:

  • Mainstream communications with disaster-affected communities in our emergency preparedness and response.

  • Strengthen the capacity and preparedness of ActionAid to respond to the information and communication needs of crisis-affected populations.

  • Provide rapid responses to select emergencies in partnership with ActionAid to inform and support their two-way communication with affected populations.

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Women’s rights in emergencies

At the heart of ActionAid’s work is a commitment to promoting women’s rights. This is central to all objectives in ActionAid’s strategy, People’s action to end poverty, and is non-negotiable in all programmes, including emergency preparedness and response, based on the understanding that the underlying causes of poverty and injustice are gendered. In emergencies, violence against women is exacerbated.

The different needs, risks and opportunities for women and men affected by emergencies must be analysed. Strategic Objective 4 highlights the critical importance of women’s leadership in building community resilience and enabling effective disaster response and preparedness. Women and their rights must be explicit in all aspects of emergencies programming to ensure access, equity and protection.

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Psychosocial work in emergencies

The devastating impact of disasters may result in significant emotional distress, causing increased suffering and hindering the ability of survivors to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. In some cases, traditional and cultural practices of relieving such distress may not be sufficient to bring about full recovery. In emergencies where large parts/all of the community is affected, specific psychosocial activities may need to be implemented. Psychosocial work aims to enable people to adapt to their lives post-disaster, to cope with losses they may have suffered, and to begin to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.

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Livelihoods in emergencies

In a disaster, the entire population may have been exposed to the same shock, but the impact it has on people’s lives and livelihoods will vary depending on the social, geographic, economic and political processes influencing and interfacing with the particular event. Key variables explaining differences in impact include people’s class, occupation, caste, ethnicity, gender, health status, age, the nature and extent of their social networks, their asset base prior to the hazard or their power relative to other groups. All people living in poverty and exclusion are vulnerable. Any disaster disproportionately affects those affected by poverty, impacting their lives and livelihoods.

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Food security

Food security issues may emerge as a result of food price rises, droughts, floods, earthquakes or a combination of these factors. Food crises are more often than not a failure of public policy – an abdication of responsibility by the state to respect, protect and fulfill their citizens’ right to food. It is caused because of lack of entitlements, including social capital. There may be many factors that cause a food crisis – but if adequate systems were in place, there is no reason why anyone should live with hunger given that the world produces enough food for our needs.

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Non-food items (NFIs)

Providing NFI support in emergencies is essential to ensuring the safety, security, health, dignity and wellbeing of people affected by disasters.

Clothing, blankets and bedding materials meet personal human needs for shelter and for the maintenance of health, privacy and dignity. Access to basic goods and supplies enables affected populations to prepare and consume food appropriately, meet personal hygiene needs and build, maintain or repair shelters. All affected populations – whether they are able to return to the site of their original homes, are hosted by other families or are accommodated in temporary communal settlements – will have individual and household non-food item needs that must be assessed and met as appropriate.

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Conflict sensitivity

Conflict sensitivity is the ability of an organisation to:

  1. understand the conflict and power dynamics in the context in which it operates

  2. understand the interaction between the intervention and that context, and

  3. act upon this knowledge and understanding to minimise negative impacts and maximise positive impacts on conflict.

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Policy in emergencies

Natural disasters, conflicts and other shocks and crises almost always have a disproportionate impact on the lives of people living in poverty, as the impact of disasters is often a reflection of the inequality that exists in a society. Direct service delivery and programmatic response are often not enough to enable these people to recover fully, which is why policy and advocacy work have an important role in emergency response and during the post-emergency recovery period. We can achieve a much greater impact through direct advocacy, campaigning and policy analysis than by doing programme work alone. Our integrated approach to policy and programming reflects and embodies the human rights-based approach.

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