2009 Georgia: UNICEF’s Response to Georgia Crisis: Real Time Evaluation
Author: Abhijit Bhattacharjee (Consultant); Mathew Varghese, Team Leader (UNICEF)
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In August 2008, conflict broke in and around South Ossetia, involving the Georgian, South Ossetian and Russian military, leading to both internal and external displacement of large numbers of people, including children. Although a large number of the civilians displaced by the conflict remained within the Georgian territory, there were substantial number of people who fled to the Russian Federation (North Ossetia and beyond) to escape the fighting. Humanitarian aid by UNICEF was provided from both sides. This evaluation, however, has concentrated on the UNICEF response within Georgia where over 80 per cent of displacements occurred.
From the findings of the evaluation six aspects can be concluded: (i) UNICEF, as the leading international children’s agency with an ongoing development programme in Georgia and Russia, was quick to respond to the needs of the conflict-affected children and their families, providing supplies to the most vulnerable within the first few days of the crisis.
(ii) There was passion, professionalism, commitment and urgency to respond at all levels of staff -- management, programme and administrative (national and international).
(iii) The mechanisms, systems and tools were in place and they clicked together from Office of Emergency Programmes in New York, Regional Office and Country office to respond effectively. For example, UNICEF HQ and RO, working in tandem with the CO, were able to recruit and deploy a substantial team for the response fairly rapidly including experienced staff from the region. (iv) UNICEF was a team player within the UN system and was respected by other humanitarian organisation for its leadership and policy dialogue with authorities. (v) A complex crisis caused by international conflict requires sensitive handling and making delicate strategic choices during the management of the response and this report points out the need for refinements and managing a balanced response.
In Georgia, working in concert with other humanitarian agencies and the Government of Georgia, UNICEF launched a substantial response to meet the immediate needs of the affected communities. Among UNICEF’s initial concerns were the displaced women and children living without safe water, basic hygiene items and access to sanitary facilities. As IDPs began moving in thousands to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and other cities, UNICEF delivered safe drinking water and other essential supplies, including emergency hygiene kits, to over 13,000 people in IDP collective centres. As part of the back-to-school campaign, UNICEF distributed school-in-a-box and recreation kits for all conflict-affected school-aged children in Georgia. Another top priority during the first days of the conflict was to identify the most pressing needs of children and ensure that these needs got adequately addressed in the appeals and joint needs assessment. During the first two months of emergency operations, UNICEF provided some US $ 3 million worth of supplies and services.
Real Time Evaluation of UNICEF’s Response to Georgia crisis
In addition, as the organisation having designated lead-role for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) cluster as well as for cluster sub-groups on nutrition, child protection and education, UNICEF also provided leadership to the entire humanitarian community on these issues.
The UNICEF office in the country before the crisis comprised a small team of about fifteen people, with focus on development and policy issues. The Regional Office (RO) and UNICEF HQ provided leadership, mobilised the surge and rapidly put in place systems and procedures to enable the small CO team to scale up its operations in line with the CCC. All the different units and departments in the RO and the HQ worked in tandem to enable the small Georgia CO to scale up its capacity and launch a rapid response. Overall, UNICEF’s response went well, led by the RO which declared it a level three ‘global’ emergency.
The response had to deal with major challenges as well: lack of humanitarian access and political nature of the crisis, including complex international political ramifications of the crisis, made the delivery of humanitarian response highly complicated.
Lessons and Recommendations:
Deployment, Cluster Leadership and Staff Capacity:
Over the past several years, UNICEF has developed its surge capacity for rapid response and was able to deploy staff rapidly in Georgia through internal as well as external recruitments.
It needs to further invest in building regional staff capacity as well as in ensuring that all staff deployed in emergencies are well oriented on various new tools and mechanisms for global humanitarian response.
