2008 PAC: Solomon Islands Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster: An Evaluation of UNICEF's Response in the Emergency and Initial Recovery Phases
Author: Daniel McAvoy and Michelle Legu
On the morning of April 2nd 2007, a large (8.1 Richter scale) earthquake and subsequent tsunami destroyed or caused severe damage in 304 villages across the Western and Choiseul Provinces of Solomon Islands. The disaster killed 52 people and directly affected 36,500 people, around half of whom were children. This outcome evaluation represents the first systematic assessment of UNICEF’s response to that emergency and is among the first detailed participatory evaluations of a humanitarian agency’s efforts during the emergency and initial recovery phases of the Solomon Islands disaster.
The overall purpose of the evaluation was to: (1) identify major achievements during the emergency response and recovery phase (from 2 April 2007 to 1 June 2007) and during the initial reconstruction and rehabilitation phase (June 2 to September 30) including impact on beneficiaries; (2) note constraints and gaps in that response; and (3) make recommendations (as necessary) for a better response to similar situations in the future and identify potential policy implications for the future.
The external team adopted a participatory approach throughout the evaluation. Tools used to collect data included a document review, direct observation, key informant interviews, semi-structured group interviews with primary stakeholders among the affected population, an electronic questionnaire emailed to UNICEF staff to elicit their confidential feedback, and several feedback sessions with stakeholders to validate findings. Interviews with UNICEF staff were conducted in Suva, Honiara, Gizo and Taro and interviews or meetings were held with UNICEF’s government and non-government partners in the latter three locations. Primary stakeholders were interviewed or otherwise consulted in 8 villages in Western Province and 4 villages in Choiseul Province.
Findings and Conclusions
Based on extensive consultation with a wide range of key stakeholders and review of available reports and data, the independent evaluation team found that UNICEF’s overall response to the Solomon Islands disaster appears to have been relevant, appropriate, somewhat effective (intervention coverage was variable, especially in Choiseul Province) and relatively efficient with some major impacts against several Core Commitments for Children. There was strong coherence between programmes and there are good prospects for the sustainability of several key interventions. Given the lack of experience in responding to a large-scale emergency, UNICEF Pacific has done well overall and in some areas it has excelled. Nevertheless, the crisis highlights significant weaknesses in terms of UNICEF Pacific’s existing capacity to respond to large-scale emergencies in the Pacific. UNICEF Pacific can be justifiably satisfied with its hard work and achievements to date but needs to act swiftly to address gaps – both in terms of its preparedness for future disasters and its response to the ongoing disaster in Solomon Islands.
More specific recommendations are provided in Section 7 of the report.
Now (Next 6-8 weeks)
• UNICEF should maintain a strong presence in Western Province and expand/ establish presence in Choiseul Province.
• In coordination with the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) and other agencies, UNICEF should undertake a vulnerability needs assessment throughout the affected area to identify communities or groups at risk (e.g. pneumonia or malnutrition) and intervene as required.
• In coordination with NDMO, Development Services Exchange (DSE) and other NGOs document and map ‘Who has done What, Where’ and identify any communities that need support but have not received it.
• Examine options and expedite proactive engagement on HIV and Child Protection issues in Choiseul and Shortland Islands.
• Review staff safety and train staff in sea-survival and related skills.
Next Year (Next 2-12 months)
• Undertake health/nutritional baseline survey as planned.
• Undertake detailed review of operational processes to simplify and streamline supply and financial procedures.
Future (in the event of another disaster)
• Ensure that local capacity and local knowledge are utilised as much as possible from Day 1 of an emergency and resource local capacity before assuming it is lacking.
• Identify strategies to assist getting essential government staff (health and education) back to work or involved in assessments as soon as possible.
• Provide practical support to local leadership and coordination as soon as practical.
• Build systems to get the right information to the right people to assist them to make the right choice for their circumstances.
• Establish clear performance benchmarks and reporting mechanism for procurement and delivery of supplies in emergency circumstances.
• Consider introducing performance indicators to improve support to field staff.
• Preposition tents, safety equipment, office set-up kits within the region.
• Establish emergency supply agreements for key items in advance.
• Map shipping routes and pre-identify preferred transport options for various scenarios.
• Devolve as much responsibility and decision-making to the field as UN rules will permit.
• Ensure all key management staffs are brought through Suva for a thorough briefing prior to deployment and that this briefing is prioritized by staff in Suva. The Human Resources in Emergencies UNICEF intranet site contains orientation templates, some of which were developed in 2005, after the Indian Ocean Tsunami.
• Develop common standards and approaches with NGOs that ensure beneficiaries are adequately consulted and informed on who UNICEF is and what UNICEF does.
• Consider community distribution agreements documenting people’s entitlements.
• Ensure implementing partners are closely monitored and understand that they are accountable for losses and damages.
• UNICEF made a strong commitment to rights-based and results-based Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation and exhibited a willingness to learn from the lessons of similar disasters. The Emergency Management Plan (EMP) and accompanying Integrated Monitoring and Evaluation Plan (IMEP) were developed quickly and updated regularly in consultation with key stakeholders based situation monitoring. While some planned programme results and targets were ambitious, most were appropriately aligned to the CCCs.
• An innovative, population-based Omnibus Survey was used to assess the reach of several key interventions (e.g. ORS) and health promotion messages at the 10 week mark. Poor coverage in the distribution of some items indicated that improved and more regular tracking of supplies distributed to beneficiaries was needed.
• While UNICEF should emphasize education and health in its emergency interventions, vulnerable groups should have a first claim on these responses to mitigate the impact on these groups. Communities without a health clinic or without a school, or without both, are inherently more vulnerable as a consequence of this lack of services and need to prioritised during emergencies.
• To meet ambitious programme commitments equally ambitious operational commitments are required. UNICEF’s success in rapidly mobilizing a measles immunisation and Vitamin A campaign was only possible because it was carefully planned and extensive operational support was given to local partners to implement it. UNICEF’s results in terms of the reaching targets for ORS, soap and Vitalita distribution, and the promotion of hygiene and HIV prevention were not as comprehensive. A leading factor contributing to this is that insufficient staff and operational resources were dedicated to meeting these latter targets.
• Accountability requirements demand that UNICEF improve its logistics capacity. All staff should acquire a basic understanding of procedures for supply, receipt and distribution of goods.
• UNICEF’s most crucial resource is its staff. In times of emergency, greater managerial oversight or additional staffing resources may be necessary to strengthen financial administration to ensure that field staff receives salaries and per diems in a timely and reliable manner.
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