2004 IRQ: Evaluation of UNICEF Emergency Preparedness and Early Response in Iraq (September 2001-June 2003)
UNICEF's emergency preparedness experience for Iraq was unique, not only for the long lead time the context allowed, but also for the scale of attention given by the organisation. The Iraq emergency was highly unusual in several respects in that Iraq has a very high political profile, the war was anticipated but with uncertain timing and unpredictable outcomes, governments both in the region and beyond were reluctant to be seen preparing for the humanitarian consequences of a conflict the UN was trying to head off, and the lead time was unusually long, giving UNICEF almost 18 months to prepare.
UNICEF decided that it was important to assess its preparedness effort and early response for Iraq with particular attention to preparedness. The Iraq crisis developed at a time when UNICEF's Emergency Preparedness and Response Planning process was becoming more widely used in the organisation, and preparedness in the sub-region received utmost attention. This presented an opportunity to examine the relevance and effectiveness of EPRP. The aim of the evaluation was to provide a critical reference for subsequent evaluations of subsequent stages of the UNICEF response in Iraq.
The overall objectives of the evaluation were:
- To briefly but systematically document UNICEF's experience in emergency preparedness planning, actual preparedness and early response, situating this in the context as it evolved
- To assess the overall relevance, efficiency and effectiveness of UNICEF preparedness efforts and early response
- To assess the degree in which preparedness and early response in Iraq was specific to that context and, correspondingly, what enduring lessons and concerns can be carried forward to strengthen organisational preparedness and response systems.
The evaluation was based on more than 80 interviews, an extensive review of UNICEF documentation, a two-day ”lessons-learned” workshop in Istanbul that was attended by key staff from relevant Regional and Country Offices and from Headquarters, and on feedback sessions in Amman and New York. In addition to the limitations in scope mentioned above, the methodology was limited by the fact that no field trip inside Iraq could be included. The evaluation exercise was limited in scope to UNICEF performance in preparedness planning and early response.
The TOR recognised that, because of time and security constraints, the assessment of relevance, efficiency and effectiveness would be limited. The evaluation was required to cover all key support functions of UNICEF preparedness and response across UNICEF's decentralised structure, and to address a range of questions under the headings of Coordination, Preparedness Efforts, Actual Preparedness, Early Response, and Putting Iraq Experience into Perspective. The evaluation covered from September 2001, when the sub-regional effort was initiated, to 23 June 2003, the launching of the second UN Inter-Agency Appeal for Iraq drawn up in collaboration with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). The evaluation was framed as an internal exercise because a future planned inter-agency evaluation will look more widely at the performance of United Nations agencies.Findings and Conclusions:
Emergency Preparedness and Response Planning
From October 2001, MENARO initiated a sub-regional Emergency Preparedness and Response Planning (EPRP) process including Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and GAO. A sub-regional contingency plan was produced and refined for almost one year, with individual country contingency plans being updated in the process. Of the scenarios considered, a large-scale attack or invasion by foreign countries on Baghdad and oil fields in the North and Southeast was considered most likely. The attack began on 20 March 2003, but the outcomes of the war were different from those anticipated in UNICEF and UN contingency plans. Mass displacement and ethnic conflict did not happen, while the security situation in Iraq after the war was far more difficult than expected, restricting the scope and geographical coverage of UNICEF's assistance to children and women.
UNICEF's sub-regional and country contingency planning was effective. Several factors made this possible, including: leadership of the EPRP process by MENARO; the preparation of detailed "to do" lists for each Country Office (CO); the inclusion of all aspects of operations from the outset; UNICEF's corporate commitment to strengthen its emergency response capability, backed by DFID funding; the presence in the sub-region of a cadre of staff with emergency experience; and, not least, the availability of EPF and CERF funding for preparedness. Each CO achieved its planned level of standing readiness before the war. The planning processes were productive, but also drawn out and onerous, especially when combined with the effort required to support inter-agency planning.
The scale of UNICEF's emergency preparedness and early response was substantial. UNICEF actions within Iraq since the war, supported by cross-border operations from surrounding countries, have provided direct assistance to at least two million Iraqi children across a number of sectors. UNICEF took action before the war in Iraq in order to mitigate its possible effects. UNICEF supported the Iraq government in pre-positioning thousands of tonnes of nutritional supplies (therapeutic milk and High Protein Biscuits) at community level. UNICEF intensified its support for the national breast-feeding promotion campaign, supported the health authorities' polio, measles and DTP campaigns for under U5s, and contracted mobile maintenance teams to repair water and sanitation facilities both before and during the war. UNICEF's strategy of placing preparedness supplies at community level in Iraq and in warehouses both inside and outside Iraq's borders not only gave it the flexibility to cope with a range of possible outcomes of the war, but also spread UNICEF's risk with regard to possible losses. The Iraq Country Office took the precaution of sending its better vehicles to neighbouring countries to reduce the risk of their being lost or damaged.