S. No. R9: UNICEF should now aim to mobilise self-directed teams who need minimum induction and orientation and are able to become
operational within a few hours of arriving in country. They should be aware of IASC modalities, funding mechanisms, field assessments, cluster approach and will be expected to work with minimum supervision. Target: HQ
S. No. R10: One specific area where UNICEF needs to develop expertise, apart from its cluster-focus, is on cash transfers to affected communities which is becoming increasingly important as an emergency response tool in situations with functioning local markets1. Target: HQ/EMOPS
S. No. R7: UNICEF needs to continue investing in enhancing staff capacity, both national and international, by ensuring that emergency
response is mainstreamed within COs in the regions and ensure strategic human resource deployment in the regions as part of regional emergency preparedness. Annual regional meetings of sector focal points (as is the case for social policy, health and education specialists for example) to further develop regional thinking about cash benefits, cluster accountabilities, responses to new areas such as WASH, funding mechanisms such as CERF and Flash appeals and to ensure that all focal points (including the Representatives and Deputy Representatives) are kept abreast of the latest thinking on IHL and emergency response. Target: RO
S. No. R11: Globally UNICEF needs to have a pool of senior staff with technical as well as cluster-leadership skills in WASH, nutrition and
child protection who can be deployed in major emergencies. Target: HQ
1 It is understood that EMOPS has recently come up with guidelines for cash programming which is now being
Communication and Humanitarian Access:
Given UNICEF’s unique mandate as the custodian of Child rights conventions, it has an obligation to do the best in all its powers to highlight issues of violations of CRC and international humanitarian law as they affect children and women. Given the sensitivities of such complex issues, this requires serious engagement at the senior management level of UNICEF HQ in order to leverage support for any communication and advocacy for humanitarian access.
S. No. R12: Streamline and rationalise approach to developing communication messages focusing on child rights and humanitarian needs in
complex crises in line with the CRC and CCC, so as to ensure that UNICEF retains its pre-eminent position as the leading child rights
organisation and an impartial and neutral humanitarian agency. Broad outline of messages targeted on specific issues such as conflict, natural disaster; displacement etc., could be pre-prepared in advance and be issued with fast fine tuning to specific contexts. Target: HQ
Partnership, Beneficiary Participation and Accountability to Beneficiaries:
UNICEF could significantly enhance the timeliness and speed of its response if it develops more strategic and programmatic relations with its partners, especially those with whom it has long-established relationships. At the same time, its response could be more effective if its response provided space for beneficiary participation and demonstrated greater accountability to the affected communities.
S. No. R13: Move to programme financing from project financing in relation to long term partners. Target: HQ
S. No. R14: Successive evaluations have shown that beneficiary participation and accountability to beneficiaries has remained a weak area for
UNICEF (as well as for other UN agencies), and hence a global strategy needs to be developed outlining practical actions and standards that UNICEF will follow in all emergency response. Target: HQ
Recommendations for the Current Response in Georgia:
S. No. R8: Develop framework agreements with suppliers of standard relief items in different regions, and pre-identity logistics solutions
(freight and transport) within the regions wherever regional capacity exists. Target: RO (with support from Copenhagen)
S. No. R1: UNICEF, as nutrition sub-group lead, to facilitate quick gathering of empirical evidences to make a case to donors and GOG for
complementary nutritional support to children from IDP families who will continue to live as IDPs for much longer than initially
anticipated. At the same time, UNICEF may collaborate with WFP which is already initiating a cash transfer system and explore
developing the cash transfer as a viable mechanism for the ongoing response. Target: CO
S. No. R2: WASH programming needs to recognise that there is now a second wave of displacement as people are being moved to
Government-built settlements, and there are major WASH needs that remain unmet which need significant investment. At the same
time, continuing advocacy with the GOG needs to focus on the critical need to pay adequate attention to WASH infrastructure in
settlements that are under construction. Target: CO
S. No. R3: While continuing to focus on child poverty nationwide through its normal programming, UNICEF needs to conduct research into the
child poverty and effect of social sector reform on women and children among IDPs and design appropriate interventions for medium- to long-term. Target: CO
S. No. R4: UNICEF’s programming needs to take into account the continuing humanitarian needs. UNICEF needs to continue to respond and
advocate during the transition on the needs of women and children until sustainable normality is restored for women and children to acceptable levels in the settlements or places of return. Target: CO
S. No. R5: Explore mainstreaming and scaling up psychosocial programme as part of UNICEF’s nationwide programme working with education
authorities. Target: CO
S. No. R6: Strengthen the M & E system to be able to monitor and follow up on post-distribution of relief materials on an ongoing basis. Target: CO
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