ALNAP Launches Haiti Learning and Accountability Portal

By Bryan Schaaf on Wednesday, July 14, 2010.

The Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP) has recently launched a Haiti Portal.  The portal will include evaluations of the Haiti response and other online resources.  In addition, it will provide participants an opportunity to discuss what is going well and what needs to be improved.  Haiti is still teetering between emergency response and reconstruction.  There are many issues that require further attention and action, first so we can improve efforts underway in Haiti and second to do a better job the next time a major urban disaster occurs.  Below is a summary of just a few of these issues. 

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Aceh:  The natural disaster against which the Haiti earthquake is compared to again and again is post Tsunami Aceh.  But is this fair?  Jakarta was not levelled by the Tsunami and the central government, with its capacity and resources, was able to coordinate a robust response.  Perhaps other comparisons would be more meaningful.

 

Cluster Approach:  Three clusters, notably Health, Food, and Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) performed well.  Why did others fall short?  Many suffered from staff rotation and disorganization.  Haitians were disempowered by the cluster approach in that meetings were not held in accessible locations and French/Kreyol interpretation was not the norm  As a result, responders missed out on important local knowledge about stakeholders and social structures.  It is not too late to fix this.

 

Coordination:  While improvements in government capacity were made in the year prior to the earthquake, its ability to be a steward of the many different actors in country (local and international NGOs, UN Agencies, faith based groups, etc.) was limited.  After the earthquake, hundreds of well-intentioned organizations with little experience in disaster response swooped into Haiti.  Many did not know about, participate in, or report into the Cluster System, which made knowing who was doing what where difficult. How to best coordinate new actors?

 

Decentralization:  There is still not a legislative framework for devolving decision making authority to the provinces.  Presently, decision making authority is hyper-centralized in Port au Prince. When can such a framework be expected? 

 

Diaspora:  Haiti also needs legislative action to encourage the Diaspora to return, to contribute their expertise and to invest.  Dual citizenship would facilitate this but any Constitutional changes are controversial, even in the best of times.  Is President Preval willing to take a risk before his term finishes?

 

Displacement:  At one point, over 600,000 of the displaced returned to the countryside and secondary cities.  Providing food assistance and livelihood support to friends/families would have dramatically improved their ability to host the displaced, especially in regions that were already food insecure. The response outside of Port au Prince and parts of the south was poor.  Ultimately, many of the displaced felt they had three choices: Return to Port au Prince, go to the Dominican Republic, or take a boat to anywhere.  Many have returned to Port au Prince and moved into the camps.  Others from slums have also moved into the camps for the services not available in their own communities.  For these reasons, the IDP settlements continue to grow in size.  

 

Donor Support:   Donors promised $5.3 billion at a conference two months after the earthquake.  Two percent of the pledges have turned into actual contributions.  Brazil, Norway, Estonia, and Australia are the only countries to have provided contributions.  The United States has pledged over a billion (as has Venezuela) but neither country has delivered yet.  For the United States, the funding cannot be delivered until a supplemental makes its way through Congress.  It is not clear when this will happen.  Turning pledges into actual contributions is an issue with every conflict or natural diaster. 

 

Health: This response is an opportunity for Cubans, Brazilians, Americans, and Haitians to come together and work toward common goals.  Paul Farmer has been charged with developing the Haitian health care system.  Unfortunately, free health care over an extended period of time has effectively shut down a large segment of the health care system.  Like many developing countries, a large portion of services was developed by the private sector.  A major part of improving the heath care sector will be allowing public hospitals in the provinces to hire and fire their own staff as needed, something they cannot do now.

 

Infrastructure:  More lives would have been saved if Haiti had a secondary airport that could have landed cargo planes with emergency goods and staff to enter the country.  Venezuela has said they will build such an airport outside of Cap Haitien but, to my knowledge,  the project has not yet begun.  Such an airport would also be an asset for promoting tourism in the north.  Haiti needs the jobs, particularly outside of Port au Prince.

