2009 Sri-Lanka: CHILDREN AND THE 2004 INDIAN OCEAN TSUNAMI: Evaluation of UNICEF’s Response in Sri Lanka (2005-2008) COUNTRY SYNTHESIS REPORT
Author: Jon Bennett (Team Leader) and Jenny Reid Austin (co-author)
This report is a synthesis of the evaluation of UNICEF‘s response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Sri Lanka that was undertaken from August 2008 to July 2009. The evaluation assessed UNICEF‘s response in the four sectors where it had major involvement: child protection; basic education; water, sanitation and hygiene; and child and maternal health and nutrition. This report seeks to provide a larger picture of UNICEF‘s response from 2005-2008, with a main focus on the relief and early development phases. It does so by drawing on the findings and lessons obtained from each of the independent sector evaluations that constitute the evaluation in Sri Lanka. The report also examines cross-cutting issues related to recovery and transition, and asks whether appropriate strategic choices were made during UNICEF‘s efforts to help Sri Lanka ―build back better, and how these were likely to impact the wellbeing and rights of children and women.
The purpose of the evaluation in Sri Lanka is to determine outcomes and impacts of UNICEF‘s response to the tsunami and draw lessons and recommendations, both for the UNICEF and the sectors as a whole, which will be useful for strengthening ongoing programmes or policies to improve the wellbeing and rights of children. In addition, the evaluation draws lessons for recovery/transition programming that will be useful for future response and emergencies
A thorough literature review, including data not always in the public realm (e.g., country-level NGO reports and academic studies), comparing and contrasting approaches undertaken in the recovery phases was carried out. Extensive interviews with senior and technical government ministry staff was done to determine overall progress within each sector and to assess the relative contribution UNICEF has made to developments in the country over a 4-5 year period. Additional methods included: interviews with previous and current UNICEF programme staff to nuance existing documented lessons; field surveys (per sector, though in some cases combining sectoral questionnaires): teams were responsible for conducting primary, field-based data gathering that included focus group discussions, questionnaires and transect walk methods. Field survey teams were also responsible for collating the data.
Each sector evaluation also looked at a number of important cross-sectoral issues. In each sector report reference is made to UNICEF Core Commitments for Children in Emergencies, the extent to which UNICEF took part in inter-agency needs assessments and/or other surveys, and how it reported on the general situation of children and women. Likewise, for the recovery and early development phases, each evaluation refers to UNICEF’s MTSP and issues related to human rights-based approach to programming, gender mainstreaming and national/local capacity development. Finally, each sector evaluation examines the extent to which UNICEF has contributed to disaster preparedness and risk mitigation efforts.
Findings and Conclusions:
UNICEF‘s effort in Sri Lanka is very much a ‘work in progress‘. In returning to a regular—and much reduced—programme after four years of unusually high financial inputs, a key question is the extent to which UNICEF‘s strategic approach complements, enhances and influences efforts of both the Government of Sri Lanka and of development agencies which, like UNICEF, will remain in the country. The tsunami, though a major disaster by any reasonable measure, affected only about five percent of Sri Lanka‘s population. The best way to ensure success in tsunami recovery is to integrate it into a broader sustainable development framework. The role of coordination and the UN in the transition from disaster response and recovery to development is critical but requires a consistent project management and implementation strategy. At this stage in the recovery process, the evaluation can confirm positive outcomes in all four sectors.
In the WASH sector, UNICEF‘s support to Government of Sri Lanka has led to better coordination of the international community and the underpinning of good practice through providing technical guidelines. There was also a significant change, whereby national water access was improved with the shift from household- to community-managed systems. The capacity of the NWSDB has increased and UNICEF has funded some major infrastructure projects in Kantale, Galle and Thirokkuvil that will have a far wider development than just tsunami recovery. At the same time, the restoration of water points has been crucial to recovery. Having established a strong advocacy role with the Government of Sri Lanka, UNICEF now has the potential to influence policy changes in water quality surveillance and water supply subsidies.
In education, children were swiftly back in school and child-friendly guidelines developed by UNICEF have visibly improved performance in the sector. The CFS initiative now has growing national coverage and acceptance. Qualitative improvements in teaching methods and curriculum were more difficult to ascertain, due mainly to the lack of evidence-based data. Community and parental links to schools has improved. The high quality of newly constructed schools has worrying implications for sustainability without additional recurring cost contributions.
Child protection has seen a huge boost in government spending in the last four years. UNICEF has successfully lobbied for changes in practice and attitudes away from institutions and towards safe placement of children with legal guardians. The Fit Person Order has been restored, though with some problems over predictable payments; more problems were apparent in the east than in the south. The Safe House model for abused children in Batticaloa is of commendable standard, but unfortunately not yet replicated elsewhere, though the increase in Children‘s Clubs is a positive trend. Social Care Centres still require greater financial and human resources to make them viable. Psychosocial programming in schools has been conceptually strong, but compromised by human resource constraints and lack of consistent procedure.
