Author: Francois Grunewald (Groupe URD); Andrea Binder (GPPi); Yvio Georges (National Consultant)
Background, Scope and Method:
On January 12th 2010, an earthquake of magnitude 7.0 on the Richter scale struck Haiti’s capital Port-auPrince 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.
57% of the 1.5 billion US dollar Revised Humanitarian Appeal had been funded,4
thousands of wounded people had been provided with care,
the Food Cluster had provided 3.5 million Haitians with food aid; 17,500 people had been employed in Cash for Work programs,
thousands of cubic meters of potable water had been distributed,
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.5
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.
1 Government estimate from February 2010 (estimates of the number of dead vary)
2 Government of Haiti (2010): 6
3 International Organization for Migration, April 2010
4 Financial Tracking Service (2010): Table A: List of all commitments/contributions and pledges, 08 June 2010
5 OCHA (2010a), OCHA (2010b), OCHA (2010c), OCHA (2010d)
6 In accordance with the Handbook on Participation prepared by Groupe URD for ALNAP (see www.alnap.org)8
The first field mission was carried out less than 3 months after the disaster. Interviews were conducted with more than 170 individuals from Haitian institutions and international agencies (face-to-face interviews, focus groups and teleconferences) as well as with individuals and groups from the affected communities in different sites in Port-au-Prince, Léogane, Gressier, Jacmel, Gonaives, Saint Marc and in rural areas of the Artibonite and South East regions. More than 150 Haitians were interviewed either in face-to-face encounters or during focus groups.
This report analyses the humanitarian response following the Haiti earthquake between January and April 2010. in order to identify what worked, what did not and why. It presents key findings, recommendations and lessons learned for immediate implementation in Haiti and for future large-scale disasters.
The Government of Haiti (GoH) and many international actors, particularly the United Nations, were both victims of the disaster and actors in the response. This affected all control and command mechanisms at the central level.
Despite the quick mobilization of aid, the quality of the achievements was drastically affected by serious constraints linked to the magnitude of the disaster, the uncontrollable flow of frequently inexperienced small NGOs, the inappropriateness of many practices in urban contexts, and weak global leadership. The RTE found that the response to the earthquake between January and April 2010 was a missed opportunity to translate the quick setting up of cluster coordination and the availability of substantial resources in the form of money, military assets and staff into timely results.
Several critical points should be underlined in particular:
- The weakness of the humanitarian leadership;
- The limited collaboration between international actors and national institutions at both national and decentralized levels;
- The difficulties encountered in establishing an appropriate system for collecting and analyzing data in order to provide decision-makers with information in a timely manner;
- The difficulties encountered by the humanitarian system due to the urban setting.
- The departure of many experienced Haitians for the US or Canada within a few days of the disaster left the country with depleted levels of competent human resources and the arrival of members of the Diaspora was not enough to make up for this loss.
Key humanitarian actors recognized these shortcomings and worked hard to improve the response by strengthening humanitarian leadership and local ownership, increasing coverage and preparing for the upcoming hurricane season.
Taking into account experiences from earlier disasters, six key lessons can be drawn from the Haiti experience for future large-scale disasters:
Get the analysis right. Humanitarian agencies and NGOs, in cooperation with donors, should strive to carry out a comprehensive “diagnosis” of a humanitarian situation, which covers:
- analysis of the context and how it may evolve,
- needs and how they may evolve,
- existing capacities and the support which could be provided to strengthen them, and
- the constraints affecting the response. In particular, the analysis of the security situation should also be improved and not left to “risk-averse” institutions as this leads to paralysis of the humanitarian sector.
While clusters should be seen as central to sector-based assessments, OCHA should be strengthened so that it can conduct global strategic analysis, risk assessments and multi-sector/cross-cutting analysis.
Finally, the information and analyses should be available on time: “better have it 70% right on time than 100% right too late.” The system should comprise rolling mechanisms to ensure that information is regularly updated.
Get the paradigms right. The humanitarian community, including the United Nations, NGOs, the Red Cross movement, donors, policy makers and academics need to challenge a series of paradigms that distort the way aid functions. There is a need to:
- include the urban dimension into humanitarian thinking,
- adopt participatory approaches,
- revise the way the security of humanitarians is managed,
- ensure that the survival strategies of the affected population are systematically included in the response as they are critical to effectively allevaiate suffering, and
- rethink the interaction between humanitarian aid and local economies in order to optimize the positive contributions which both can make to people’s survival and limit possible negative effects.
Get the resources right. Humanitarian organizations and donors need to ensure that the right resources are available at the right time.
- First and foremost, this means assessing existing local capacities and bringing in additional resources (in the form of money, staff, goods and services) to support these capacities.
- Staff who are brought in have the right skills, including languages and contextual and technical knowledge.
- In-kind donations need to be managed more effectively at the global level. In-country logistical capacity and time are limited and should not be strained further to manage unusable donations.
- Staff welfare should be seen as a critical factor for the success of the response. Agencies should proactively address this issue to avoid burnt-out staff and high rates of costly medical evacuation.
Get the coordination right. Several points were identified:
- The Inter-Agency Standing Committee and global clusters need to support cluster coordination through guidelines on how best to manage the influx of a large number of agencies. The experience of small “strategic advisory and technical groups” (baby clusters) should be incorporated as good practice into those guidelines,
- The interaction and coordination between the cluster system and integrated missions is not sufficiently covered in IASC guidance. Additional work on this subject is still needed,
- The Emergency Relief Coordinator and global clusters need to support the Humanitarian Coordinator and the Humanitarian Country Team to build up a cluster system that is compatible with local coordination structures,
- At a strategic level, proper articulation of country, regional and global decision-making levels is essential in order to avoid confusion and weakened accountability. There are also a lot of additional opportunities to develop enhanced collaboration and coordination between the clusters (especially Health and WASH) with rapid deployment teams (UNDAC, FACT, etc.),
- Donor presence in-country and inter-donor coordination are crucial, but donors also need to ensure that they do not hold up aid agencies in their work. They should therefore avoid time-consuming control processes and limit high-level visits.
Get the communication right. Two specific communication actions are essential:
- Communication with the affected population is a first crucial step towards more inclusive humanitarian assistance.
- Communication with donors, the press and the general public is also a key part of crisis communication and should be the job of a professional press spokesperson. Professional crisis communication helps humanitarians to deliver results in relation to realistic rather than exaggerated expectations.
Get the leadership right. The Haiti response shows that leadership remains an important issue for humanitarian reform. There are key examples in the Haiti response that demonstrate the importance of strong leadership, for example the Health and Food Clusters (UN leadership), WASH (national leadership), and the political and military branches of the UN mission. Best practice exercises between cluster lead agencies and between the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and OCHA could help to identify success factors and good practice.
In order to address weaknesses in leadership, it is recommended that:
- Top management staff showing signs of stress should be provided with appropriate support or should be replaced; and
- Coordinator positions be filled by sufficiently senior staff to ensure that the clusters have sufficient strategic weight.
At the country level, the five key recommendations outlined in the table found in page 11, are crucial to improve the current response. The table also shows which findings support the respective recommendation.
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