 

Interim Haiti Recovery Commission:  The IHRC is still staffing up.  It needs good managers.  Will it improve coordination among all the different actors or will it be a major bottleneck for project approval?

 

Land:  Land was a development issue prior to the earthquake and it became an emergency response issue after.  It is often not clear who rightfully owned which plots of land.  This is a source of tension that occasionally erupts in conflict.  The government was been slow in appropriating land for new camps where better shelter could be built.  Private land owners are reluctant to let humanitarian responders dig latrines or drainage canals on their property.  The displaced who were sheltering in public facilities such as the stadiums and schools sometimes found themselves subject to forced eviction.  The Organization of American States (OAS) has offered to help Haiti develop a proper land registry, but completion will take years. 

 

Protection:  If the Cluster Approach were called as a result of conflict, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) would be responsible for coordinating protection efforts.  Because this was a natural disaster, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had that responsibility.  UNHCR is highly operational while OHCHR is not.  Other organizations play important roles in protection.  UNICEF is responsible for child protection while UNFPA and UNICEF are responsible for coordinating efforsts to prevent and respond to gender based violence.  To any extent, there was insufficient protection staff/expertise on the ground.  As a result, gender based violence in the IDP sites was addressed much too late.

 

Reconstruction:  On July 12, six months after the earthquake, President Preval stated that Haiti had entered the reconstruction phase.  Meanwhile, three hundred camps in the Corail camp were destroyed by a storm.  Security in the camps is poor and the gangs are trying to reestablish themselves.  How does one recognize that the transition from relief to development is taking place beyond public ceremonies?  We are just one heavy rainstorm from being back in full emergency mode.

 

Shelter:  The Haitian government was overwhelmed with hundreds of pitches for different shelter prototypes.  There seems to a growing consensus that many of the displaced will be in transitional shelter for years.  This points to the need for better guidance on transitional shelter – how to make it transitional instead of becoming permanent (which often happens.) Whatever designs the government selects for longer term shelter, I hope they are not made of wood.  Haiti has very little forest cover left and would need to import most of it.

 

Urbanization: It was painfully clear that the international humanitarian community was not prepared to respond to a major urban disaster.  Given that the world is urbanizing, we are likely to see more disasters that take place in city.  What knowledge and tools do we need to do better next time?

 

Vulnerable Children:  Even prior to the earthquake, there were many vulnerable children throughout Haiti.  Vulnerable children are not limited to orphans.  They include restaveks, mostly girls, of which there will be many more as a result of the earthquake.  Many "orphans" in Haiti have family.   With livelihood opportunities, vulnerable families would be able to meet the basic needs and thoes of extended families.  This also drives home the importance of access to family planning in Haiti, so that parents have only as many children as they want and can care for.  A government policy on the restavek issue is sorely needed as well.

 

There are several other good websites where you can track emergency response/reconstruction efforts in Haiti.  One Response/Haiti is an Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) site that contains maps, statistics, situation reports, and sectoral updates. Reliefweb, also run by OCHA, is updated each day with fact sheets and updates from donors and non governmental organizations.  The Haitian government has established a Haiti Reconstruction Platform which will hopefully be updated on a regular basis.  The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) website is also up.  Finally, consider joining Corbett's List - a very active listserv with the latest news and happenings concerning Haiti.

 

It has been six months since the earthquake.  Are there other issues you feel deserve more attention going forward?  Please feel free to post in the comments section below. Thanks!

