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Since the late 1990s, HEA has been used in:

  • early warning of acute food insecurity
  • contingency planning and triggering early action
  • the design of social protection/safety net programmes
  • the design of livelihoods- and poverty reduction programmes
  • emergency needs assessment ('rapid' HEA)
  • needs assessments in urban areas, refugee camps and internally displaced populations
  • resilience measurement
  • project monitoring and evaluation.

For examples of the uses described below, go to Guidance and reports​.

Early warning

  • HEA was designed as a tool for early warning of food crises
  • Valued because it takes into account people's access to food and cash, not just the amount they produce, and their capacity to cope.
  • ... and because it generates quantitative estimates of how much food or cash is needed to meet particular thresholds, for how many people and for how many months.
  • It uses seasonal monitoring data from government agriculture departments and market monitoring agencies.
  • It can be used at scale.
  • As at 2018, it is used in government early warning systems in east, west and southern Africa and is a key indicator in the Integrated Phase Classification framework (IPC), the globally used system for classifying food insecurity, and the west African Cadre Harmonisé.
  • It indicates which groups within a population will face a deficit.

Contingency planning and early action

  • In areas prone to slow-onset food crises, HEA can model future scenarios based on forecasts and help to trigger early action.
  • Rather than responding to actual need after the shock has occurred and households have reverted to damaging coping strategies, early action mitigates the predicted impact of a shock.
  • Between 2014 and 2017, SCUK used HEA to help trigger early action in Yemen, Ethiopia and Niger in the form of pro-active, no-regrets activities.

Social protection/safety net programming

  • HEA expenditure data collected in a baseline can help to determine the gap between the current and desired standard of living.
  • 'Livelihood protection' thresholds - the minimum income needed for households to maintain their livelihoods – are calculated from baseline expenditure data and are used in outcome analysis to calculate transfer values.
  • Thresholds that incorporate sector-specific international standards (i.e. on WaSH, shelter, education, health etc.) and/or targets for expenditure on children can also be used. See Sector Minimum Expenditure Baskets (2018).
  • HEA's wealth breakdown helps in targeting as it provides locally defined criteria by which to identify the poorest households.
  • HEA has been used by SC in the design of safety nets in Sierra Leone, Maiduguri in Nigeria, Kenya and Myanmar.

Design of livelihoods- and poverty reduction programmes

  • A baseline assessment can guide the selection of interventions because it constitutes a form of poverty analysis at household level.
  • Baseline data helps programme planners to avoid selecting interventions that would not benefit the poorest households.
  • HEA modelling can indicate interventions that would have the greatest impact, and those that would have minimal or no impact, or actually cause harm.

Emergency needs assessment ('rapid HEA')​

  • HEA can be used in emergency situations to assess whether households can meet their basic food and livelihoods needs.
  • It is used in this way when a full baseline is not available.
  • The framework is the same as for a full HEA: the analysis is based on an understanding of the baseline (pre-emergency) situation, what effect a defined shock has had, and how people have responded.
  • The main differences between a rapid HEA and a full HEA are:
    • In a rapid HEA, the monitoring information – i.e. on the shock - is gathered at the same time as the baseline assessment
    • The field methods often have to be adapted to get as much information as possible in less than ideal circumstances
    • The total quantity of information is less than in a full HEA
    • Rapid HEA is led by one or two very experienced HEA practitioners with a small team, usually visiting about 5 villages instead of 8-12 villages
  • The results of a rapid HEA are not valid beyond the year when the assessment is carried out.
  • 'Rapid HEA' was used in Nepal after the earthquake and in the Philippines after the typhoon.

Urban assessments

  • Usually undertaken to learn more about the increasing urban population, especially the poorest, or to assess need and set up livelihood monitoring following conflict or unrest
  • Key difference from rural areas is dependence on market and vulnerability to price changes
  • Casual labour, petty trade and small-scale business are the main income-generating activities
  • Seasonal variations are less marked and timing of hazards is less predictable. Therefore monitoring of urban livelihoods is often carried out monthly rather than in a one-off assessment once or twice a year.
  • Because of heterogeneity of urban livelihoods, focus is on expenditure as poor families tend to spend similar amounts on similar things.

Geographical targeting

  • Because HEA converts food and cash to a common currency (minimum food energy needs), incomes can be compared across a country and over time
  • Incomes in different areas can be compared with sector minimum expenditure baskets to see where the shortfall is greatest
  • HEA also provides a measure of livelihood security, called the livelihoods protection score: effectively, how much income households have to 'spare' over and above the total cost of maintaining their livelihood (i.e. the livelihoods protection threshold).
  • This is helpful because people with the highest cash incomes are not always those with the greatest margin over costs, as higher cash incomes are often associated with higher maintenance costs.

Resilience measurement

  • With HEA outcome analysis, you can model the impact of planned or actual livelihood interventions on household resilience, i.e. see whether households can recover sufficiently after a hazard without using damaging coping strategies.
  • Outcome analysis generates a 'resilience score' for each wealth group: the ratio of total income after a shock to the livelihoods protection threshold (i.e. the cost of maintaining that livelihood).
  • With outcome analysis, you can model the effect of different projects on the resilience score to see which is most effective at increasing income up to or above the livelihood protection threshold following a locally relevant shock.
  • The HEA resilience score can be compared across socio-economic groups and geographic areas.
  • HEA resilience modelling can also be used in impact evaluation, e.g. in the 2018 evaluation of the international NGO cash transfer in Malawi. HEA was used to estimate the recovery capacity of very poor households and to assess their need for support in the next year

Project monitoring and evaluation

  • HEA baseline surveys can be run at the start and end of a project to evaluate impact on household food, income, expenditure and assets.
  • Often this is done using 'individual' HEA (IHEA), which follows up on individual households and requires some statistical analysis.
  • HEA can be used in an evaluation even if a baseline was not carried out at the start, by collecting data on the reference (pre-project) year as well as data in the current year.   
  • HEA has been used to evaluate cash transfer programs and find out how households spent their cash, whether that included child-focused goods and services and investment in livelihood recovery, and how the cash transfer amount compared to the food and income they secured themselves.