2006 Global: The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami Disaster: Evaluation of UNICEF's Response
Author: Peter Wiles and Lewis Sida; 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.
UNICEF’s response to the disaster took place in eight countries. This evaluation, which is part of UNICEF’s overall accountability system, focused on its response in Indonesia, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, where more than 85% of financial allocations have been made. Information was also gathered about the response in India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Somalia and Thailand.
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.
UNICEF’s response to the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster took place in eight countries. As required in the Terms of Reference, the main focus of this evaluation is on UNICEF’s programme response in Indonesia, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, the three largest programmes by value, covering more than 85% of financial allocations.
Three in-depth country case studies were carried out in these countries by a team of nine independent evaluators selected via open selection process. A tenth evaluator led the writing of the Synthesis Report and conducted conference calls with Country Offices (COs) of non-visited countries in order to broaden the study and take account of lessons learned there. UNICEF’s Evaluation Office designated a manager to facilitate and lead the evaluation process, and also provided administrative support.
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 at country and zone level, with UNICEF regional offices (ROs) and 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 January 2006 meeting of UNICEF’s Evaluation Committee chaired by the Executive Director.
- 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 three country offices to discuss substantive issues arising from the draft reports.
- ROs and visited COs produced management responses to the country evaluations, which form part of respective country reports.
- This report was internally reviewed against the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance (ALNAP) Quality Proforma for humanitarian evaluation.
UNICEF played an important and meaningful role in all the countries where it responded, particularly when it drew on its pre-existing relationships with governments and other partners. It made important contributions to ensuring that there were no serious communicable disease outbreaks, that children got back to school relatively quickly, that separated and unaccompanied children were registered promptly and measures to protect children and safeguard their psychological well-being were carried out rapidly.
UNICEF was influential in setting the agenda for children from the beginning of the post-disaster response period. In WES, UNICEF provided drinking water to temporary settlements and sought sustainable solutions to water provision. However, it was unable fully to fulfil its lead role obligations to coordinate the WES sector. Both the programme and coordination areas of UNICEF’s WES response need substantial strengthening.
UNICEF’s investment over recent years in humanitarian response capacity building, supported by DFID and ECHO, has shown some results, particularly in areas such as HQ capacity for monitoring and response, IT and security management. However, this evaluation also shows, as have a number of other evaluations before, that there is much work still to do and some important issues need to be tackled strategically and energetically:
- UNICEF’s standing response and surge capacity must be further geared up at all levels (country, region and HQ) if it is to fulfil its humanitarian leadership responsibilities as designated by the IASC.
- Overall UNICEF must shift from a focus on process, delivery and outputs to an emphasis on results and impact.
- UNICEF must find a way of re-balancing its tendency to risk aversion created by staff fear’s over poor audit results with the need for humanitarian response results.
- UNICEF must review its finance, administration, operational and programme rules and develop streamlined procedures and systems for use in humanitarian responses that continue to safeguard UNICEF’s resources and reputation.
- UNICEF must work to overcome the human resources “transition gap” that occurs when the initial wave of staff deployments ends, before longer-term staffing is established.
- Response and coordination capacity in WES must be substantially strengthened.
- Within the context of the development of Good Humanitarian Donor-ship, UNICEF requires stable and predictable donor funding for its global humanitarian role.
There appears to be an increasing potential for multi-country, regional and even global humanitarian disasters to take place, bearing in mind growing global environmental stress and the potential for epidemics, such as the threatened avian influenza pandemic. No UNICEF country office should assume that it is working in a disaster-free environment.
Although it is too early for this evaluation to assess the impact of UNICEF’s recovery work, given the alignment between the CCCs and the MDGs, it seems very likely that its recovery programmes can make significant contributions towards achieving the MDGs, particularly for education.
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.
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