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Evaluation database

Evaluation report

2006 IDS: Evaluation of UNICEF's Response to the Tsunami Disaster (Indonesia)

Author: Jessica Alexander, Lynne Bethke, Sheri Fink, Suzanne Reiff, Sheila Reed, Lewis Sida and Kirk Thompson; UNCEF NYHQ

Executive summary


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 Indonesia the tsunami killed over 130,000 people in Aceh and North Sumatra and left over 500,000 homeless. In March 2005, another earthquake affected the region, including Nias Island.

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 Sumatra and Jakarta, 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.

Overall findings

The UNICEF tsunami response had numerous achievements to its credit. It launched a measles campaign and undertook the distribution of mosquito nets and potable water, all of which contributed to the control of communicable disease. Malaria rates fell below normal, a significant achievement. In Water and Environmental Sanitation (WES), UNICEF provided drinking water to temporary settlements, drilled boreholes and built a large gravity-fed system. In addition, UNICEF and partners assisted with the registration of almost 2,000 separated and unaccompanied children, set up 21 children’s centres and coordinated psychosocial activities; and helped to clean up schools and distributed school supplies, including tents, recreation kits, 6,000 ‘schools in a box’, and close to 600,000 text books. These inputs helped children get back to school, cope with trauma, and resume learning.

As a result of both external and internal constraints, UNICEF’S assistance did not start until 10 days after the tsunami, and did not start in volume until about three weeks later.
UNICEF did mount a timely and effective response in Nias following the March 28, 2005 earthquake, which bolstered the UN leadership role. The Indonesia country office concentrated on meeting immediate needs in the first weeks of the response and did not start detailed programme planning until March 2005. A lack of strategic planning in the first six weeks weakened attention to cross cutting issues such as participation, and to connections between the sectors. The comparative advantage UNICEF has as an interlocutor between the government and non-government response (combining policy work, sector leadership and operations) was also sometimes lost in the push to deliver inputs.

UNICEF relies on partners for much of its implementation, but the scale of the destruction and a legacy of martial law meant there were serious capacity issues. Local government was depleted and overwhelmed. The local non-governmental organization (NGO) sector was relatively small because of the conflict, and international NGOs were struggling to programme their own funds. This left UNICEF with a dearth of implementing partners. UNICEF tried hard to build partner capacity, working with and through local government, and through its sector leadership. This may have been more successful if UNICEF itself had greater capacity.

UNICEF was tasked with the responsibility of coordinating three sectors together with a major measles campaign. UNICEF also played a role in wider coordination, such as in influencing the UN to work in the Temporary Living Centres  (TLCs), and during the
Nias response. UNICEF fulfilled its coordination role well in psychosocial assistance, child protection and education. In WES, a separate coordinator was initially deployed; a commendable initiative in what was possibly the most difficult technical sector. Despite this, UNICEF’s leadership in WES was not consistent. In particular, it never gained an overview of the issues and consequently could not guide partners to cover needs.

The tsunami response presented formidable management and leadership challenges, which have been largely met by hard working and dedicated
UNICEF staff. No country representative was in place when the tsunami struck. The early deployment of an emergency manager to the Aceh programme successfully speeded up the response but created tensions which reduced synergies with the Indonesia country programme.

The complex administrative procedures surrounding project implementation were a serious constraint to UNICEF’s response. Projects were slowed, partnerships compromised and monitoring hampered. Staff joined without sufficient understanding of complex procedures and were not quickly trained. There were insufficient operations staff and there is no flexibility in the system to streamline fiduciary controls in emergencies. Despite some waivers being available, staff are hesitant to deploy these since they will be held responsible if problems arise.

Over-arching recommendation

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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Report information





Emergency - Tsunami Response



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