Helpdesk Report: K4D - Cost-effectiveness in humanitarian aid and development: Resilience programming

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Athanasios Manis, PhD


What evidence is there that resilience in humanitarian response is cost-effective with respect to improving humanitarian outcomes and reducing the cost of responses?


The results of the review show a gap in the literature in terms of providing conclusive evidence/data and analysis of the cost-effectiveness of resilience-related responses. Most of the reports, papers, briefs and notes that were reviewed tend to make normative assertions as to how important is to provide humanitarian assistance early enough and to direct efforts towards helping to protect, restore and improve livelihood systems with the objective of building resilience for populations that experienced humanitarian disasters. They provide information as to what initiatives have been developed, where and how much funding they received and by which donors. However, very few provide analysis of the impact of resilience-related responses and even fewer provide data and analyses of cost-effectiveness. Having said that, drawing on these studies, one can indirectly get a sense of conceptual, empirical and methodological challenges when it comes to designing and executing research over resilience and cost-effectiveness.

Only two studies were found that addressed the issue of cost-effectiveness: Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, 2018; and DFID, 2012. The first report of 2018 discusses how “building back better” in the form of stronger, faster and more inclusively could reduce the cost of future disasters in several countries as well as globally. The report concludes that resilience building in terms of better planning and constructing can not only reduce future costs but can also ameliorate the effects of damage. Nevertheless, the report has a limited scope and does not compare the cost-effectiveness of ‘building back better’ with other forms of resilience-related actions, such as developing training programmes and boosting the entrepreneurial spirit among individuals. The second report, written in 2012, provides evidence about how the effectiveness of resilience-building actions can significantly outweigh their cost. However, the scope of the study is limited, focusing on only two case studies (Kenya and Ethiopia) and one issue area (response and resilience for pastoralists in the face of drought). It cannot necessarily be assumed that the conclusions of this report are transferable to other issues and countries.

Although the rest of the documents that were reviewed did not present specific evidence/data regarding cost-effectiveness, they manage to highlight indirectly certain conceptual, empirical and methodological challenges vis-à-vis the study of the cost-effectiveness of resilience-building measures. To begin with, despite the fact that there is a common understanding that resilience refers more or less to restoring and improving livelihood systems, there is a wide range of issue areas within which resilience can be discussed, making it difficult for researchers to prioritise among numerous different initiatives. It will be difficult to envisage plausible conclusions about the actions that could be most appropriate in specific cases and issues.

The BRACED report (2018) raised further significant empirical and methodological questions. It showed how levels of overall resilience change over time and that perception of recovery differ between female and male-headed households. This has two implications for future research that tries to address the cost-effectiveness of resilience-building initiatives. The first is whether data gathering reflects effectiveness over a period of time or at a specific moment. The second is that the resilience measurement in terms of effectiveness and impact should take into consideration the ‘inside’ story as well – the perceptions of individuals and communities affected by disasters so that externally defined measurements reflect the realities on the ground more accurately and plausibly.