Livelihoods, human development and human security: Exploring conceptual differences, similarities and complementarities


This chapter explores the meanings, similarities and divergences of the “human security” concept with other leading conceptual security frameworks for development practitioners, namely “livelihoods” and “human development”. Each serves as the guiding policy and analytical framework for a variety of governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental agencies. While they hold significant currency within debates, policies and practices of international development, they are less prominent within the peace and security fields, where the concept of human security is better known. Moreover, the meanings of the three concepts – and more precisely their relationships with one another – often remain poorly understood. To situate and understand better the comparative advantage of operationalizing a human security framework – the focus of the OPHUSEC project – it is helpful to understand the relationship of the human security concept vis-à-vis other leading developmental frameworks. This chapter reflects upon dominant understandings of these concepts in order to make the case that the concepts and agendas of human security, livelihoods and human development are neither incompatible nor divergent. In fact, human security shares many of the same principles, methodologies and goals with those inherent to livelihoods and human development approaches.

Although in recent years human security has faded from its previously more prominent position within international development policy circles, often in favour of a livelihoods or human development approach, this chapter posits that human security offers a valuable analytical lens and reflects a development and security agenda that not only incorporates the concerns captured by a livelihoods approach, but moves it forward to address additional critical issues that affect individuals’ and communities’ daily lives and needs. Indeed, the added advantage of a human security framework lies in its ability to reformulate traditional notions of security (i.e. as existential threats to the state) to focus on the importance of safety, security and stability of the individual and community. In addition, it raises the significance of certain traditional development-specific concerns when they are considered or expected to pose existential threats to both individuals and communities. In making this analytical shift, the importance of conditions identified through a livelihoods or human development approach is increased in recognition of the potential or real threat these conditions have on the ability to survive of an individual, his or her family, or the community. In this sense, an effort to operationalize human security can potentially better reflect the practical realities of the relationship between security and development.

This chapter proceeds by reviewing select leading development agencies’ understandings and approaches to livelihoods, human development and human security. Thus it relies upon core definitions publicly offered by various agencies as well as select relevant academic literature. This is certainly not an exhaustive review, but rather an attempt to establish an exploratory base sample that represents the key elements of each concept. Its purpose is to provide some orientation for the reader to situate the concept of human security within the international development (and security) discourse as he/she moves through the 28 remainder of this volume. As such, the bulk of the chapter is descriptive in nature and resembles a mapping exercise. It is intended to provide an introduction to the concepts in order to place human security in relation to other leading, and closely related, development frameworks. Limited comparative analysis follows the descriptive sections.


The livelihoods concept is arguably the most prevalent framework employed by both development and humanitarian agencies. Within the concept a variety of labels and names are used, such as livelihoods security, sustainable livelihoods, household livelihoods and – simply – livelihoods. However, despite the slight variation between the “subterms”, each can be considered to fall under a general livelihoods framework. Thus, for the most part, this section employs the general term of “livelihoods” as an umbrella, although specific titles may be discussed explicitly when attempting to account for slight variations.

Background of the concept

The livelihoods concept emerged largely from the work of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and research institutions, particularly in terms of a “sustainable livelihoods approach”. It was later adopted by governmental development agencies. Early forerunners of the approach include organizations such as Oxfam, the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex and the International Institute for Sustainable Development. It was adopted by the UK Department for International Development in 1990, serving as one of the first government agencies to adopt the concept officially.

Development and humanitarian policy-makers and practitioners utilize the framework of livelihoods to measure, assess, plan and evaluate interventions related to a range of conditions and means deemed necessary for a stable and sustainable living. Thus livelihoods is a normative framework through which policy-makers and practitioners stake a claim as to what are important, necessary and fundamental guarantees to live a life removed from poverty. In this way, livelihoods approaches are focused on poverty reduction strategies that strive to empower poor people to build their own opportunities and structure stable and predictable means of living – as opposed to a focus on physical, health or security threats, which is closer to the heart of a human security approach. The livelihoods approach thus avoids the so-called “security trap” by focusing its analysis and intervention on the more traditional development and humanitarian concern of poverty reduction.

