Posted by: sbbunce | October 7, 2009

Building Livelihoods in Latin America

From September 15 to 18, representatives from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela participated in a 4-day regional conference.

The following video and commentary offer a glimpse into this valuable and challenging dimension of UNHCR work – building the livelihoods of persons or concern.

1 ) The livelihood conference organized by UNHCR that took place in Panama from 15 to 18 September 2009 offered an innovative and stimulating perspective on how to deliver assistance and protection to people of concern to UNHCR.

2 ) While it is increasingly challenging to provide assistance to newly displaced populations, and is difficult to ensure continuity of assistance in protracted refugee situations, promoting comprehensive livelihood strategies may offer a valid and more sustainable alternative.

3 ) Livelihood, therefore, should not only be a phasing out strategy, but a built-in and protection-related one. Livelihood is a comprehensive strategy that aims to rebuild basic living conditions and includes not only income generation activities, but access to basic services and security, as well as the fostering of social relationships to facilitate the restoration of basic living conditions.

4 ) Livelihood is strictly connected and intimately related to a participatory approach: no livelihood strategy can be promoted without talking to people to determine their skills and capabilities and acquire a deep understanding of the context. It calls for proper knowledge of the protection situation and the protection risks faced by the people. Defining their legal space, verifying the opportunities, and identifying the other relevant actors playing in the same area, are essential to a sound livelihood strategy.

5 ) A sound livelihood strategy allows the promotion of an age, gender and diversity perspective, and is a privileged protection tool, offering both preventive and responsive measures to several protection risks faced by groups and by individuals. For women, for example, livelihood can be the empowering strategy that would free them from exploitation and violence. For older people it can be a way to regain a position in communities. For people with different abilities it can be a way of becoming an active participant.

6 ) Livelihood has a protection dimension that can be summarized within the following parameters:
– promotion of the “do no harm” principle and a harmonious co-existence
– respecting, and making room for, diversity, while affording equal access to rights and opportunities
– participation and empowerment of those of concern
– accountability, in particular to people of concern.

7 ) Restoring livelihood and promoting livelihood strategies is relevant in camp situations, but even more so in urban contexts, returning communities, and in situations of internal displacement, natural disasters, or any situation where people suffer dramatic and destabilizing events that uproot their normal lives. Livelihood is an effective alternative to dependency from humanitarian aid and a means of restoring dignity, self reliance and self-confidence.

8 ) The Latin American countries participating in the conference articulated a great overview of the possibilities of using livelihood in very different contexts. They underlined the challenges and the gaps UNHCR will have to address to ensure that livelihoods are addressed as part of the protection of displaced persons.

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