Over the past decade, the rise in protracted crises and renewed attention to the links between humanitarian, development and peace efforts has accompanied, and in some cases driven, resilience programming in the humanitarian system. Since 2012, repeated SOHS reports have noted an increase in the concept of ‘resilience’ in humanitarian action – that is, the provision of support that enables people and communities to transition to longer-term stability and better withstand future shocks. While for some this encompasses a necessary expansion of the remit and ambition of the humanitarian system, there remains a strong view that recovery and resilience objectives are best addressed through development programmes, paid for by development budgets.

The debate over whether resilience belongs in the humanitarian portfolio, and lack of consensus on what the objectives of resilience programming should be, has meant that there has been little practical progress in delivering effective resilience programming,351 despite increasing requests for this type of support from crisis-affected people in protracted and refugee responses.352 The 2018 SOHS reported more funding for resilience and an increase in agency strategies and units dedicated to supporting communities to face future shocks, but there has been little movement since. Recovery and resilience were linked increasingly to the humanitarian–development–peace (HDP) ‘nexus’ implementation in recent years, yet as Chapter 12 shows, it is not clear that this link has either helped or hindered progress in achieving better long-term outcomes for crisis-affected communities. At the same time, in some contexts, such as Lebanon, the term ‘resilience’ is becoming increasingly unpopular, as it is taken to imply that crisis-affected people have somehow failed to be resilient, or that the solution to crises is simply for communities to become stronger.353 

Sufficiency of efforts not matching scale of ambition

‘Life-saving’ sectors and activities still take precedence over early and longer-term recovery and resilience efforts, and many humanitarian practitioners interviewed for the SOHS country studies did not view recovery and resilience as a core part of their work. Whereas in the past, humanitarians referred to politicisation and lack of independence as reasons not to engage in resilience and recovery, this has shifted in recent years to a concern with the limited resources available to address immediate needs and a desire not to ‘divert’ humanitarian funds. As we have seen in Chapter 3, early recovery activities were only 17% funded in 2021, and other mechanisms to support harmonised humanitarian resilience activities, such as the Humanitarian and Disaster Resilience Plan in Ethiopia, were significantly underfunded. A key cause for this lack of funding is the perception among donors that early recovery is mainstreamed across other sectors, yet the amount dedicated to it in other sectors is typically low and often delayed.354 

The lack of sufficient recovery and resilience support is reflected in data from aid recipients, who say that aid tends to only address their immediate needs and provides short-lasting benefits. While there have been slight improvements since 2017, overall, a majority of aid recipients interviewed by Ground Truth Solutions said in multiple responses that the support they received did not make them more self-reliant or enable them to live without aid in the future.355  

Mixed and medium-term effectiveness

Some agencies made progress in adopting more comprehensive definitions of resilience but found it difficult to translate these into concrete outputs and activities. Resilience activities were wide-ranging, from cash-based assistance to weather information systems and livelihoods training. In focus group discussions with aid recipients, some described being able to use multi-purpose cash to address a combination of short- and longer-term priorities, seeing this form of support as ideal for supporting their recovery. As one focus group participant in DRC told us: 

I received assistance from WFP, and it was good because I am still happy with this assistance. From this assistance, I used half for food and [with] the other half I bought a sewing machine and now it helps me to have something [for income] and my children eat.

Local and national actors are typically more comfortable with the types of activities that support resilience and often saw the international system’s focus on ‘life-saving’ support as compartmentalised and overly rigid. Programmes with greater local leadership, or survivor/community-led responses (sclr), therefore tended to feature more holistic activities that addressed short- and medium-term needs simultaneously.356  

The complexity and breadth of resilience makes it difficult to evaluate the success of these efforts, but there was in this SOHS study period stronger evidence of recovery and resilience activities not only achieving their objectives but also helping communities and households withstand shocks or become more self-reliant in the medium to longer term. One study utilising three-year panel data and control groups in Pakistan found that livelihood training and shelter support provided as part of a humanitarian programme resulted in ‘a higher likelihood for villagers to own livestock and face fewer shelter damages in areas affected by extreme weather events’ a year later.357 Other evaluations found that recovery and resilience activities improved households’ economic standing, reduced negative coping mechanisms, and ‘helped [participants] have a sense of normalcy, meaningful and rewarding engagement in life and economic activity’.358 

The outcomes of most humanitarian resilience programmes have, however, remained short-lived, raising questions about how effectively they contribute to recovery and resilience.359 The effectiveness of livelihood interventions appears to be particularly limited in refugee contexts due to challenges including legal restrictions on refugee employment and access to work permits360 or cultural barriers around the role of women in the home.361 While agencies tried to address some of these challenges through advocacy, efforts to tackle more structural obstacles have generally been weak, and there has been a lack of engagement with the private sector to ensure that jobs are available on completion of training.362  

While there were more programmes aiming to build resilience to climate shocks over the study period, they faced criticism for being overly ambitious and failing to properly articulate the problem they are trying to address. An evaluation of the Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) programme found that it lacked a clear definition of ‘climate extremes’, and suggested that building resilience to major events such as cyclones was too ambitious for a single programme.363 In some instances agencies have been caught off-guard by unexpected climatic events. When floods hit Malawi in 2019, an insurance mechanism for climate change that had focused on drought was ineffective in covering losses, and floodwaters ‘literally washed away many of the community assets that had been constructed’.364  

Early recovery and resilience activities are also poorly coordinated. An evaluation of the early recovery cluster at the start of the study period found it facing an existential crisis, as the lead agency, UNDP, deprioritised early recovery in humanitarian settings in its five-year strategy and donors withdrew support due to a lack of clear objectives. At field level, early recovery coordination was side-lined from the main response in many countries, and cluster meetings tapered off with ‘diminishing participation and relevance’.365  

The main challenges to recovery and resilience remain largely the same as those discussed in previous SOHS reports: short time frames and high staff turnover, insufficient funding and lack of effective links with the development sector. The root cause for all of these is mindset, and the system’s perennial prioritisation of urgent needs now over more shock-proof communities in the future. While the system has made more progress in shifting to multi-year programming and strengthening relationships with the development sector through the nexus,  resilience and recovery programming over the study period; evaluations continued to cite the absence of development actors and underinvestment from humanitarian actors as barriers to longer-term thinking and engagement.366 

DRC case study: Waiting on recovery and resilience

Author: Local researcher, DRC. Name withheld to protect the author’s identity. 

