Links between Relief, Rehabilitation and Development in the Tsunami Response: A Review of the Debate

M. Buchanan-Smith, P. Fabbri


The challenge of linking relief, rehabilitation and development (LRRD) has preoccupied aid organisations for over a decade. What does it mean? How can it be done? This paper from the Tsunami Evaluation Coalition gives an overview of the literature and informs LRRD-themed evaluations. While much has been written about LRRD, shifts in agency approach and practice do not appear to have matched recommendations.

The African food crisis in the 1980s threw into focus the differences between short-term humanitarian assistance and long-term development cooperation. The concept of a continuum from relief to rehabilitation development was discredited in the 1990s.  It was replaced by the developmental relief approach, which looks to long term solutions as well as responding to immediate needs. From the late 1990s the focus has been on linking aid and security policy. The debate about the objectives and channels for different types of aid and appropriate divisions of responsibility persists.

The LRRD debate considers links between relief, disasters, conflict, aid, security and development. There are many layers to the debate, from the political context of aid to programmatic and operational challenges. Key concepts and issues include:

  • While the volume of humanitarian assistance is continually increasing, problems with the political manipulation of aid have yet to be resolved.
  • Aid agencies have shifted towards a right-based approach. This focuses on people’s ability to claim their rights and on the identification of duty bearers, rather than on need and beneficiaries.
  • Three frameworks can be used to put into practice some of the ideas behind LRRD: vulnerability, risk reduction and livelihoods. Each attempts to link the short-term to the long-term and see the impact of a crisis in its wider context.
  • Rehabilitation has been seen as a critical link between relief and development, but objectives are not clearly defined. The related concept of reconstruction is now recognised as a long term political process rather than a technical fix.
  • Institutional issues include working with local organisations and local people, organisational cultures, mandates and funding.
  • Efforts to promote humanitarian principles in conflict environments involve protecting neutrality, impartiality and independence to gain access to those most in need. This limits opportunities to link relief, rehabilitation and development.

Shifts in agency approach have not always matched policy recommendations relating to LRRD. For example, there is a recognition that neither natural disasters nor conflicts are one-off events and that their impact depends on how society is structured. However, this way of thinking is poorly reflected in programming.  There has nonetheless been some progress over the years, which lends itself to further developments:

  • Some unexpected linkages have taken place between humanitarian development and conflict resolution. These are influenced more by bigger political agendas that by the traditional LRRD debate.
  • The rights-based approach to emergency and development work offers promising opportunities to make progress in LRRD. But there is still a long way to go and this is not uncontested.
  • Operational frameworks offer practical ways of ensuring that long-term perspectives are adopted in humanitarian work, and that development work addresses issues of vulnerability and risk.
  • There is still ambiguity about objectives and funding streams for rehabilitation work. This may give donors convenient room for maneuver.
  • There is a lack of information on how disaster-prone people perceive their situation and relate to concepts of relief, rehabilitation and development. This should be explored.


Buchanan-Smith, M. and Fabbri, P., 2005, 'Links between Relief, Rehabilitation and Development in the Tsunami Response: A Review of the Debate', Tsunami Evaluation Coalition, London