2006 SRI: Evaluation of UNICEF's Response to the Tsunami Disaster (Sri Lanka)
Author: Lewis Sida Jessica Alexander, Sandra Allaire, Sheila Reed and Suzanne Reiff; UNICEF NYHQ
The Indian Ocean tsunami disaster that took place on 26 December 2004 killed an estimated 227,000 people, of which more than a third were children, displaced 1,777,000 people and caused US$10 billion’s worth of damage. In Sri Lanka the tsunami affected 13 of 25 districts, many in former conflict areas. Over 30,000 people died and a million were initially displaced.
UNICEF’s response to the tsunami disaster took place in eight countries. This country case study forms part of an evaluation of that response, and is one of a series of three case studies in Indonesia, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, where UNICEF had allocated 87% of the total available Tsunami funds by 31 December, 2006 ($ 640 million).
Information was also gathered about the response in India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Somalia and Thailand. A synthesis report pulls together the findings from these studies.
The overall purpose of this independent evaluation was:
• To identify major achievements of the response with a focus on the emergency and initial recovery phases, 26 December 2004 to 30 June 2005.
• To take note of any constraints and gaps in that response.
• To highlight potential policy implications for the future.
The main framework for the evaluation was UNICEF’s Core Commitments for Children in Emergencies.
The evaluation analysed UNICEF’s response using the framework of its Core Commitments for Children in Emergencies (CCC), the standard OECD/DAC criteria for evaluating humanitarian action, as well as SPHERE minimum standards, where relevant.
The methodology included the following main activities:
• A desk review of internal documents including audits, and external documents including the draft.
• Tsunami Evaluation Coalition (TEC) evaluations.
• Preparation of an inception report.
• Interviews with current and former UNICEF staff in Sri Lanka, with the UNICEF regional office in Bangkok, the New York Headquarters (NYHQ), Geneva and Copenhagen.
• Interviews with other key stakeholders including government officials, staff of other UN and partner agencies, international, national and local NGOs.
• Data collection including individual and group interviews, meetings and briefings and direct observation. All major findings were triangulated.
• Interviews with IDPs and members of host communities, all of which were treated as confidential.
• Draft findings were presented to the country team at the end of the field work.
• Preliminary and final draft reports were circulated for comment before finalising. A series of validation workshops were held in January 2006 in NYHQ with UNICEF departments and by telephone conference with the country office to discuss substantive issues arising from the draft reports.
• The CO produced a management response.
• This report was internally reviewed against the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance (ALNAP) Quality Proforma for humanitarian evaluation.
To ensure objectivity, the evaluation was conducted by a team of highly regarded, independent evaluators, with competence in health, nutrition, education, water and sanitation, child protection, and management.
UNICEF and partners had significant impact in the first six months following the tsunami in Sri Lanka. There were no serious communicable disease outbreaks, children got back to school relatively quickly, separated and unaccompanied children were registered promptly and measures to protect children and safeguard their psychological well-being were carried out rapidly. Impact could have been enhanced by timeliness of hygiene inputs, capacity development for partners, making WES consistently up to standard and enhancing monitoring.
The initial response by UNICEF was timely. Staff members were assessing the situation within 24 hours and supplies reached affected communities immediately in Ampara, and within days across the country. Several planeloads of supplies arrived quickly from Copenhagen and there was some initial local procurement. These items were quickly distributed. Beyond this the response slowed due to supply delays and inappropriate internal procedures that often meant approvals for disbursements were delayed.
Much of UNICEF’s work is implemented through partners. The Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) was the channel for the majority of UNICEF’s relief assistance in the first six months through relevant ministries. GoSL staff members interviewed were satisfied with partnerships with UNICEF with a few exceptions. UNICEF was most effective in working with government where they had capacity themselves; UNICEF also had international and local NGO partners. Local NGOs had the best links with the community but were of variable quality in implementing work. UNICEF’s cumbersome reporting requirements are often problematic for establishing and maintaining partnerships. The CO working with the United Nations Office for Programme Services (UNOPS) should promote even greater consultation at the community level to ensure satisfaction with ongoing construction projects.
The CO effectively promoted best practices in psychosocial work and distributed guidelines on prevention and identification of abuse to zone offices. In WES, standards were developed for partners, but the opportunity to set standards for the entire
WES sector was missed. In terms of meeting Sphere standards, the CO had mixed results. UNICEF needs to more effectively promote joint responsibility for setting and meeting standards. Few opportunities were created for beneficiaries to participate in activities aimed to benefit them.
The management of the UNICEF response in Sri Lanka was proactive and effective, supported by an experienced senior management team that had worked together for almost a year. Four of the five UNICEF Heads of zone offices had been in post for two years or longer. The country representative was an experienced emergency manager, and promoted early initiatives. The respect that existed in Sri Lanka, from government, UN colleagues, donors and NGOs for the UNICEF programme and staff helped them in carrying out their important leadership role for children. Prior devolution of authority to the Heads of zones and installation of the Programme Manager System (ProMS) would have enhanced the response.
The CO faced human resource challenges in scaling up the programme to spend four times the 2005 budget. Initially, staff members were effectively re-deployed within the CO, quickly followed by deployments from NYHQ, ROSA and other offices. There were massive efforts to meet HR gaps through hiring consultants to fill interim needs. The Programme Budget Review of February approved 85 posts but only about half were in position in October.
This put a huge burden on existing staff and also severely hampered the expansion of the programme. The human resource support for WES was unrealistic particularly to support UNICEF’s role in coordinating this complicated and highly technical sector.
The financial and administrative (F&A) procedures used during the tsunami response seriously hampered the CO’s ability to respond in a timely and effective manner following the initial activity. Although the CO was able to introduce some mitigating measures, they were not able to ameliorate the effects. The F&A system is ill suited to emergency response and to the need for large amounts of money to be programmed in short periods. The F&A systems simply involve too many steps for emergency and subsequent recovery operations.
Many of the recommendations in this report fit with those from earlier evaluations and reviews of UNICEF’s humanitarian responses. The findings and recommendations of this and other relevant evaluations on emergency preparedness and response should be reviewed together to produce a comprehensive management action plan (MAP) with clearly designated accountabilities, in order further to improve UNICEF’s humanitarian performance.
Because of the inter-departmental and cross-organisational nature of the proposed MAP, this process and the implementation of the action plan should be overseen by UNICEF’s Executive Director, or one of her deputies.
Full report in PDF
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