Core principles

A number of core principles define the livelihoods approach and are crucial for development interventions: activities should be people-centred, responsive and participatory, multi-actor, conducted in partnership, sustainable and dynamic. These principles, especially participatory engagement aimed at empowering affected individuals, have always been key distinguishing features of this approach.

Livelihood has been defined as comprising a range of “capabilities, assets (stores, resources, claims and access) and activities required for a means of living”. Further, and respecting the core principles of a people-centred, responsive and participatory approach, people at the focus of interventions should be the ones to define their own desired livelihood outcomes.4 A livelihoods approach is left intentionally broad in order to capture and respond to the context-specific ways in which people obtain livelihood resources, including both formal and informal mechanisms.

International organizations and NGOs have found a livelihoods approach attractive, as it is flexible in application to different contexts. As it engages formal and informal processes, it is designed to capture the varied means to secure livelihoods not just between different individuals, but by individuals as well. For instance, the approach is designed to respond to the multiple income-generating activities someone might have in any given year. As noted in a UN Development Programme (UNDP) report on the subject, the approach “has the flexibility to tap into such kinds of adaptive responses and utilize them as entry points for policy making”.

Additionally, sustainability is a core component of livelihoods. It should be quite apparent that without sustainability (if not predictability), livelihoods would only be relevant to a temporary condition rather than to an entire lifetime. A typical understanding of sustainability in a livelihoods framework is expressed by Chambers and Conway, who state that “a livelihood is sustainable which can cope with and recover from stress and shocks, maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets, and provide sustainable livelihood opportunities for the next generation; and which contributes net benefits to other livelihoods at the local and global levels and in the long and short term”.

Thus a sustainable livelihoods framework comprises what Bingen identifies as three interrelated components: “First, some combination or portfolio of capabilities, assets (including physical, natural and social resources or capital) and activities; that, second, enable people to deal with events and trends as well as develop various strategies to pursue desired livelihood outcomes; while, third, maintaining or enhancing their capabilities and assets over time.” Based on this concept, sustainable livelihoods frameworks help diagram the various interrelationships among the events and trends affecting people’s lives, as well as the structures (levels of government, private sector actors, etc.) and processes (laws, policies, institutions, etc.) that influence people’s access to and use of livelihood assets.

UNDP has adopted a sustainable livelihoods approach as a means to further its broader human development agenda, a distinction that will be made clearer in the following discussion on human development. As stated in a UNDP document on the topic, a sustainable livelihoods approach “brings together the thinking and practice of poverty reduction strategies, sustainable development and participation and empowerment processes into a framework for policy analysis and programming”. In practice at the country level, UNDP has utilized the sustainable livelihoods approach in its work related to rural food security, micro private sector development and urban development.

When looking for a more explicit discussion and incorporation of “security” within a livelihoods approach, “household livelihood security” emerges as one of the leading concepts. This approach developed in response to a rising focus on “food security”, a concept that gained greater attention in the 1970s (in particular the 1974 World Food Conference) and 1980s (following a series of droughts and floods in parts of Africa that created severe food shortages). Relevant to human security, two critical analytical shifts emerged: first, an assessment that some threats which are not linked to physical violence nonetheless pose an existential security threat; and, second, that the focus of that threat moved from the nation to individuals and communities, in this case households. Indeed, this analytical shift, as will be demonstrated later, overlaps with the approach offered by human security.

Household livelihood security was adopted by NGOs such as CARE in the mid-1990s. In a 2011 report the UN Environment Programme employed livelihoods security as its framework for analysing threats to individuals and communities caused by climate change. More so, it analyses the intersections of climate change with statelessness, international conflict, vulnerability and development.

