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After the storm: How disaster relief workers can boost economic recovery

by on Aug 24, 2011  |  posted in Post-Disaster  |  0 Comments
After the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2005, many organizations promoted cash-for-work programs in an effort to inject cash into the economy and help households meet basic livelihood needs. Unintentionally, many of the cash-for-work programs provided daily wage rates that were much higher than those earned by local farmers through their normal agricultural activities. Needless to say, this created a negative impact on the availability of local food and potentially had a longer-range harmful impact on agricultural production. A more thorough market analysis could have assisted in better targeting of potential workers, by recommending daily labor rates that did not provide disincentives to continue local production. In order to provide quick, simple ways for crisis responders to keep the broader economic picture in mind, SEEP created the Minimum Economic Recovery Standards. This document represents a consensus across 63 development and relief agencies on what constitutes effective economic recovery, as well as what good practices can improve the impact of economic recovery programs. This year the Standards were adopted as a companion standard to the SPHERE Project, a set of guidelines that are set out in the Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response (commonly referred to as the SPHERE Handbook). Hundreds of organizations representing over 80 countries have participated in various aspects of the SPHERE Project, from developing and revising the Handbook through to piloting and training. SEEP’s Standards have been pilot-tested in Sierra Leone, North Sudan, Myanmar, and the Gaza Strip; most recently, they were used in a strategy session by Mercy Corps’ team responding to the earthquake in Japan. Team leader Malka Older said the standards were useful to her group, which included some members entirely new to humanitarian work:

“We used the SEEP Minimum Economic Recovery Standards as we were transitioning our program from emergency to recovery. Because this meant changing our strategy, as well as the mindset of the team, it was very useful to be reminded of key principles. Although the Japanese context is very different economically than most of the examples in the book, the structure of the standards offered us a framework for thinking through our programmatic options. Working with a team new to economic recovery work, it was also important to be able to point to an international community of practice with a history of documentation and learning.”

Written and updated in response to prolonged, complex disasters such as the Indian Ocean tsunami and the Haiti earthquake in 2010, the Standards focus on strategies for improving income, cash flow, asset management, and growth among crisis-affected households and enterprises. As they become more widely adopted, the Standards can guide the way toward better economic recovery programming for agencies involved in disaster and post-conflict relief. Microenterprise development practitioners or humanitarian relief workers who want to build skills in post-disaster economic recovery can benefit from a one-day training on the Standards to be held at the SEEP Annual Conference.

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