Issue 20 - Article 17

Supporting livelihoods in situations of chronic conflict and political instability

May 7, 2002
Kate Longley and Karim Hussein

The idea of a linear progression from saving lives to sustainable livelihoods, often termed the relief–development continuum, has been challenged for its inadequacy in analysing and responding to contemporary humanitarian crises. The continuum approach has proved particularly problematic in situations of chronic conflict and political instability, where violence and under-development have become entrenched features of the political economy, and where livelihoods are persistently or purposefully threatened and undermined. Current relief instruments are not well-equipped to respond to situations such as this. Relief aid is designed to save lives, yet it often becomes the principal form of aid intervention when conflicts are protracted. However, there is often a desperate need not only to save lives, but also to support livelihoods.

While the conceptual and practical frameworks that guide aid and humanitarian programming are not well-equipped to meet these challenges, a small number of agencies have started to develop livelihood approaches suitable for chronic situations. Other agencies have developed methodologies for assessing vulnerability and needs that are similar to a livelihoods approach. Such methodologies are increasingly being used in monitoring food aid requirements, and there is considerable interest in their further development for assessing broader livelihood requirements. However, examples of the use of livelihoods approaches in situations of chronic conflict or instability have yet to be documented and made available to a wider audience for useful lessons to be learnt.

To date, livelihoods approaches have predominantly been developed and used in academic analysis and NGO practice for rural development in peaceful settings. Understanding the livelihood strategies of people in diverse local contexts is taken as the starting point, in order to identify local people’s livelihood needs and goals. When working in situations of chronic political instability, however, it is essential that practical interventions to support people in achieving their livelihood goals must be designed with an awareness of the potential impact of interventions on the complex structures of power, conflict and inequality that exist in such situations. It is also important that the design and delivery of such support by operational agencies should, as far as possible, follow humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence.

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