We are facing the largest global humanitarian crisis in recent history. UN-coordinated humanitarian appeals in 2014-2015 were more than twice what they were only three years earlier. The global humanitarian response has been massive, reaching $24.5 billion in 2014.
However, with prolonged conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, South Sudan and elsewhere, and the resulting displacement of peoples, it has become clear that humanitarian assistance, while essential, is not enough.
While attention must continue to be placed on helping people secure food, water, medical services and shelter, the prolonged and devastating effects of recent conflicts has highlighted the importance of supporting livelihoods as well.
In global forums, such as the recent World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, improving the livelihoods of people in conflict areas has been a focus of discussion. Enabling people to rebuild their lives by channeling resources to start or rebuild businesses and helping them train for and secure jobs, is increasingly seen as a key part of humanitarian efforts. Here are five reasons why.
1. It helps people earn a living
Humanitarian assistance supports people’s basic needs for months and years on end. This places a heavy burden on the donor community. Indeed, in 2014 there was a $7 billion gap in unmet needs through UN-coordinated humanitarian appeals. While the elderly, children, the sick and injured require continued assistance, it makes sense to help able-bodied youth and adults earn a living for themselves and their families. Indeed, one visible sign of despair in refugee camps is the men who are not able to work and support their families. Projects that help get people back into work, such as schemes to provide seeds and tools for farmers to grow crops, can make a big difference.
2. It allows people to remain near their homes
People flee their homes, risking life and limb, to escape violence or because they do not have the resources to rebuild their homes and businesses to support their families. While refugees escaping the threat of violence need to be supported along their journey, donors can provide a different kind of assistance to people who want to stay and rebuild by providing direct financial and non-financial support for reconstruction and redevelopment efforts.
3. It provides alternatives to violence
Conflict zones have become fertile recruiting grounds for violent extremist groups. While some people are attracted by the ideology of such groups, many more are simply seeking a source of income to sustain themselves and their families, in the absence of viable alternatives. While safeguards need to be put in place to ensure that donor assistance flows to legitimate sources, these legitimate alternatives do need to be supported and developed. Organizations like the UN Counter-Terrorism Centre are already working to develop programmes aimed at providing young people in countries where violent extremists have a presence with employment opportunities and economic alternatives.
4. It addresses gaps in labour demand
Unemployment rates tend to rise steeply in conflict areas for lack of suitable job opportunities or purchasing power for existing services. However, paradoxically, the number of unfilled job vacancies and demand for new alternative services are also high for two reasons. First, people with marketable skills are often the first to emigrate and find jobs elsewhere. Second, conflict zones create needs for products and services that were not previously in demand. This leaves unmet demand for talent in areas as diverse as medicine, construction, energy, management and more. For example, there is a clear shortage in medical staff in Yemen and Syria. With some upskilling, people can be trained to provide a basic level of service to meet this demand, such as midwives or emergency medical care. That’s what the Qatar Red Crescent has been attempting to do in Syria, where it provides training and equipment to young people working in reconstruction efforts.
5. It sows the seeds of reconstruction
Countries that emerge from conflict can often revert back in the absence of timely or effective reconstruction and redevelopment efforts. A key ingredient in rebuilding peace is creating enough jobs and economic opportunities for people to quit fighting for good. However, the lesson from Libya is that there is a window of opportunity for reconstruction efforts to take hold before people lose hope. To succeed, these efforts need to begin even before the conflict ends. Sowing the seeds of post-conflict reconstruction requires supporting livelihoods throughout and then expanding this support once conflict ends.
This article was written by a Global Shaper from the Doha Hub. The Annual Curators Meeting of the Global Shapers community is taking place in Geneva, Switzerland from August 19-22.