The humanitarian situation in DRC is prolonged yet made up of many rapid-onset emergencies caused by conflict, epidemics and natural disasters. As such, the lives of many aid recipients are characterised by instability and much of the humanitarian response is delivered in an emergency capacity, in a ‘rinse, repeat’ format. Displacement has left people without permanent homes and dependent on the goodwill of host communities, many of whom are also identified as ‘in need’. Displaced people often live in squalid conditions and their basic protection needs are unmet; rape and attacks are ongoing and there are reports of children experiencing sexual violence.  

Aid recipients emphasised the importance of the assistance they had received, expressing particular appreciation for cash transfers and projects that provided children with food and play activities (and thereby eased parents’ stress). Cash transfers were praised for allowing recipients to choose how to allocate their aid resources, arguably supporting their resilience at least in the short term: ‘For us, the most important assistance is cash because with that you can buy what you want, pay for medical care, schooling for children, buy clothes. If you give us the food, we will have to sell it again to cover the other needs and you will sell it at a very low price.’ 

At the same time, aid recipients were fatigued by instability, felt NGO consultations were tokenistic and believed that humanitarian interventions cannot provide long-term solutions to the crises they faced. The provision of humanitarian support without accompanying efforts to address the root causes of crisis has left communities in DRC in limbo: ‘You see it’s difficult to continue in this life, it’s not a desirable life and it’s not a life in which we can recover from the crisis. Each one of us needs to go home to our old life’, explained one aid recipient. 

Role and responsibilities  

For those in the midst of crisis, conceptualising ‘resilience’ and ‘recovery’ requires significant imagination. Local NGOs emphasised working with communities to enhance livelihood resilience. This included skills training (particularly for young people) and forming credit associations, all of which have the potential to build aid recipients’ resource base. Local NGOs are well-equipped to engage in these activities since they are embedded in communities, are well connected and can be more agile in their response to aid recipients’ needs. However, they are also typically low on resources and, depending on their structure and governance, may target aid recipients in ways that differ from international humanitarian standards. Local agencies reported conflicts with international NGOs over access to resources and influence.  

International NGOs adapt their planning and approach according to the nature of the crisis and changes in the logistical or security context. However, overall, there was not a sense that assistance was adapted for recovery and resilience over time, beyond a few isolated examples in urban areas. One international agency worked with mobile network operators to improve mobile phone coverage to facilitate electronic cash transfers during the COVID-19 pandemic, although they admitted that coverage was still insufficient for this to be applied across the affected area. Another agency, responding to the wishes of people displaced by the 2021 Mount Nyiragongo eruption, advocated to create movable shelters, so that individuals could lift their structure and move it back to the volcanic area should the government allow them to return home. Humanitarians blamed the lack of recovery and resilience programming on short-term and inflexible donor funding, and the inaccessibility and instability of conflict-affected areas. ​As the head of office for Eastern DRC for a UN agency commented: ‘We are limited to saving lives, but we do not change lives.’  

Peace and security 

The significant challenges to engaging with resilience and recovery work in DRC include under-funding, short-termism, insecurity, logistics and transport, and lack of deep understanding of local contexts, insufficient collaboration with local governments and a volatile political environment. One humanitarian worker, responsible for protection against sexual exploitation and abuse, described the daily security alerts they received and found the idea of building ‘resilience’ among communities affected by conflict ‘ridiculous’. In their words: 

'Building resilience in communities … it’s good on paper. Is it condescending as a phrase? Completely … How am I going to go to people who have witnessed so much horror, and are still experiencing horror and trauma all the time and I’m going to be able to build that within them? … That’s just ridiculous, how resilient can you be to a man with an AK-47?' 

Similarly, engaging in long-term agricultural projects is challenging in a conflict situation where crops risk being stolen or ruined. As one displaced person told us: 

'I, personally, came from the highlands where endless fighting is experienced every day between armed community self-defence groups. Regularly houses are burnt, people killed, goods taken away ... Nothing can be done to overcome this crisis unless peace is restored in the region.'

Aid recipients struggle to imagine a ‘recovery’ aside from a return to their homes. The layers of crises that afflict vulnerable communities in the DRC make their lives transient and unpredictable. For communities to recover, they need homes and resources they can invest in and build on. Activities such as skills training, education and livelihood activities can provide aid recipients with knowledge and experience they can take with them, but without a foundation on which to lay this learning, they will remain vulnerable. There are no sustainable solutions to displacement without first establishing peace and stability. In this context, humanitarian assistance will continue to be required for emergency response, but there is currently no clear path to recovery in DRC.


 With some notable exceptions, including WFP’s three-pronged approach (3PA), which includes integrated context analysis, seasonal livelihood programming and community based participatory programming.


While a request for support for livelihoods, education and other support for longer-term recovery was a finding in the 2018 SOHS KIIs and focus group discussions with affected people in some settings, it was mentioned with more frequency and emphasised more by community participants in the 2022 FGDs in DRC, Lebanon and Yemen.


 Key informant interviews in Lebanon.


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