Livelihood security is often discussed in the context of households. As such, household livelihood security is defined as “adequate and sustainable access to income and resources to meet basic needs”. This includes adequate access to food, potable water, health facilities, educational opportunities, housing and time for community participation and social integration. In addition, this framework considers a range of activities to secure food and income in multiple places, both rural and urban. As noted by Frankenberger and McCaston, “each household can have several possible sources of entitlement, which constitute its livelihood. These entitlements are based on the household’s endowments and its position in the legal, political and social fabric of society.”

The risk of livelihood failure determines the level of vulnerability of an individual or household to income, food, health and nutritional insecurity. Livelihoods are secure when individuals and households have “secure ownership of, or access to, resources and income-earning activities, including reserves and assets to offset risk, ease shocks and meet contingencies”. As Ghanim states, “households have secure livelihoods when they are able to acquire, protect, develop, utilize, exchange and benefit from assets and resources”. The objective of the framework is to strengthen a household’s livelihood strategies relevant to the particular context in order to enhance predictable and sustained successful livelihood outcomes, such as gender equality, nutrition, health or shelter.

A review of what typical indicators utilized within a livelihoods approach aim to measure can help reveal the conceptualized priorities, methodologies, objectives and goals of the approach and its delivery. A ready example is that of CARE’s indicators for household livelihood security. CARE is one of the more prominent advocates for a household livelihoods security viewpoint, and in attempting to explain its application of this approach and framework – and encourage their use by others – it has attempted to establish effective benchmarks, or indicators, that serve to measure relative success or shortcomings of its activities. These indicators have attempted to account for progress towards security in food (measured by e.g. duration of lean period, share of household budget spent on food, dietary diversity by type of household member); nutrition (measured by e.g. stunting and wasting among children aged 6–59 months); economics (measured by e.g. annual household income stream, household asset index); health (measured by e.g. incidence of diarrhoea over the past month); education (measured by e.g. family members with completed primary education or adult literacy rates); shelter (measured by e.g. housing condition); gender status (measured by e.g. female participation in household decision-making or dowry); and community participation (measured by e.g. effective presence of village groups).18 Such a review thus details common features of livelihood security (e.g. education, health, food) as well as having a particular focus on measurement of household units. However, there is a lack of indicators related to potential external and structural forces and conditions as well as to direct and structural violence. The only explicit indicator of violence relates to incidence of violence against women within the home as a measure of gender status. Thus although a household livelihoods security framework attempts to incorporate a “security” analysis, it stops short of incorporating more traditional elements of “security”. In doing so, it appears as an attempt to elevate the existential importance of livelihood threats (i.e. by labelling them as “security” concerns) while maintaining a clear separation from otherwise “traditional” existential threats due to violence.

In sum, livelihoods approaches are among the most prevalent frameworks for analysis and programme design and delivery used by governmental and non-governmental development and humanitarian agencies. Some threads of the approach, such as household livelihood security, engage a more explicit discussion and incorporation of a “security” analysis. However, the framework is primarily focused on the development of poverty reduction strategies that are context-specific and designed in participation with those affected. Moreover, they are aimed at empowering individuals and households to make changes in their lives required to ensure their sustainability, while excluding more common understandings of security involving either direct or structural violence.


Human development has been a leading approach in development work for the past two decades. It has been utilized as a framework for a range of development interventions and agendas from small NGOs to broad international summits, such as the Millennium Summit and its result, the Millennium Development Goals. In particular, it has been championed by the United Nations in general and UNDP in particular since the introduction in 1990 of UNDP’s seminal and annual publication, the Human Development Report (HDR).

Background of the concept

The conceptual forerunners of human development were Amartya Sen and Mahbub ul Haq, who helped develop the concept in the 1980s along with a groundswell of social movement activity in the global South. This happened in response to otherwise traditional development interventions that focused on national economic development as the principal if not sole means to improve individuals’ well-being. Since the first HDR in 1990, the concept of human development has been taken up largely by researchers and NGOs, and to a lesser extent by government development agencies. It has been employed overwhelmingly within the development field, and both humanitarian and security practitioners and researchers have also attempted to align their efforts in support of “broader” human development objectives.

