The ICRC Economic Security Unit
Extract from ICRC special report: assistance
The aim of the ICRC Economic Security Unit is to ensure that the victims of war are able to maintain or regain their economic security at the household level. In practice this is translated into three different types of humanitarian action:
Economic support: to protect the vital means of production of conflict victims, so that they can maintain their productive capacity and economic self-sufficiency at the household level as much as possible;
Survival relief: to protect the lives of conflict victims by giving them access to the economic goods essential to their survival when they can no longer obtain these by their own means;
Economic rehabilitation: to support conflict victims to restore their means of production, and where possible, regain their economic self-sufficiency.
In conflict or crisis situations, where displacement, theft, looting, and the destruction of property and infrastructure are commonplace, households no longer have the necessary means of production to be self-sufficient. The only solution is often to sell their last possessions in the hope of hanging on until things improve. In this process of impoverishment they tend to spare their productive goods for as long as possible to the detriment of non-productive items which can be sold. The way in which households manage their assets reflects these priorities. They often start by disposing of non-productive material goods, including non-food items, such as jewellery, household items etc., followed by access to service s (schools, hospitals etc.) and finally their means of production (land, tools, cattle, cash income etc.) which guarantee their survival.
This strategy provides an essential guide to how households ensure their economic security. The Economic Security Unit uses this approach to focus on household economics in the context of armed conflict and is concerned with both the means of production required to cover all the basic economic needs of a household as defined by its physical and cultural environment, and the provision of the necessary resources to meet such needs.
Response of the ICRC Economic Security Unit
The crucial question of whether or not conflict victims have adequate means of production to meet all their essential household needs as defined by their physical and cultural environment is the determining factor which governs the Economic Security Unit's assistance programmes. The ICRC intervenes if these means are found to be deficient or likely to become inadequate, and it has long defended an approach to assistance where the criteria are no longer malnutrition or absolute destitution, but rather the loss or potential loss of economic security. Where possible, the Unit gives priority to economic support activities, although rehabilitation activities are often vital because the ICRC is powerless to prevent the process of impoverishment and decapitalization brought about by the nature of the conflicts.
By the same token, survival relief operations remain an important part of its activities. The Unit consists of staff with expertise in nutrition, agronomy, veterinary science, economics and the techniques involved in relief operations.
The different responses of the Unit are illustrated below:
When forerunner signs of a crisis become apparent, early measures of protection should be taken, including action to encourage the relevant authorities to abide by international humanitarian law. During this phase, for populations to be able to find their own ways and means of tackling the situation, no direct assistance is usually necessary.
When the population fails to adapt its means of production and suffers economic problems through obvious impoverishment (i.e., by selling its non-productive assets), economic support is needed to protect the vital means of production so that economic self-sufficiency can be preserved. During the next stage of decapital ization, when households lose their means of production, up to the point when survival is threatened, survival relief operations are often the only solution. Here essential goods are made available which can no longer be obtained by the victims'means of production.
When things start to improve, the population requires help to recover and regain its self-sufficiency so that survival relief operations and assistance can eventually be phased out. Here , economic rehabilitation programmes aim to restore and reinforce the means of production. Finally, during the consolidation phase, it is vital to make the link between economic rehabilitation and development . Resources and manpower should be available to undertake development programmes to reduce the structural vulnerabilities which can encourage the outbreak of crisis situations.