Bryan 

Mapping and Analysis of Gaps/Duplications in Evaluations

http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/VDUX-8F2R3X?OpenDocument&rc...
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The earthquake that struck Haiti on 12 January 2010 was by all measurements a 'mega disaster'. Some 223,000 people were killed, 300,000 injured, and more than 2 million forced from their homes. Seventeen percent of Haiti's central government employees were killed when government buildings collapsed. The UN experienced its largest loss of life on a single day ever, when 102 staff members died. As ever, local people responded immediately to pull their neighbours out of buildings, clear bodies and debris, and start rebuilding their lives. The crisis received extensive international media coverage and drew visits from high-profile politicians and personalities. Thousands of international organizations, including those from the Caribbean and South America as well as Europe and North America, overcame huge logistical challenges to mount a massive humanitarian response. Haitians abroad sent home estimated hundreds of millions in remittances. More than $3 billion in humanitarian assistance has been committed or contributed, at least a third from private donations. As of January 2011, at least 45 evaluations are known to have been done of various aspects of the international response to the Haiti earthquake. Although over a year has passed, at least 800,000 people still sleep in tents or in the open each night, a cholera epidemic has taken hold, and rising political instability brings additional challenges. The effort to understand what international humanitarian agencies have done well, and what could be done better, will continue until the end of 2011 and beyond.

Analysis: Are humanitarians learning the lessons from Haiti?