Soon after the war started, UNICEF began tankering drinking water to Basra and surrounding areas from Kuwait. This was later extended to Baghdad. At its peak, UNICEF was supplying 4.5 million litres of water per day, enough for some 300,000 people. At the same time, UNICEF committed $23 million for six months for spares, chemicals, equipment, and repairs to critical water and sewage systems, while making a one-off salary payment to 15,000 Baghdad Water Authority staff as an incentive to continue working.
UNICEF supported the restoration of the cold chain system for vaccines, rehabilitated hospital generators, supplied fuel and imported and distributed health supplies. In addition to the 3,600 tonnes of HPB purchased before the war, a further 22,000 tonnes were supplied during and immediately after the war.
UNICEF launched a Back-to-School campaign, building on the pressure from Iraqi families on the authorities to get schools reopened. UNICEF printed 15 million exam booklets to enable 4.5 million children (90% of those eligible) to take end-of-year exams. Damaged school buildings were rehabilitated and School-in-a-Box kits delivered throughout the country.
In Northern Iraq, UNICEF assisted 80% of children in institutions to return to their families before the war. In Baghdad, UNICEF provided material support and vehicles to help find children who were left in orphanages and abducted during the war. UNICEF's post-war Child Protection programme was slow to get off the ground, beyond meeting the basic needs of children in institutions.
UNICEF was one of few agencies to continue working in Iraq throughout the war. This was made possible by careful preparation and training before the evacuation of international personnel, and by the commitment and professionalism of national staff in Iraq, which have been recognised by UNICEF's Executive Director.
The major supply routes for cross-border operations were Turkey, Kuwait and Jordan. The Kuwait supply route proved contentious because it gave the appearance of working in collaboration with the Coalition forces invading Iraq from the south. Logistics and supply seem to have been effective, strengthened by Supply Division support to MENARO.
UNICEF made use of EPF funding on an unprecedented scale for emergency preparedness and took a calculated risk in borrowing $5 million of CERF funds. A grant of $2 million was made from UNICEF Regular Resources for emergency preparedness. By the start of the war, preparedness funding came to more than $9 million without donor funds, and $15 million with. The bulk of this funding was used for preparedness supplies. UNICEF used an additional $5 million to pre-position supplies in northern Iraq, drawing on OFFP funds rather than EPF/CERF. Fundraising against the March Flash Appeal for $166 million was initially slow, but picked up to 60% funded by the end of June. UNICEF's financial commitment towards preparedness and to early response up to June 2003 amounted to some $80 million. The primary goal of this assistance was to ensure the protection of children and support their basic rights to access to water and sanitation, health and nutrition, and education.
Sub-regional preparedness depended on the redeployment of the large staff team from Iraq to the smaller UNICEF COs in surrounding countries. If a major IDP and refugee emergency had occurred as a result of the war, UNICEF might not have had enough human resources available to meet its commitments. The availability of a sizeable team for redeployment from Iraq, and the long lead time for this emergency, masked UNICEF's lack of regional and global surge capacity. UNICEF will need to strengthen its systems if it is to meet its revised Core Corporate Commitments in emergencies.
UNICEF achieved a significant level of media coverage, not least through the News Desk in Amman, a new innovation for this crisis. This probably boosted its fundraising efforts. However, attempts to have an impact on the Arab media were seen as less successful and the Regional Office acknowledges that an improved strategy is required.
There was a general sense amongst staff that UNICEF could have done more to speak out in defence of the rights of women and children in Iraq. At the same time, the constraints on what UNICEF could and could not say within an agreed UN communications strategy were not well understood within the organisation, especially in the field, but also at HQ.
While the Core Corporate Commitments were influential in the design of both sub-regional and country-level contingency planning, UNICEF's human rights based approach to planning (HRBAP) in programming does not seem to have been. UNICEF acknowledges that it needs to articulate more clearly how HRBAP applies in EPRP and emergency response.
Guidance on civil-military relations needs strengthening as the Iraq experience has highlighted a lack of clarity at some points. More broadly, the challenge of needing security cover from military forces for the conduct of humanitarian operations has called into question the humanitarian principle of neutrality and the idea of "humanitarian space". UNICEF needs to work with UN and other partners to explore how these can be strengthened.
All aspects of operations featured prominently in planning and in detailed preparations by COs. There was a substantial investment in telecommunications equipment. All offices in the region upgraded their systems and met MOSS standards for telecoms. UNICEF was successful in securing telecoms licences for the whole UN system for Jordan and Syria, while VSAT installations were completed in Iraq in record time.
