6 top tips to protect livelihoods from disasters

Disaster response and preparednessDisaster risk reductionLivelihoodsResilience

Disasters affect nearly all aspects of life, but particularly livelihoods. Sometimes the damage done to people’s ability to earn an income is a bigger problem than damage to a house or physical injury.

A resident of a flood resettlement community at her market stall in Nacogolone, Mocuba District, Mozambique. Photo: Ralph Hodgson
A resident of a flood resettlement community at her market stall in Nacogolone, Mocuba District, Mozambique. Photo: Ralph Hodgson

If income can be restored quickly, then survivors will be able to meet their other needs. Below are some tips NGOs and community workers can give to people living in areas at risk of disasters. 

A helpful first step is to identify the most common hazards affecting your area, eg flood, typhoon, drought or fire. Second, make a list of the different ways those hazards could damage your livelihood. Third, try to think of ways to reduce that impact, or actions you can take that will protect your livelihood assets and products. Here are a few ideas: 

  • Protect key assets: In a flood-prone area, try to store livelihood tools, seeds and products awaiting sale in a high-up place in your house, wrapped or sealed in plastic bags if these are available. Alternatively, double-seal items in plastic and store them buried underground. Identify safe places for larger items, such as boats, where they can be tied securely. 
  • Evacuate: Move your livestock to higher ground as soon as there is a warning of floods or cyclone. Evacuate your family too and as many livelihood-related goods as you can carry. 
  • Diversify: Try not to be totally dependent on one income-generating activity or one crop. Use part of your available land for another food or cash crop, preferably one that grows outside the disaster season. Start some new ventures, such as keeping chickens, ducks or other small livestock; growing vegetables; or a non-farming activity such as hairdressing or tailoring.

If income can be restored quickly, then survivors will be able to meet their other needs.

  • Keep some savings: When income is good, set aside a little money each week in a bank or group savings account. This money will gradually grow and provide some capital to use for replacement equipment, seeds etc if the family is hit by disaster. 
  • Note alternatives: Try to think all the time about alternative sources of raw materials or places to sell your goods if the regular ones become unavailable. 
  • Adjust farming practices: Seek expert advice about new varieties of crops, and try out those which will be more resistant to hazards such as drought. (Some common drought-resistant crops are millet, sorghum, cassava and green grams.) Other ideas include growing several crops together in one field or adopting conservation farming methods. Government officers or NGO workers can advise you on this. 

This article is from Footsteps Magazine 103, which explores the theme of entrepreneurship and is packed with more practical advice and case studies on the challenges of starting and running a successful business.

Bob Hansford
Bob Hansford was formerly Tearfund’s Disaster Risk Reduction Adviser. Email: bob.hansford27@gmail.com