IRIN
10/28/2010
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Listen to locals, tap into existing capacity, coordinate needs assessments, find strong leaders and provide transitional shelter - not just tents. These are some of the lessons to have emerged from the 2007 tsunami evaluation, numerous earthquake responses and the latest Haiti real-time evaluation, begging the question: when will the humanitarian community start applying these lessons learned. “There is still a tendency not only to reinvent the wheel, but also to turn it the wrong way,” notes the Haiti Real Time Evaluation (RTE), written in August 2010 but just published in October.
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Some things did go right in Haiti, say both the RTE and Sir John Holmes, former under-secretary general for humanitarian response at the UN, and currently director of the Ditchley Foundation. At a Haiti applying lessons-learned forum hosted by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) on 26 October, Holmes outlined some relative successes. Search and rescue teams worked efficiently; medical care, with a major contribution from Médecins Sans Frontières, was strong, as were the World Health Organization’s disease control efforts; water distributions were prioritized, with thousands of cubic litres distributed by May 2010; organization of food assistance, after initial hiccups, meant food aid reached 3.5 million people; and emergency education efforts were good. Further, some 57 percent of the US$1.5 billion revised humanitarian flash appeal was funded. It is easy to criticize, said Holmes and important to remember the extreme challenges such large-scale crises pose. “There is a glib narrative that the humanitarian community doesn’t apply the lessons it learns, but it is important to remember there are some things that are just hard to get right,” he said.
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But at the operational level repeat problems emerged. Needs assessments were incomplete and duplicative; transitional - as in medium-term - shelter was not provided at scale; sanitation solutions were inadequate; and the overall protection response- particularly to sexual and gender based violence - was weak. Process-wise, few agencies informed local communities of what they were doing or why they were there; and while they coordinated closely at first with what was left of the national authorities, this coordination dwindled over time, according to the RTE.
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Most coordination meetings for each sector, or “cluster”, took place in English, marginalizing locals who spoke only French or Creole; and many national staff were barred due to too-tight security measures, says the RTE. Perhaps most frustrating, after the stress laid on improving leadership in the humanitarian sector over recent years, was the poor leadership exhibited at the top of the UN system, but also among cluster heads. It took several weeks for the UN to decide whether to appoint a humanitarian and recovery head or to merge it all under one leader; and to appoint the right person for the post. The UN humanitarian country team was only convened a full three weeks after the disaster hit, notes the RTE.
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However, observers must not overlook the major challenges unique to the Haiti context, pointed out all three speakers at the ODI forum. The scale of destruction made Haiti a “mega-disaster” said Linda Poteat, director of disaster response at US NGO network Interaction, with government officials killed, rubble-strewn streets and few suitable buildings to hold meetings in. Thirteen out of 16 ministries were destroyed. This was a disaster in which the responders were also the victims, she pointed out - “National staff had lost their homes and lost family members - they had to make sure they were okay while being called on to work 16-hour days; many skilled ministry staff were dead - including the chief, government-NGO liaison.”
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Rather than being put to work, some staff should have been sent away immediately, given the levels of trauma they were experiencing, Holmes told IRIN. The urban locus of the Haiti disaster posed a huge challenge to the humanitarian community, which is still geared up primarily for rural response, and is only now beginning to address urbanization challenges, said Ross Mountain, director of independent group, Development Assistance Research Associates (DARA). “You can’t dig a latrine in the middle of a city,” said Poteat. “Camps are hard to secure in urban spaces. Populations kept on moving around - from camps to villages and back, so it was hard to keep track of them.” Urban crisis response is the focus of the latest World Disasters Report.
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Further, widespread media attention brought hundreds of small NGOs to Haiti to try to help out, many with little emergency experience; in addition to the hundreds of reporters seeking instant stories and a strong US military presence, said Holmes. “There were even more actors there than usual... This can further hamper coordination efforts... We didn’t get leadership quite right, but it was not as wrong as some think,” he said. Amid this chaos, and amid reports that the already-weak government was struggling to respond amid heavy staff losses, many aid agencies bypassed local structures, said Holmes. “Yes, we should involve local actors more, but at the same time - it is hard to get that right,” he said.
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Agencies need to be more “ruthless” when it comes to appointing the right people to leadership roles, said Holmes. “It doesn’t always matter if someone has the right local knowledge - if they are not used to large-scale disaster response, then they must be replaced,” he told IRIN. Mountain agrees humanitarian leaders need to be tougher. “You have to sometimes be unpopular and take risks - you cannot be guaranteed success,” he told IRIN. “There is no robust-enough system in the UN to address this dimension of leadership.” Appointing and training the right leaders has been at the forefront of humanitarian reform over the past few years, but the wide-scale impact is yet to be felt, implies the RTE. Stronger surge capacity rosters - which NGOs and UN agencies are getting better at setting up in advance - should be developed at a wider scale, said Mountain.
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On the coordination front, clusters need to shift from simply sharing information, to setting strategy, said Poteat. This has long-time been a recommendation in humanitarian response, yet is still not practised across the board. One sector to do this well was shelter, she said. And while coordinating with military actors may be difficult for humanitarians, they have to face up to the challenge, said Holmes. In Haiti, the US military was looking for a strong humanitarian-led coordination structure, yet this was slow to emerge. “We need more policies and scenario-planning done ahead of time when it comes to CIMIC [civil-military-coordination],” he told aid workers at the ODI.
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The RTE recommends aid agencies hone their approach to large-scale natural disasters in urban settings. “We will see more of these disasters - the Haitis, the Pakistans, linked to climate change - in the future,” said Mountain, “and we do not have the tools we need to deal with them. This is a warning that we need to prepare,” he said. Other recommendations include vastly improving protection and water and sanitation responses in crises; to use new technology more effectively - for instance using SMS applications to distribute cash, or satellite imagery in needs-assessments. As Mountain told IRIN: “Everyone talks about satellite imagery being available to map needs, but where is it? Whenever I’m on the ground, I can’t access it.”
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Holmes posed the question that in scenarios where thousands of aid agencies are turning up, “maybe the NGO community needs to put more effort into certification [of quality players] and even amalgamation in some cases.” And in terms of approach, agencies should finally try to grasp the lesson that taking an inclusive, participatory approach does not necessarily slow down response, but can indeed make it quicker, said the RTE.
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These lessons are not necessarily new - the challenge is how to apply them. Holmes suggested an independently-run follow-up matrix outlining actions aid agencies must adopt in the next disaster, so they can be held to account. Poteat suggests more future-oriented scenario planning - for instance for a large-scale megalopolis-centred disaster. “Rather than always looking backwards, we need to prepare for the future,” she said. Following the discussion, UN humanitarian sector heads and aid agency representatives in Geneva met in Geneva to discuss how to turn the evaluation’s findings into actions.

