Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development: The Debate Continues
by Humanitarian Practice Network June 1996

At the time of going to press, the European Commission (EC) was on the point of releasing a communication to the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament on Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development. This communication is the product of a year’s work by an internal EC working group, consisting of representatives of the different Directorates General for External Relations (DG I and DG VIII) and the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO).

The working group has organised a series of workshops on the linking of relief, rehabilitation and development over the last eight months. The first was held in October 1995 with independent experts in the field, and a further two were held in February 1996, one with NGO and one with official Member State representatives. A questionnaire was also sent to the aid departments of Member States, eliciting information on current practice and policy regarding links between relief, rehabilitation and development.

The questionnaire revealed that, for almost every Member State, humanitarian aid (relief) issues and development issues are dealt with in different departments, following different procedures and relying upon different budget sources. Within the Commission, a similar institutional split exists: long-term development cooperation relationships with developing countries are negotiated under the framework of agreements such as the Lomé Convention, principally by DG VIII, while humanitarian operations are managed by ECHO, using quite different criteria. The EU initiative is taking place in a context of a much wider debate amongst donors, UN agencies and NGOs on the so-called ‘relief-development continuum’, in which it is increasingly recognised that this institutional split is unhelpful, and indeed, has had a negative influence on the way the nature of ‘aid’ is conceptualised. (RRN Newsletter of September 1994 for an article on the continuum, and the Newsletter of April 1995 for a related discussion on aid policy in transition.)

The communication calls for a more coordinated approach to relief, rehabilitation and development, recognising, however, that for ‘complex emergencies’ – chronic crises involving armed conflict – this will be a major challenge, requiring in-depth country analyses that look at structural root-causes of conflict, and lead to the development of responses that address the entire cycle of conflict and peace. In the absence of a coordinated approach, relief activities can result in undesirable long-term effects.

For example, international relief agencies which set up their own systems to distribute humanitarian aid may leave an administrative vacuum on departure which can make rehabilitation very difficult. The communication recommends that:

  • global policy frameworks should be prepared for each country and region which draw together economic, social (including gender) and political factors in development, the ultimate goal being to reach a situation of ‘structural stability’ – a situation involving sustainable economic development, democracy and respect for human rights, viable political structures, healthy social and environmental conditions, with the capacity to manage change without resort to violent conflict
  • conflict prevention should be an intrinsic element of these global policy frameworks; political analysis capacity must be enhanced, in order to focus on structural root causes of conflict, identify potential trouble spots and translate analysis into timely political actions at the level of the Union
  • risk and vulnerability to natural and man-made disasters should be taken into consideration during macroeconomic planning and economic reform programmes

The communication is a timely and welcome document, its content reflecting much of the current debate on the issue of relief-development linkages. Its call for a more holistic donor response to crises through the development of global policy frameworks and enhanced political analysis is encouraging.

There are, however, a number of areas where the communication is rather weak. In particular, despite a short section on the rebuilding of civil society, there is barely any mention of the ‘beneficiaries’ of aid, whether at a personal or community level, or at the level of developing country governments. The communication is very much an agenda for donors which, while important, is not likely to be effective if the populations concerned are not intimately involved in the development and implementation of programmes.

It is, at present, difficult to avoid regarding the communication as a long ‘wish list’, full of good intentions, but without a clear strategy as to how these will be translated into action. By sharing their practical experiences of linking relief, rehabilitation and development, NGOs will be crucial in translating the rhetoric of linking relief and development into a practical programme of action.

Useful references:

Mark Duffield, Complex Emergencies and the Crisis of Developmentalism, IDS Bulletin 25 (4).

Aid Under Fire, published by DHA, ODI, ODA and ActionAid (1993).

Joanna Macrae with A Zwi and V. Forsythe, Aid Policy in Transition: A Preliminary Analysis of ‘Post’-Conflict Rehabilitation of the Health Sector, Journal of International Development Volume 7, No 4 669-684 (1995).