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2012 Global: IASC Real-Time Evaluation of the Humanitarian Response to the Horn of Africa Drought Crisis - Regional Mechanisms and Support during the Response

Author: Abhijit Bhattacharjee, Marco Marroni

Executive summary

“With the aim to continuously improve transparency and use of evaluation, UNICEF Evaluation Office manages the "Global Evaluation Reports Oversight System". Within this system, an external independent company reviews and rates all evaluation reports. Please ensure that you check the quality of this evaluation report, whether it is “Outstanding, Best Practice”, “Highly Satisfactory”, “Mostly Satisfactory” or “Unsatisfactory” before using it. You will find the link to the quality rating below, labeled as ‘Part 2’ of the report.”


As required under the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Guidelines, the Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC) called for an independent real time evaluation (RTE) of Inter-agency (IA) response to the food security crisis and famine in the Horn of Africa during 2011. While the IASC conducted separate assessments (RTEs) of the response in each of the severely-affected countries (Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia), it was felt that an assessment of the regional dimension of the response in various countries will be in order, as this crisis had several cross-country issues involved in build-up to the scaling up of humanitarian response. Several support structures, processes and mechanisms in the region have had a bearing on the country-led response, and this regional RTE was tasked to examine these in real time.


Specifically, the regional RTE focused on the following:

1. asses the added value of regional coordination mechanism and comment of the regional structures and mechanisms that exist;
2. examine the leadership during the response in terms of bringing about coherence, complementarity and synergy in different country-responses, especially with regard to issues of cross-country nature; and
3. assess the systems and processes for flow of information and communication between different countries on issues of direct relevance to the response in each country.

The field work for the evaluation was carried out during November-December 2011.


As required under the IA RTE Procedures and Methodology, the RTE’s methodology was kept lean with ‘light footprint’ and was based on both inductive and deductive approaches, using qualitative data gathered from a carefully selected range of sources as indicated below. The data-gathering for the RTE involved visits to Nairobi (for both Kenya and Somalia) and Addis Ababa. As this RTE was focused on mechanisms and processes to support country responses, the generic questions in the RTE ToR were not relevant for this exercise because they were geared toward assessing individual country response.

Findings and Conclusions:

Early warning systems have come a long way in terms of providing timely and comprehensive data on drought-related food insecurity conditions in different countries of the Horn of Africa (HoA) region. However, uptake of the early warning data for operational planning by senior managers in individual agencies and collectively by humanitarian country teams (HCTs) remained weak in Kenya and Somalia in particular. An important aspect of the early warning (EW) highlighted during the evaluation was that while the technical EW agencies were presenting data for the entire region, when these came to country teams, each team lifted the bit relevant to the country, but there was a gap in interpreting the regional dimensions of the situation for their cross-country implications in operational response in each country.

Response to humanitarian crises primarily takes place at the country level, led by the national governments, with support from national and international humanitarian community coordinated by the Humanitarian Coordinator (HC). During this crisis, there were number of cross-country issues which could have gained from a regional approach being brought to bear on the individual country response. The various fora that exist in the region struggled to provide significant regional perspective, analysis or coherence in the drought response due to structural weaknesses in how these are configured and in their focus. 

There were several individual agencies who did their best to scale up response, but in Somalia a large majority of the agencies remained indecisive and unprepared until people started dying in large numbers. Lack of a collective position and approach, especially with regard to Somalia and Kenya, meant that the assessments and information donors were receiving from different humanitarian agencies were often seen by the former to be inconsistent in their analysis of the situation. The use of the world ‘famine’ appeared to have given a common label to the crisis with which all seemed to be in agreement, and that prompted rapid scale up of the response. It needs to be noted that failure to respond early despite having several warnings can be considered a failure of the entire humanitarian system. However, this was also a serious failure of national institutions and governance in Somalia and Kenya that partly incapacitated the international response system. Several factors contributed to a reluctance on early action: on-going conflict and lack of humanitarian access in Somalia created problems in monitoring and quality control of aid assistance there; the failure of the Government of Kenya (GoK) to take the early warning seriously and delay declaration of drought until May 30, 2011; lack of significant investment in any development activity in north-eastern Kenya by successive governments; delayed declaration of food security assessment results and approval of response plans of agencies by the Government of Ethiopia (GoE); and failure of all actors in the region to take into account early on the large cross-border movement of Somalis affected by the severe drought and lack of assistance there. The HoA crisis of 2011 has once again shown that the international funding architecture is not geared to early action in slow-onset crisis. However, two important positive lessons emerged from this crisis in terms of early action. 

The existence of pooled funds (CHF/ERF/HRF), especially in Somalia, enabled some early action to be begun in early 2011, and the on-going safety net programme which targets vulnerable communities in chronic and transitory needs for assistance in Ethiopia helped avert a serious crisis there.


R1: The ERC and UNDG Chair needs to formalize the multistakeholder regional meeting which was held in December into a regular six monthly forum to provide strategic framework and guidance on crosscountry (refugees, humanitarian access) issues and regional issues (donor engagement on DRR, regional overview of EW and framework for EA). Given the chronic nature of drought and conflict in the region, there is need for a forum like this on an ongoing basis. However, as the current remit of the forum is vast, this will need to be reconfigured for the HoA region alone.

R2: Within the region, greater engagement by humanitarian agencies with regional institutions and multilateral banks which appear to be gearing themselves up to deal with chronic drought and food insecurity issues will be required.

R3: Taking lessons from this response, a regional forum needs to have an overview of the early warnings on different countries in the region and help the country teams with regional perspectives so that individual countries do not plan their response without taking into account key regional trends having a direct bearing on situation in each country.

R4: The HCTs and donors need to explore how pooled funds can be better managed and scaled up, as well as how to establish functioning safety net programmes in chronically drought prone areas in Kenya and Somalia.

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