accessibility & help

What are livelihoods?

A Chinese woman looks out from behind bunches of sweetcorn© InfoWhat are livelihoods?

A person’s livelihood is how they make money and support themselves. Our recovery programmes help people rebuild their livelihoods in the wake of a crisis. This includes disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as crises which creep up more slowly as a result of issues like poverty, drought and climate change. We also work with vulnerable people having to start over in the aftermath of a conflict.

The way the Red Cross helps people get back on their feet will depend on the challenges facing the individual and their community. Sometimes providing assets – such as seeds, tools or livestock – or supplying food aid is the best approach, but in other situations giving people cash grants can be more effective.

Shortly after a disaster, survival is the priority and we help people cover their basic needs and other unavoidable costs. But our livelihoods work builds on this by helping people develop ways of making a living that are sustainable.

Meeting basic needs

In the first stages of disaster recovery, cash can help people meet their basic needs – in places where it is possible to buy the necessary items. After selecting which households are most at risk, we give them an unconditional grant. By giving money directly to displaced households, they can choose how best to spend it.

A cash grant is often more effective than a one-size-fits-all delivery of aid. Nobody will prioritise people’s needs better than the people themselves. A mother with two children may scrimp on her own grocery shopping to provide for their education. A family with large debts needs money as well as something to eat – if given food aid, they may have to sell it to meet their debt repayments.

Read how a cash grant helped Camille find accommodation after the Haiti earthquake.

Cash for sustainable livelihoods

While unconditional grants are essential during the initial recovery period, they are not a long-term solution. Because the cash is limited, people will have to compromise about how to spend it – and paying for school fees instead of sufficient food will eventually lead to ill health.

If people can provide for themselves, this is no longer a problem. To help people do this, we give them conditional grants for carrying out a business plan.

We offer people the cash, guidance and support to develop their livelihood – be this opening their own shop, or expanding their farm. This way, they can continue to make a living after the programme has finished.

Read how the Haiti livelihoods programme helped Gerna grow her business.


An important part of our recovery work is giving people the skills to adapt after a disaster. This could involve teaching someone to budget better within the home or helping them run their business more successfully. We also give people information on local agencies and services that can help them.

Some people – such as those left disabled or displaced by a disaster – may need to retrain. A person in a wheelchair can no longer be a farmer and a community which relied on fishing can no longer do so if they have had to move inland. We teach people new ways to support themselves.

Often, a livelihoods programme will complement other recovery work going on in the region. For instance, we employ people on shelter projects rebuilding houses or improving the local area, to help protect against future disasters.

Read how our livelihoods programme in China helped Liu after he was injured in the earthquake and gave Zhang the confidence to rebuild his farm.

Find out how we’re providing vocational training to children affected by war in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Read about our resilience work to improve livelihoods among vulnerable populations in South Africa and Lesotho.


Recovery stories

Johnny helped to dig drainage canals in Haiti’s Automeca camp.

Street trader Josette explains how a Red Cross project has regenerated her community after the 2010 earthquake.