Core principles

In essence, the human development framework aims to put people rather than national economic standards in the centre of development interventions, and to expand the realm of human concerns beyond standard economic indicators. As noted in the first HDR, “Human development is a process of enlarging people’s choices. The most critical of these wide-ranging choices are to live a long and healthy life, to be educated and to have access to resources needed for a decent standard of living. Additional choices include political freedom, guaranteed human rights and personal self-respect.” Human development represents an ambitious agenda that moves beyond a strict focus on poverty reduction strategies or economic figures to include issues such as political and cultural freedoms, good governance and gender equality, with only a limited inclusion of direct peace- and security-related issues. The first HDR served as an important benchmark, as it encouraged a shift in focus away from national wealth and to the living conditions and economies of individuals and communities, under the slogan that “people are the real wealth of a nation”. Through human development, people – and their well-being – are the “end” or objective of development, as opposed to the then mainstream approaches, which viewed humans as a “means” or resource for economic growth or production. In fact, proponents of human development contend that this approach represents the “authentic” intent and design of development, thus signalling a return to the “real” meaning of development. As Sen notes, “Human development, as an approach, is concerned with what I take to be the basic development idea: namely, advancing the richness of human life, rather than the richness of the economy in which human beings live, which is only a part of it.” Thus, like livelihoods and  human security (discussed below) approaches, human development tries to change the conceptual reference point and indicator of development from the state to its people.

At a conceptual level, human development is understood as a process to widen people’s choices, freedoms and opportunities in everyday as well as institutional and structural matters. This includes reforming state institutions to make them more accountable to people and introducing new legal frameworks for the protection of vulnerable populations. It moves beyond a livelihoods approach in that it seeks to address and respond to issues that may not be immediately or primarily understood as related to economic empowerment or poverty reduction strategies. Instead, the conceptual paradigm of human development presents a framework through which issues such as political choice, cultural expression and responsive state institutions are treated as essential components of one’s well-being and quality and dignity of life, just as much as issues of poverty and economic livelihoods. In fact, within this framework, sustainable economic development and poverty reduction are not the end goals, but rather one set of means to enhance human development – i.e. one’s overall well-being, defined as health, nutrition and basic education. A livelihoods approach, then, would be one component of a broader human development agenda. However, and a significant point in relation to human security, a human development approach for the most part does not have a specific direct violence or security component, although its inclusion of and emphasis on issues such as health access and gender equality may permit an analysis and understanding of structural violence and allows for important synergies with human security.

According to the UNDP, human development “involves expanding the opportunities and capacities to enable [people] to live a creative and productive life according to their needs and interests. For this reason, development is focused on expanding the choices human beings have to have the life they value.”

Indeed, as noted previously, the proponents of human development view this approach as reflecting the true purpose of development. For instance, in reference to the need for such an approach, Mahbub ul Haq, founder of the HDR, states:

The basic purpose of development is to enlarge people’s choices. In principle, these choices can be infinite and can change over time. People often value achievements that do not show up at all, or not immediately, in income or growth figures: greater access to knowledge, better nutrition and health services, more secure livelihoods, security against crime and physical violence, satisfying leisure hours, political and cultural freedoms and sense of participation in community activities. The objective of development is to create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy and creative lives.

Interestingly, in addition to “more secure livelihoods”, characteristic of the livelihood approach, in this quotation ul Haq makes reference to “security against crime and physical violence”, which is not explicitly an element of the human development approach – yet was subsequently picked up with the merger of development and security needs in the context of UNDP’s 1994 HDR, which introduced the concept of human security.

Thus the concept of human development is an attempt not truly to revolutionize development, but rather to embody its real essence and original intent. Unlike a livelihoods approach, which is considered a particular approach within the broader development and humanitarian fields, human development is offered as an all-encompassing normative and universal understanding, framework and agenda for development.