Why learning lessons in Haiti shouldn't take this long

10/20/2010
HPG
By Simon Levine
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We did a great job in Haiti. Well, not bad. We - the international development community - kept thousands of people from dying. That's a good thing to do, and it's something that we're pretty good at now. When was the last time that a lot of people died following (as opposed to during) a sudden disaster? Considering that Haiti was about as difficult an emergency as they get - a tsunami's worth of death and destruction in one city, with most of the response capacity of Government, UN and NGOs right in the middle of the disaster - that's a credit to people and organisations involved. The problem is, keeping people from dying is pretty much what we're good at, but we've made the mistake of wanting to do more than that. No, worse, we've convinced ourselves that we COULD and SHOULD do more than that. We imagine that we can keep people's lives and livelihoods going, that we can give the right aid to the right people at the right time, that we can be cost-effective and appropriate and timely in our responses, that we can be sensitive to their psycho-social needs, that we can respond to their engendered needs, all the while mainstreaming HIV and whatever else besides. The truth is more mundane, as the story of the Haiti response illustrated.
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Though I haven't been involved in any operation in Haiti myself, I have been reading a draft of the Humanitarian Practice Network's Humanitarian Exchange Magazine (no. 48) on Haiti, and reading a review of the humanitarian response. This set me thinking about what we have done - and what we thought we wanted to do - in response to the earthquake. Did we give people the help that they really needed, beyond life-saving aid? Not really. Months into the crisis, we "needed to do better at" (meaning really "we hadn't started") listening to Haitians. After four months, a review pointed out that aid agencies needed to remember that Port-au-Prince is an urban context. By May, we'd given 3.5 million people food aid. In a city after an earthquake, where everyone normally buys food anyway, one might think that cash was what people needed after the first few days, but actually we'd only given 17,000 people cash-for-work.
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Were we supporting local initiatives? Not really. The same review said that we had been ignoring what people were doing themselves and we should have been supporting them. We "needed to be better at" working with the Government - and indeed, in the sectors where this had happened, achievements were noteworthy. But it's not hard to understand why we hadn't been listening to local people or their government: months into the relief operation, coordination meetings were still being held in English. OK, finding fluent Creole speakers in the humanitarian world is hard, but how hard could it be to find a French speaker or two?
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It's hard to escape the conclusion that our rhetoric about how we want to work isn't really how we measure ourselves at all. Just look at how success is measured: the food tonnage, or the cubic metres of water. We don't say how many people we listened to and were sensitive to. Our projects are valued by our outputs not by the impact on people's lives, and we sometimes make the mistake of valuing ourselves in this way too. Fair enough, the job's hard enough keeping people alive. So should we just stop pretending we could do more? Hopefully, most readers will feel passionately that we should be doing more and doing it well. But what does this choice imply?
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Thinking about the Haiti experience, there are perhaps two possible responses. The obvious one, and the one we will doubtless hear many times, is that "we need to learn the lessons from Haiti so that we can improve our response next time". The problem is, it's really not that easy to find any lessons at all from Haiti that we did not already know - and should have internalised by now in our practice. The review points, for example, to a need to analyse context before designing responses, to build on what people are already doing for themselves, and to coordinate better - none of which are exactly new. The most glaring lesson is actually not about any failure in the response after the earthquake, but at just how unprepared we all were beforehand for an earthquake on, er, a major earthquake fault. But the lack of contingency planning and preparedness for very predictable crises is old news. Haiti has taught us nothing new, it has only thrown these lessons into extreme relief (forgive the pun). And the repetition of what we already knew came from both the positives, of which there were many - e.g. how the cluster coordination system kicked in quickly - and the negatives. The sad truth is that all of these "lessons" are the same ones we have known about and been struggling with for years. The question that we need to be examining is not "what do we need to get better at?" but "why are we finding it so hard to get better?"

