Following a crisis, national and international actors focus primarily on activities that address lifesaving needs in efforts to minimize damage and suffering and restore peace and stability. Early recovery builds on existing humanitarian assistance to work with the affected community to develop longer-term foundations for recovery.
The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Cluster Working Group on Early Recovery (CWGER), led by UNDP, defines early recovery as a multidimensional process of recovery that begins in humanitarian settings and is guided by development principles, “building on humanitarian programs and implementing sustainable development opportunities, encompassing the restoration of basic services, livelihoods, shelter, governance, security and the rule of law and environmental and social dimensions.” Early recovery efforts aim to supplement ongoing humanitarian operations by supporting community-based initiatives and activities and building of local capacity.
The concept of early recovery solidified itself in the humanitarian lexicon during the humanitarian reform process in 2005 after increasing concerns about the effectiveness of humanitarian aid. As a result, a “cluster approach” was developed which formalized key sectors, such as health and protection. Each cluster defined the roles and responsibilities of aid agencies and assessed critical gaps. The Early Recovery cluster grew out of the earlier Interagency Working Group on Return and Reintegration and recognized the need to develop coordinated recovery interventions contributing to a smoother transition between emergency and development. The cluster emphasizes efficient use of resources and the integration of risk reduction measures at the early stages of emergencies.
Early recovery occurs in parallel with humanitarian activities, but its objectives, mechanisms and expertise are different. Early recovery aims to:
- Augment on-going humanitarian assistance operations;
- Support spontaneous recovery initiatives by affected communities; and
- Establish the foundations of longer-term recovery.
Early recovery activities are categorized as the following:
- Restoring and strengthening governance, including developing the capacities of government institutions and civil society organizations, establishing rule of law
- Meeting basic needs and protecting basic rights, including providing shelter, health care, food, non-food items (NFIs) and security
- Developing sustainable livelihoods that help local populations return to self-reliance after conflict
- Establishing long-term solutions, including supporting the return and reintegration of displaced populations
- Building social cohesion, including through the establishment of reconciliation processes and other confidence-building measures
Early recovery efforts must be considered and planned at the onset of the crisis to ensure a timely and effective transition in the aftermath of the crisis. Activities necessary to establish foundations at an early stage include: early needs assessment, planning and resource mobilization for recovery that takes into account the different needs, resources and vulnerabilities of women and men; early efforts to develop state capacity, including training of civil servants; the reestablishment of essential services and rebuilding of livelihoods; the integration of emergency shelter, transitional shelter and permanent shelter into one reconstruction process; and the creation of strategic alliances between communities and local authorities ensuring the participation and inclusion of vulnerable, marginalized and discriminated groups. At all stages of the early recovery process, donors should seek to understand and strengthen existing local recovery mechanisms.
It is important to note that early recovery is not without its challenges and there is continued debate amongst the international aid community about its effectiveness and achievements. First, in most humanitarian situations, there is no separate funding mechanism for early recovery activities, but instead, both early recovery and humanitarian programs seek funding from the same pool. In many instances, early recovery actors are not present at the onset of the crisis which prevents activities under this cluster to be included in strategic and resource mobilization documents. Second, there is no set procedure that addresses immediate planning of early recovery activities and most are developed to provide quick impact, highly visible results. Third, many host countries have little to no early recovery mechanisms built into national disaster plans. At the onset of the crisis, little time exists for updating or conducting comprehensive needs assessments at the national or local level and in many instances, engaging and involving relevant stakeholders is missed. Finally, no standard monitoring and evaluation tool exists for early recovery activities. Development of such a tool is rarely a priority after a crisis. Tools that do currently exist do not consider crosscutting issues such as environmental or gender impacts of response.