However, despite the broad and encompassing view offered by ul Haq, a more confined approach to human development, one that often excludes engagement with direct violence and security, has emerged. Within this more common and now standard approach, the four central components of human development are for people to “1) enjoy a long and healthy life; 2) obtain an education; 3) have access to resources that enable them to live in dignity; and 4) be able to participate in decisions that affect their community”. To deliver on these ambitious goals and meet various changing and context-specific needs, human development is designed conceptually to evolve constantly. In more than two decades since its emergence, the concept has been enlarged and contracted – in fact human security was intermittently introduced in the 1994 HDR as an enlargement of human development (discussed below) – in order to meet changing conditions on the ground as well as changing demands of donors.

In many ways, an understanding of human development can best be grasped by a review of central indicators used to track and measure it. Indeed, indicators are designed to serve as useful benchmarks to measure, track and evaluate programme delivery. In this sense, conceptually at least, indicators should reflect the desired outcomes and goals of any programme (although there is quite a good deal of work dissecting the failings of many prominent indicators to capture accurately a desired goal or outcome). There is a sizeable number of indicator sets and indices that accompany human development; chief among these is UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI), which is a composite of multiple indices and indicators. The HDI attempts to measure and rank national records not just in terms of income growth, but also regarding social indicators, such as education, life expectancy and political freedom. The 49 indicators that constitute the HDI are diverse and multiple, including, for example, adjusted net savings, carbon dioxide emissions per capita, fresh water withdrawals, education index (expected and mean years of schooling), adolescent fertility rate, public expenditure on health (percentage of GDP), gender inequality index, inequality-adjusted education index, impact of natural disasters, labour force participation rate and shares in parliament (female-male ratio).

Many of the core principles and methodologies of human development resemble those of the livelihoods and human security approaches. Core principles include using a conceptual and practical approach that is people-centred, empowering, locally owned, holistic, sustainable and “does no harm”. Similarly, among the ideal methodologies to achieve human development are approaches that are participatory and engage those most directly affected by problems (rather than just national elites or government officials); that are consultative and coordinated with other external actors to eliminate redundancy and mutual harm and support coherence of activity; and that are multidimensional in design and programming.

Although it can be argued that structural violence-related issues are included within a human development framework, more “traditional” components of security or issues of direct violence occupy a less prominent place. As discussed above, the main components that constitute the HDI do not include substantive security-related factors except for life expectancy, which can maintain some connection to security issues if, of course, these lines are made in the analysis. Nonetheless, many substantive securityrelated programming takes place under a human development framework and with a stated objective to advance human development. Often such programming is related to “peacebuilding”, including, for instance, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR), security sector reform, rule of law initiatives, demining, institution building as a means for conflict prevention, and transitional justice. Often, however, an engagement with security-related issues such as these is justified as a way to advance poverty reduction and sustainable economic development, as well as health and nutrition. They are thus supported as a means towards promoting human development core activities, but not as ends in themselves.

In sum, conceptually human development has represented a significant refocusing of development priorities, goals and programming: it has attempted to shift the focus from one based on national economic metrics, such as GDP, to one that is human-centred. It has attempted to make people’s well-being the focus of development, rather than their use primarily for economic production. In terms of security, the concept embraces, to some extent, security-related issues and programming as necessary preconditions to achieve human development. Violence and conflict are viewed as significant impediments to both sustainable economic development and poverty reduction, as well as to the health, nutrition, equality and general well-being of the people. However, while security may be loosely included within the conceptual framework of human development, it remains excluded from its central focus or purpose.


Background of the concept

The concept of human security was introduced in the 1994 HDR. Emerging from – and building on – preceding work on human development, human security represented a bold step towards reconfiguring traditional security paradigms and priorities.

Core principles

Following in the path of its conceptual forefather, human development, as well as the livelihoods approach, the concept of human security shifts the referent object of security from the state and its elites to the individuals and communities of the state. In particular, it attempts to account for those most disadvantaged, marginalized and threatened (often considered the most vulnerable). In addition to this significant and controversial conceptual break, human security attempts to expand an understanding of security to capture development and humanitarian-related issues. In the broad understanding of human security, traditionally excluded issues, such as housing conditions, pollution, health, poverty, crime and political equality, were acknowledged as not just as threats to one’s livelihood or development, but as existential threats. The goal of human security is to achieve freedom from fear (i.e. “security”) and freedom from want (i.e. “development”). In doing so, it represents not just an analytical framework, but also an agenda for action and social change.