Bill and Melinda Gates Fund Assessment of Haitian Aid

9/15/2010
Tulane University (TU)
By Mike Strecker
Phone: 504-865-5210
mstreck@tulane.edu
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Tulane University's Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy (DRLA), in partnership with the University of Haiti, will assess the impact of humanitarian aid in Haiti and whether it supports the sustainable recovery of the Haitian people. The first of its kind study will be funded through a $762,198 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The assessment, which began this month and will run for 18 months, will determine how relief and recovery dollars can impact community resilience by gauging the perceptions of Haitian stakeholder groups including the Haitian people, government and relief agencies.
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On Jan. 12, 2010 a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti near the capital of Port-au-Prince. To date the government of Haiti has reported over 230,000 deaths, over two million people internally displaced and over three million affected individuals. The earthquake has further exasperated the already fragile state of Haiti. International and national partners have pledged $9.9 billion in aid over the next three years with the U.S. alone providing more than $1 billion.
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"This unique program funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and implemented by Tulane's DRLA seeks to understand the needs, response and sustainability of humanitarian and development interventions in a complex situation such as Haiti. With New Orleans recently observing Katrina's fifth anniversary, we have come to know, first hand, the importance of immediate relief as well as issues of sustainability for our communities," Tulane University's President Scott Cowen said.
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"With the needs so vast and the funding and resources being brought to bear so sizable, it is imperative to monitor the appropriateness and efficacy of the aid delivered.," Tulane University's Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy (DRLA) Executive Director Ky Luu said. "In response to this need, the DRLA has received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to undertake this novel study that will identify humanitarian aid best practices as well as assess donor financial stewardship." This distinct approach in evaluating humanitarian assistance will guide the Haitian government, donors and implementing agencies to make programmatic decisions that will address the long term needs of the Haitian people, thus enhancing their resilience.
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The DRLA is an interdisciplinary academic center that provides education and conducts research in disaster resilience leadership through an interdisciplinary program taught by expert Tulane University faculty from Tulane's School of Architecture, A.B. Freeman School of Business, School of Law, School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, and School of Social Work.

Inter-agency real-time evaluation in Haiti (9/19/2010)

http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900SID/EDIS-89DQV8?OpenDocument&RS...
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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: On January 12th 2010, an earthquake of magnitude 7.0 on the Richter scale struck Haiti's capital Port-au- Prince and its surrounding areas. The earthquake had devastating effects: an estimated 230,0001 people were killed, with many left injured and homeless. Material loss is reported to be equivalent to more than 100% of Haiti's national income.2 More than 2 million displaced persons3 sought refuge in spontaneous settlements in and around the capital, with host families, and in rural areas. The humanitarian situation in Port-au-Prince and the provinces was compounded by the high level of chronic poverty in Haiti. The scale of the disaster was comparable to the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004, but in a much more limited area. By May 2010, over 1,000 international organizations had provided humanitarian assistance in Haiti.
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• 57% of the 1.5 billion US dollar Revised Humanitarian Appeal had been funded,
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• thousands of wounded people had been provided with care,
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• the Food Cluster had provided 3.5 million Haitians with food aid; 17,500 people had been employed in Cash for Work programs,
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• thousands of cubic meters of potable water had been distributed,
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• the Shelter Cluster had distributed over half a million tarpaulins and the Protection Cluster reported that it had organized social activities for 45,000 children
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In view of the scale of the disaster and the subsequent response, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) launched a Real-Time Evaluation (RTE) to inform decision-makers at country and headquarters levels, to draw lessons and to allow corrections to be made where necessary. The Haiti RTE includes three phases. The first phase was implemented between April and May 2010. The three-week country mission included several workshops with key stakeholders, in-depth data analysis, and debriefings in Port-au-Prince. The process of gathering information and recording local people's perceptions was carried out as rigorously6 as possible on the basis of a typology of different sites and zones via semi-structured face-to-face interviews and focus groups. The field work was followed by a series of debriefings and additional data collection exercises in New York, Geneva and London.

Will aid agencies get better at learning lessons after Haiti?

