Early Recovery


Port-au-Prince residents clearing rubble as part of the UNDP's Cash-for-Work Programme after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Credit: UNDP Haiti

Early recovery is a multidimensional process of recovery that begins in a humanitarian setting. It is an integrated and coordinated approach, using humanitarian mechanisms, to gradually turn the dividends of humanitarian action into sustainable crisis recovery, resilience building and development opportunities.

When a crisis strikes, UNDP works to help ensure that the humanitarian response to the emergency,  while focussing on the immediate lifesaving needs of a population, such as directly providing clean water, sanitation, food and shelter, also contributes to longer-term objectives and more resilient communities, and lays the best possible ground work for longer-term development work beyond the immediate emergency. This approach to humanitarian work, called “early recovery,” is integrated into the work of all humanitarian actors and helps orient the entire humanitarian response to contribute also to rebuilding communities, creating an environment for recovery, building the capacities of local communities and institutions, and integrating risk reduction into programme interventions. 

UNDP is the lead UN agency on early recovery and has inherited responsibilities from the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), the body responsible for inter-agency cooperation in the humanitarian system.  UNDP hosts the Cluster Working Group on Early Recovery (CWGER) whose roles include promoting and clarifying early recovery as a concept, and ensuring it is being adopted in humanitarian response in affected countries.  The CWGER’s technical advice on early recovery in the humanitarian environment is an essential element of linking humanitarian and development work.

Integrating the early recovery approach across all humanitarian actors helps people move from humanitarian relief towards self-sustaining development; makes sure that the humanitarian response emphasizes the importance of building community capacity and skills to strengthen individual’s and communities’ resilience to future disasters; reduce dependence on relief, and where possible, helps take steps towards solving some of the issues that contributed to the disaster in the first place. 

UNDP not only has a role on promoting this approach through the CWGER, but as an implementing agency, is also on the front line. For example, following a conflict, or a disaster such as an earthquake or flood, typically, UNDP will work with its long term partners to ensure public services are functioning as early as possible after the crisis; train affected people in construction techniques and other skills to help them get jobs or run their own businesses, so they don’t just rely on outside help but can rebuild their own homes and communities, improve their long-term earning potential, and potentially decrease their vulnerability to poverty and disasters. In these situations, UNDP might also work with and train local public servants to make sure that the buildings, infrastructure and communities being reconstructed meet a minimal code of disaster resistance, or that the underlying causes of a conflict are addressed, as well as ensure that the government has better crisis observation and early warning systems that will contribute to better prepared populations.

Ideally, this work commences as early as possible in the humanitarian response and typically includes, but is not limited to:

  • Emergency employment, including cash for work and start-up grants to recapitalize local businesses;
  • Community infrastructure rehabilitation, to improve access to basic services as well as revitalize the local economy;
  • Debris management, to ease access and rebuild infrastructure; and
  • Local governance support, strengthening local government capacity for relief and recovery planning, coordination and implementation, improving the capacity for local risk management.  

The purpose of the early recovery approach is to reduce the need for future humanitarian interventions – or in the first instance, reduce the scale – and ensure that by having a development voice in the humanitarian arena, the essential work of humanitarians will also help to attain development goals. 

Early recovery helps to improve coordination between humanitarian and development actors and helps saving lives, money, and protects development achievements and opportunities. It addresses the divide between relief and development activities; while stressing the importance of local communities, as well as national and local authorities. In this sense, early recovery augments humanitarian assistance operations; supports spontaneous recovery initiatives by affected communities; and establishes the foundations for resilience and longer-term recovery as soon as possible after a disaster or crisis.

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Early recovery in Kenya