In presenting such a shift, human security represents an ambitious, broader and more holistic conceptual framework and agenda than those of livelihoods and, possibly, human development. First, its goal of freedom from fear and want is a significant shift for both development and security practitioners and policy-makers, as it attempts to bring both communities closer together through a conceptual framework that recognizes the linkages and dependencies between the two as well as an agenda for action within which both could conceivably work in partnership. Further, more so than with human development, human security attempts to grasp explicitly and engage with a security-development nexus, which “posits that there is an interaction between the security situation and development outcomes, between the development situation and security outcomes, and between performance and outcomes in security and development assistance”.26 Thus, as Schnabel notes, “Human security also for the first time introduced, from a development perspective, the security and development conundrum to a larger global community of practitioners, policy-makers and researchers.”

Additionally, human security represents an ambitious, broader and more holistic agenda and framework when considering its understanding of threats and violence. Rather than focusing exclusively on military or armed attacks and violence, as had been the traditional rendering of security by both development and security policy-makers, human security attempts to identify and confront direct and structural violence – although over the years many human security practitioners, such as those within the Swiss or Canadian governments, have adopted a much narrower version that excludes the important (and foundational) component of structural violence. Thus inequality based on race, ethnicity or gender as well as inaccessible healthcare, pollution or water contamination may be reconfigured not just as concerns of one’s well-being (under human development) or livelihoods (in cases of nutrition, health and the environment), but as violence. In this sense, it encompasses concerns of livelihoods and human development, but posits them as potential existential security threats to an individual, a community or both, and strives to empower communities affected by these threats to develop the appropriate strategies and capacities to overcome them, in partnership with relevant traditional or public authorities. Of course, not all of these concerns or threats may be deemed “existential” (such as air pollution), but they are to be analysed and measured for this possibility.

Furthermore, this understanding of threats and violence and the shift of the referent object of security is what makes human security an agenda for action and change. Indeed, to confront structural violence against individuals and particular communities in a society, one must change that society. Thus not only is an immediate change to the threat required, but also a change to the structures and power relations that allow for and maintain such a threat. Human security, in this sense, requires a sensitive and undoubtedly tense engagement with power. One of the more immediate ways in which it proposes to do this is to redirect energies and priorities of security providers in a state (not to mention the state itself) towards confronting identified human security threats and elevating issues of structural violence to national priorities.

Much like livelihoods and human development, applied human security at its core maintains the principles of a people-centred approach, sustainability in design and implementation, local ownership and respect of the “do no harm” principle as outlined by Mary Anderson. Likewise, its methodologies attempt to reflect these principles through participatory processes that aim to empower those directly affected and vulnerable populations, are multifaceted and multidimensional, and are coherent with interventions undertaken by other actors.


From this exploratory review of these three concepts a number of convergences, compatibilities and similarities emerge. Rather than being quite divergent or opposing, each of these frameworks supports, rather than opposes, one another. For the most part, differences seem to be a matter of scope in the framework of analysis as well as the ambition to serve as an agenda for change.

Table 3.1 provides a basic overview of some of the core components of each concept that may be useful as a quick reference guide.

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Common features

Among the commonalities of the human security, livelihoods and human development approaches are methodologies, principles and certain objectives. In terms of shared principles, each of these concepts includes the core components of people-centredness, sustainability, local ownership and holistic approaches. At this level, each concept attempts to shift the traditional referent object of the state and the nation as a whole to the people who make up the nation. Each may have a slight difference as to who this is – household, individual, community, or particular classes or communities of people. However, each offers a critical shift away from a focus on the state (and its elites) to the audience which the provision of development and security is ideally supposed to benefit – i.e. the people. Furthermore, each concept aims to be sustainable in its approach, delivery and impact. Rather than being conceived as a quick approach or something that is intended to serve an immediate need or band-aid effect, each is intended to take a longterm view, minimize negative unintentional outcomes and last much longer than the initial intervention.