There were no deaths or serious injuries to UNICEF staff during the study period, but security remained a constant concern before, during and after the war. No solutions were on offer in case of biological or chemical attack. UNICEF offices in Baghdad were looted and valuable equipment lost. Across Iraq, the value of UNICEF equipment and supplies lost to looting and other forms of damage is not known, but probably runs to millions of dollars. National staff were involved in security discussions, but UNICEF HQ now considers that security planning for national staff operating during the war was not adequate.
Several shortcomings in financial and other procedures complicate and slow down UNICEF's progress in emergency response, authorisation and contract procedures. UNICEF's systems and control mechanisms have been devised for steady state development programming, aspects of which are not appropriate to emergency situations. Although this issue has been understood for some time, there is still no plan of action for addressing it.
UNICEF combined well at country, regional, and HQ levels to make both preparedness and response phases successful. As the political profile of Iraq developed, the centre of gravity of UN decision-making moved away from the region, first to Geneva and then to New York. UNICEF put considerable human resources into the New York-based Iraq Support Unit from March 2003 on.
UNICEF made a substantial contribution to inter-agency planning and coordination at country, regional, Geneva, and HQ levels. In Iraq and the surrounding countries, UNICEF took on the coordination of at least one sector per country, usually two or three. UNICEF also provided the inter-agency sub-regional coordination for four sectors: water and sanitation, education, nutrition and child protection. Three out of four coordinators were seconded in from other organisations, an arrangement that generally worked well. In New York, UNICEF was an active member of the Steering Group for Iraq, bringing operational issues to the table and focusing discussions on the humanitarian implications of the decisions under consideration.
Developing Emergency Preparedness and Response Planning
A number of steps are proposed, including: the inclusion of UN and NGO partners into the preparedness planning process; the development of regional and global EPRP processes; the clearer formulation of human rights based approaches to programming in EPRP; greater results orientation; speeding up the process of making EPRP planning formats available on the UNICEF Intranet; and clarifying regional management of regional and sub-regional emergency preparedness and response.
Improving Emergency Human Resource Capacity
UNICEF requires better-developed registers of internal and external expertise for emergency response and proactive management to ensure that the registers are populated and kept up-to-date, with targets set by EMOPS. As part of this exercise, UNICEF should increase the number of individual secondments and agreements with seconding agencies. UNICEF will need to dedicate resources to achieving revised targets.
Key NGO Partners
It is proposed that sector specialists in UNICEF HQ covering education and nutrition take time to investigate possible key NGO partners and negotiate MOUs with them.
HRBAP in Emergencies
UNICEF is already aware of the need to improve the understanding of HRBAP in emergencies — a consultation process is already under way. UNICEF's initiatives to issue new instructions, guidance, and tools on HRBAP in emergencies are endorsed.
One or more staff members with emergency programme experience should join the ProMS Reference Group. These staff must be able to give attention to detail, be ready to take part in iterative discussions over a period of months, and be available to test prototypes. DFAM is open to such involvement.
The Wider UN
The following areas are proposed for debate and evaluation within the wider UN family:
- Coordination. In this evaluation, the performance of the Resident Coordinators and OCHA was reported to be patchy. Can the UN Secretariat address long-standing weaknesses in coordination?
- Neutrality and Humanitarian Space. UNICEF needs to continue to be an active participant in UN and IASC debates, defending humanitarian principles and finding ways for their integrity to be restored.
- Working under Occupation. The UN needs to develop guidance on working under military occupation.
- Human rights-based approaches. UNICEF should initiate a debate with other agencies on how best to apply HRBAP in emergencies.
- CAP. Consideration should be given to funding inter-agency planning and coordination from the Consolidated Appeal Process.
Summary of Other Recommendations
- Regional Communications. UNICEF needs a new communications strategy for addressing the media in Arab countries, taking into account the significance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
- Donations-in-Kind. UNICEF should explore how to increase its donations–in-kind fundraising for emergencies by tapping into the experience of agencies that have developed this area of fundraising.
- National Staff Security. National staff should be more fully involved in security discussions.
- Accountability for Security. UNICEF needs to strengthen RO supervision and CO management accountability for security.
- Sector Coordination. Where UNICEF intends to provide inter-agency sector coordination, it should not assume that the coordinator can provide UNICEF programme management capacity as well.
- Warehousing. Custom-bonded warehouses should be used for shipments expected to be sent on to another country.
- Tracking System. The evaluation endorses UNICEF's plan to develop a corporate commodity tracking by mid-2004.
- Local Market Surveys. The concept of local market surveys should be extended to other potential emergencies, as part of future EPRP.
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