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Making markets work in emergencies — and everyday life

Posted by Carol Brady Market Communications, Learning and Advocacy Officer

14th Aug 2013

Marie Carmel Lindor with her son Christopher, 6 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Credit: Diana Hernandez Cordero/Oxfam

In the run up to World Humanitarian Day, we're looking at different aspects of humanitarian work and how it is evolving to better meet people's needs. Here, Carol Brady explains the value of working with local markets in emergency situations. 

There is no doubt that humanitarian interventions today are very different to those in the past. Where emergency responses were once characterised by the sight of trucks distributing packages of food and other essential items to targeted people, crisis responses today are now, as far as possible, based on local markets.

Traditional 'in kind' deliveries of aid... can harm livelihoods in both the short and long term.

Markets play a central role in people's lives and livelihoods by giving them access to basic needs, jobs and income generating opportunities. Traditional 'in kind' deliveries of aid can disrupt the way market systems work following an emergency - which can harm livelihoods in both the short and long term. 

Unless emergency responses (both cash and in-kind) are designed with a good understanding of key markets, they may damage livelihoods, jobs and businesses and undermine livelihood rehabilitation, which can in turn prolong dependence on outside assistance.

Introducing EMMA...

To enable a good understanding of markets, it is essential to undertake a market analysis. Oxfam, in partnership with International Rescue Committee UK (IRC) and Practical Action, developed the Emergency Market Mapping and Analysis toolkit (also known as EMMA)

This tool is designed to help agencies look at:

  • what markets are critical to meet survival needs (for example, markets for, wheat, rice, corrugated iron for shelter and so forth),
  • what the capacity of the market is to meet the needs of a target population,
  • what responses are possible and preferable based on this assessment.

Understanding the key constraints (environmental, legal or logistical) and opportunities in markets allows us to determine which range of response options will do no harm to the local economy and potentially strengthen market systems for the future. As such, market analysis is a critical part of Oxfam's emergency assessments.

Instead of creating alternative lines of support (through direct food distribution and so on), Oxfam now looks at whether it is possible to support local populations to access critical goods and services through local markets. This may mean that, in the short term, Oxfam needs to support certain market actors to supply these goods.

Following the Haiti earthquake in 2012, Oxfam supported local traders to rebuild their premises and restock their shops.

Take Haiti for example. Following the devastating earthquake of 2012, the Oxfam emergency response included free meals to very poor families cooked at 56 Oxfam supported local canteens. Together with Cash for Work schemes and livelihood grants for street cooks, Oxfam supported local traders to rebuild their premises and restock their shops.

Market traders may not be the usual targets in NGO emergency responses. However, the EMMA concluded that by supporting these market actors, our targeted beneficiaries (typically poor and very poor wealth groups) would have better access to basic goods and services. Moreover, this investment in the market systems increased the potential for livelihood recovery.

EMMAs have now been held in over twenty countries and have helped to design response recommendations in places and crises as diverse as Haiti (earthquake), Pakistan (floods), Kyrgyzstan (civil unrest) and Liberia (influx of refugees). The EMMAs have consistently produced a broad and innovative range of response recommendations following a crisis. But this work could go much further…

Moving from short to long term

Oxfam is now determined to bring resilience to the heart of programming, and rightly so. In essence, programmes need to think about all the ways in which they could better reduce people's vulnerability to crises - be that in strengthening livelihoods, legal status, access to land or whatever.

This means we need to think beyond short term market support to thinking about how our work can strengthen markets in general and therefore support the lives and livelihoods that depend on these markets. This could be through helping to look for opportunities for supporting the development of financial services or through assisting enterprise development.

New approaches that we are exploring at Oxfam include using market baselines for preparedness and contingency planning, integrating market and livelihood analysis to build resilience in fragile countries and working more closely with our development colleagues on markets and disaster risk reduction (DRR). The possibilities are many and we are working with other agencies on further tools, resources and guidelines to ensure better market support and analysis across a range of scenarios.

In terms of building resilience and better connecting our emergency and long term development work, markets have a central role to play - one that Oxfam is committed to continue exploring. 

Read more

Blog post written by Carol Brady

Market Communications, Learning and Advocacy Officer

More by Carol Brady

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