In the health and nutrition sector, UNICEF‘s actions were important in focusing the direction of assistance and recovery, but it was in a supportive role to government leadership and government-directed programming. For example, UNICEF contributions to tsunami recovery in the southern region amounted to about USD $5 million in the health sector, compared with about USD $60 million by other actors. The social impact of the tsunami cannot be divorced from the pre-existing landscape with its layers of conflict, nationalism and economic disparities. The disaster brought into focus issues of entitlement, social justice and the rights of women and children. Its impact in the medium-term was bound to exacerbate regional differences between the coastal areas and the interior and between the north and east and the south. In the initial response, UNICEF, along with most agencies, did not identify or target vulnerable groups in its distributions, resulting in some unmet needs. For example, there were reports of some widowed women not receiving equal access to recovery grants or land rights. Subsequently, though, UNICEF has identified the need to develop common criteria for vulnerability with other agencies so that it can effectively develop joint initiatives.
The tsunami forcefully brought into focus the importance of disaster preparedness for sustained development. The Tsunami Sri Lanka Disaster Management Act of 2005 led to the setting up of the National Council for Disaster Management, and the Disaster Management Centre. However, as UNICEF discovered in its own EPRP programme, training local government officials and teachers in preparedness and response does not always translate into increased precautionary behaviour at community (or school) levels. Consistent quality curriculum development is required.
With the end of the war Sri Lanka is likely to attract significant post-conflict reconstruction funds. Already, a strategic plan has been circulated by the government, bringing all INGO and UN interventions under the direct control of the president.135 The Government of Sri Lanka also claims to be correcting the ‗mistakes‘ it made after the tsunami with respect to coordinating international assistance. Attributing change to any one agency would be dishonest, but UNICEF sizeable interventions over four years, and the encouraging manner in which it has assimilated lessons from these interventions, have given it a unique opportunity to guide and influence national and sub-national government. The recommendations from this evaluation are offered as part of this process; they relate both to government practice and to UNICEF itself. Some are generic—yet to be translated into policy and practice on the ground.
1) Capacity needs assessment should be undertaken very early in the recovery phase. In particular, this should include analysis of capacities at provincial and district levels, cross-referenced with an understanding of work being undertaken by other agencies in relevant sectors. This is important not only for intervention strategy, but also for sequencing of priorities in UNICEF’s capacity work.
2) The management of large-scale construction programmes in all sectors should not be undertaken by UNICEF – it should be outsourced. Capital-intensive projects, such as construction and the purchase of significant assets entails high transaction costs for materials as well as staff, and can distract from wider development concerns. However, new facilities present unique opportunities to develop and promote quality issues, for example, in the education sector.
3) UNICEF should ensure that technical assistance offered to government ministries is complemented by a public communications strategy that increases demand and community ownership of any new services being offered.
4) UNICEF should promote the collection and analysis of disaggregated data on vulnerability—both qualitative and quantitative. Although domestic and local safety nets will always be of paramount importance, adherence to human rights principles and international standards will only be assured through institutionalising participatory methods of recognising and measuring inclusion and exclusion.
5) UNICEF should positively discriminate in favour of women’s grassroots and advocacy organisations as implementers, and provide appropriate capacity assistance to enable this. This would counter inherent cultural and gender bias in the selection of partners. Resource commitments should, however, recognise that capacity provision as well as capacity development is appropriate in some cases, in order to get programmes underway.
6) Protecting the many investments made in the relief, recovery and development phases includes greater attention given to maintenance issues. Plan for sustainable programming, support, maintenance, continuity and human resources development in order to support the interventions, systems and infrastructure implemented post-tsunami. This would include anticipating needs after agencies and donors exit.
7) Support evidence-based systems to inform planning, implementation and monitoring and evaluation. It is critical to ensure information management and data collection systems. This involves supporting existing data collective processes and establishing new approaches to ensure consistency, reliability and data access across agencies. Relevant staff should be trained in the usage, search and analysis of such data, which should be used to strengthen monitoring and evaluation, and inform decision making and strategic planning.
8) Support and develop guidelines for the provision of needed items, equipment and materials during emergencies. Such guidance should include criteria for implementation capacity and decision making of expensive items in an environment with high staff turnover and competing priorities. Given the context and stress of disaster environments and complex emergencies, accounting for the need to decentralise fast decision making, supportive guidelines should address materials and equipment and materials sourcing. These could be included in preparedness plans and incorporated into existing long-term agreements.
9) Ensure that programme efforts, including emergency response and assessment tools, are inclusive and include the most vulnerable children or population groups. Pre-determined plans that identify the most vulnerable children, include strategies for reaching them and incorporate them into programming will help ensure that the needs of these most vulnerable populations are not excluded.
Recommendations for each sector are also included in the report
Lessons Learned (Optional):
The following are the overarching lessons for ongoing efforts and for future responses to humanitarian emergencies:
1) Planning for emergency response through recovery and early development should balance both longer-term capacity development with investments in assets and infrastructure, all of which should be reflective of local needs and capacity gaps.
2) UNICEF should support stronger participation of communities, community-based organizations and national non-governmental organizations to leverage their knowledge and encourage their commitment to sustaining and strengthening outcomes of tsunami interventions.
3) UNICEF should protect the investments made in the relief, recovery and development phases by planning for sustainability, such as maintenance support, and continuity of human resources capacity development.
4) There should be continued support for and maintenance of evidence-based systems of data collection and management to better inform policy, strategic planning and allow for strengthened monitoring and evaluation.
5) UNICEF support to disaster preparedness planning capacity development should include needs assessment tools for each sector and trainings that have been pre-tested for use in various contexts. It should also consider vulnerabilities of children to natural disasters and strengthen their participation in influencing decisions.
Full report in PDF
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