Managing the Transition: Supporting Early Recovery and Linking Relief to Development

Brief Author: 
Fred Tabung

The concept of a chronological continuum that hitherto defined the sequence of the different types of international engagement (including relief, recovery, security, reconstruction, and development) in environments affected by crises has not been an effective tool in linking relief to development - because it assumed that crises are discrete events, or breaks in the normal development process - thus leaving the problems of the humanitarian-development gap unaddressed. Attempts to fill this gap have re-emerged with the concept of early recovery. The dynamics of crises situations are non-linear, as states or particular territories can move in and out of crisis, with no clear dividing line between crisis and post-crisis. Different forms of engagement may be utilized simultaneously when dealing with complex protracted crises.


This thematic brief presents the main challenges in early recovery efforts as international aid actors try to link relief to development. The brief begins with a general discussion of early recovery that examines the main background concepts of early recovery, the importance that international aid actors place on early recovery as an approach to linking relief to development, and the related challenges. The brief then presents a case study of early recovery on Somalia.

Somalia presents a unique choice for a case study because of the nature of its complex emergency, in which different parts of the country exist in various phases of the transition, partly due to the capacities and ideologies of the respective independent or semi-autonomous de facto governments in various regions of Somalia and partly due to natural catastrophes, such as severe drought and floods. To place the discussion in context, the case study begins with a brief description of the prevailing socio-political situation in Somalia. Challenges identified in section 2 provide the basis for the analysis of early recovery efforts in Somalia. The briefing note concludes with suggestions for a way forward.

The briefing note is based on a review of the available published literature and on the author’s experiences in Somalia as a senior development worker. A list of the literature consulted is available at the end of the briefing note. Due to space constraints the briefing note is a short, analytical piece and does not intend to provide an exhaustive coverage of all the issues pertaining to early recovery.

Early recovery as an approach to linking relief to development

The issue of linking relief to development has preoccupied the international community for some time. In 2005, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly and the UN Security Council requested the Secretary-General to report on the issue of transition from relief to development, with the aim of improving the international community’s efforts to better respond to transition situations.2 The Secretary-General’s report identified three main challenges — national ownership, coordination, and financing — in linking relief to development. In the same year, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) created a Cluster Working Group on Early Recovery (CWGER) against the general backdrop of the humanitarian reform process. The main objective of the CWGER is to strengthen the coordination of humanitarian relief and early recovery efforts and cover critical gaps.3 The CWGER is composed of 26 UN and non-UN active global partners from the humanitarian and development communities, with UNDP as the designated cluster lead.

In 2008, the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD/DAC) guided specific discussions on the effectiveness of aid in situations of fragility and conflict. The discussions include the Kinshasa Round Table 7 of the High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (July 2008), which adopted the “Kinshasa Statement;” and the 3rd High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Accra (September 2008), which adopted the “Accra Agenda for Action.” These discussions have led to the decision to establish a specific DAC Financing Working Group on ‘Improving Delivery of International Assistance in Situations of Fragility and Conflict.’ This can be seen as both one of the triggers and a consequence of important events/processes that are going to impact the way early recovery and recovery programs are designed and implemented.4 At the end of 2011, OECD/DAC Working Party on Aid Effectiveness again guided discussions at the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, Korea. The Busan forum followed meetings in Rome (2003), Paris (2005) and Accra (2008). The Forum culminated in the signing of the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation by ministers of developed and developing nations, emerging economies, providers of South-South and triangular co-operation and civil society, marking a critical turning point in development co-operation.5

The Consolidated Appeal Process (CAP), which is the primary fundraising tool for humanitarian emergencies in the UN system, recognized the potential of early recovery programming in bringing crises to an eventual close. The 2012 CAP guidelines indicate that early recovery programming is often under-emphasized in CAPs.6 The same guidelines emphasize the identification and mainstreaming of early recovery support opportunities — and related needs and projects —within each CAP cluster as appropriate, in line with the responsibility placed upon all clusters by the IASC Working Group. Specific early recovery response plans will incorporate early recovery areas of intervention that would fall outside the clusters’ scope of response, or could not be effectively mainstreamed (e.g., governance, rule of law, non-agricultural livelihoods, land and property, reintegration, basic and community infrastructure, etc.) In other words, there may be no need to present a separate “early recovery” sector response plan, as each cluster would be pursuing early recovery within its scope.


In order to break the cycle of Somalia’s dependence on humanitarian assistance and to take a more coordinated approach to supporting post-crisis planning for recovery, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (UNOCHA) in 2006 reached a broad consensus to make early recovery one of the two main pillars in the Somalia 2007 CAP.7 This approach sought to; address the underlying causes of dependence, increase the resilience and coping capacities of communities, and to establish platforms for stabilization and sustainable capacity development. The approach could lay also, the foundation for the successful implementation of the Somali Reconstruction and Development Program.8

1(introduction) Working effectively in Conflict-Affected and fragile Situations A DFID Practice paper, 2010
2The transition from Relief to Development: report of the Secretary General, 2005.
3Fast Facts: UNDP Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, 2008
4Inter Agency Standing Committee 72nd Working Group Meeting: Early Recovery and Recovery in Transition Situations; November 2008
5Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness: Busan Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation; Nov 29- Dec 1, 2011, Busan, Republic of Korea
6Donors often find it difficult to fund within the confines of their regulations for use of humanitarian funds, even though failing to do so may necessitate greater or more prolonged funding for direct relief.
7 Source: The October 2006 CWGER Information Update
8In 2005, the Transitional Federal Government and the international community asked the UN and the World Bank to co-lead for Somalia a post conflict needs assessment, which in this instance, named the Somali Joint Needs Assessment (JNA). The main objective of the JNA process was to assess needs and develop a prioritized set of reconstruction and development initiatives to support Somali-led efforts to deepen peace and reduce poverty. The Somali Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) is the resultant document coming out of the JNA process

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