7/15/2010
AlertNet
By Megan Rowling
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Anyone who's read the leaked email from U.N. aid chief John Holmes criticising the humanitarian response a month after January's devastating earthquake in Haiti won't be surprised to find a hint of frustration in his foreword to a new report on the lessons to be learned six months on. Back in February, Holmes - who steps down from his post as the U.N. emergency relief coordinator in a few weeks' time - sent a pretty stern note to his colleagues in the aid community, berating them for inadequate coordination and capacity, and urging them to take "a much more aggressive approach to meeting the needs" on the ground.
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While the relief effort has improved since then, Holmes' introduction to this week's report from the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) - a forum bringing together U.N. and other humanitarian agencies - suggests he's not overly impressed by the speed at which organisations respond to criticism. The outgoing aid chief says the humanitarian community has achieved "a great deal" following the Haiti disaster, and states: "We got a lot more right than wrong".
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But he is also careful to point out what might seem obvious - that lessons aren't properly learned until they bring about a change in behaviour. "Some of those set out in this report are not new, particularly those about being more sensitive and responsive to local contexts and actors," he continues. The report echoes and confirms what we journalists heard (mostly off the record) from aid workers and others in the first few weeks after the quake. In particular that agencies weren't doing a great job of connecting with each other, the government and local people.
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In one anecdote related to me, five Haitian mayors who wanted to attend a meeting of international agencies working on shelter weren't allowed in because aid workers said they weren't ready to talk with them. The IASC report highlights the weaknesses of the U.N.'s "cluster" system, which is intended to bring about better coordination of aid efforts in different sectors like food, housing and water provision, and was first tested in a real disaster following the Kashmir earthquake of 2005.
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The Haiti evaluation emphasises that the international community could have done a better job of engaging with civil society and local authorities, and including them in coordination mechanisms like the clusters. "Had this been achieved in a more systematic manner, it would have significantly improved the humanitarian community's understanding of the operating context, and contributed to a more sustainable provision of assistance, as well as local and national capacity-building," the report says.
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Haitian and other activists I spoke to earlier this year were adamant that not enough was being done by international aid groups to tap into the considerable expertise of Haiti's several hundred NGOs and community networks, or to understand what quake survivors really needed or how they wanted their country to be rebuilt after the disaster. And, as the report documents, this attitude led to some wasted opportunities, with local people largely unable to find support for their initiatives. They include the leader of a women's group in Bristout-Bobin, a district in Port-au-Prince, who re-opened a small school just weeks after the disaster, and a teacher who set up a youth club in the city's Ravine Pintade area to help kids deal with their trauma through poetry competitions, theatre and Latin American dance.
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"It is imperative that humanitarian actors adopt a more open and creative approach to working with partners outside their immediate sphere," says the report, adding that the government's civil protection division felt ignored by the international aid community, which set up parallel operating structures. Another problem was the reluctance of some humanitarian organisations to work with the military, including U.S. forces and U.N. peacekeepers, which "may have impeded coordination and an efficient use of all assets available".
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The report says the sluggishness of the international aid community - itself badly hit by the disaster - in setting up strong coordination structures in the immediate aftermath generated "a sense in which others (e.g. the military actors) felt they had to step in to supplement humanitarian leadership on the ground, which was not providing sufficient strategic vision or overall visible coherence".
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Similar situations in future could "fuel a push towards humanitarian responses led by military forces, which is already the case for example in some parts of Asia", it warns.
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Other areas for improvement highlighted in the report include:
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- Identifying the most vulnerable people, and distinguishing between those affected by a disaster and those already suffering from poverty and deprivation beforehand - in Haiti's case, the majority of the population
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- Targeting assistance strategically to prevent large movements of people
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- Adapting emergency responses for disasters that happen in urban environments like the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince
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- Increasing cooperation with the private sector. In Haiti, the lack of procedures for dealing with offers of help from businesses - worth $70 million meant most clusters could not take them up.
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- Communicating better with those affected by the disaster through local media and technologies such as the internet and text messaging
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- Deploying more senior and experienced staff in the field for longer
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- Providing stronger leadership for clusters more quickly, and sharing information between them
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- Understanding and strengthening the linkages between the relief operation and longer-term reconstruction and development
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While also laying out the achievements of the humanitarian community in Haiti, the report's message is quite clear: let's try harder not to make the same mistakes again.
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It will fall to John Holmes's successor Valerie Amos, currently Britain's envoy to Australia, to make sure those words are turned into action.

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