In terms of methodologies, each concept is centred on a participatory approach that engages directly with affected communities and individuals in order to reflect more accurately the contexts and conditions of their lives, as well as empower them to identify their own problems or threats and the solutions to overcome them. Each strives to employ multidimensional activities that can engage with multiple converging issues and threats to make a holistic and lasting change. Finally, each emphasizes the need for coherence with other interventions and programmes to minimize overlap and mutual harm and maximize their synergies for greater positive impact.

Furthermore, each concept is designed to evolve constantly to address emergent needs or threats and reflect on new responses to these by the people it is designed to support and empower. Likewise, each concept has evolved in part by the introduction of new metrics for indicators and in response to academic research and political and donor pressures. In this sense they are concepts that can be adapted to address evolving threats and be responsive to those people affected.

Of course, there is some shared organizational affiliation as to who employs each concept. Some organizations, researchers and agencies may in fact use different approaches at different times, or to address different needs. In part, this may be influenced by the desires of donors or the level of acceptance of each framework within the broader community. Generally, each concept has been taken up at one point or another by the development community, with parts of the United Nations, especially UNDP, leading the way. In this sense, although some may also be taken up by humanitarian and security actors or researchers, they all share the common feature of being development-oriented concepts.

Finally, all share common concerns. Although a livelihoods approach may not directly engage with substantive or “traditional” security issues, each stresses the mutually reinforcing effects and importance of health, nutrition, education and the environment, as well as (to some extent with livelihoods) political and community participation.

Distinguishing features

Through this brief overview certain distinguishing features have also been identified. While human development and human security are closely aligned and similar (which can be expected, given that human security emerged within the context of human development), a livelihoods approach is divergent particularly in its relative disengagement from issues related to “security”. Issues of armed violence and conflict, and ineffective and unaccountable security provision and institutions rarely figure in a livelihoods approach.

Likewise, threats to health, nutrition and the environment are not viewed through the lens of structural violence, but rather through their effects on one’s ability to maintain and secure a livelihood. On the other hand, although different approaches of particular organizations may be more nuanced or varied, for the most part human security (and human development) does not view economic livelihood and poverty reduction as the ultimate objectives but rather as central components of achieving human security (i.e. freedom from fear and want).

Furthermore, human security is designed to engage with security providers and development actors. It is an embodiment of the security-development nexus and urges greater and closer collaboration and partnership between the two fields in order to maximize positive impact for both.

In addition, human security, like human development, is conceived as an agenda for action and change, not simply a conceptual framework or organizational approach. It is designed to be an evolving paradigm to be taken up by security and development actors across the world in order to secure sustained peace and development, particularly in transition societies. In this sense, human security builds upon the foundations of livelihoods and human development by elevating their shared concerns to national and existential importance and revealing the ways in which issues of direct and structural violence are interconnected and affect the daily lives of people.


In conclusion, this relatively brief and general review of livelihoods, human development and human security approaches to peace, security and development was designed to explore the conceptual underpinnings and goals of each in order to illuminate many of their shared features as well as the ways in which human security attempts to move beyond them.

Rather than being incompatible or divergent frameworks, this review has shown the common goals, concerns, principles and methodologies that all share. Similarly, it has also highlighted the ways in which human security offers a unique addition by approaching livelihood and development threats as structural violence and existential threats. Human security, the prime focus of the OPHUSEC project for which this 38 chapter has been prepared, engages intentionally and holistically with traditional security actors and concerns in order to mitigate both direct and structural violence for the benefit of the people. Out of the three concepts discussed in this chapter, human security might thus be the most people-centred approach towards the provision of development and security.

*This piece was originally published as Chapter 3 in “Operationalizing Human Security: Concept, Analysis, Application” and released in 2014 jointly by EPFL, LaSUR, & DCAF, and edited by Albrecht Schnabel and Yves Pedrazzini.

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