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2012 Global: IASC Real-Time Evaluation of the Humanitarian Response to the Horn of Africa Drought Crisis - Somalia

Author: James Darcy, Paul Bonard, Shukria Dini

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.”


This Real Time Evaluation (RTE) was commissioned by the UN Offce for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on behalf of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), as one part of a wider evaluation of the international response to the drought crisis in the Horn of Africa in 2011. 


This RTE considers the question of how well the component parts of the international humanitarian system worked together and with others to address the drought crisis in Somalia.


The security context dictated the evaluation methods, with heavy reliance on key informant interviews and documentary review and relatively little on !eld visits and community consultation. Field visits were limited to Mogadishu, Hargeisa in Somaliland, and the refugee camps of Dadaab in Kenya.

Findings and Conclusions:

Though labelled a ‘drought crisis’, the crisis in Somalia that began in late 2010 has a number of causes. The immediate factors were the (La Niña-related) failure of two consecutive rains and the escalation of food prices relative to the value of livestock and wages. These combined with the effect of successive shocks in recent years to overwhelm people’s already fragile livelihoods and purchasing power, particularly among the agro-pastoralist communities of South Central Somalia.

Within the overall crisis, several distinct but related crises can be identified: of food security and livelihoods, of access to water, of nutrition and health, of forced displacement and violent insecurity. While crisis conditions have existed for many years, 2011 saw a major escalation and large scale distress migration. Above all, this was an acute crisis of food access and (to some extent) availability, culminating in famine conditions in parts of South Central in mid-late 2011. The ongoing armed conflict, including its regional aspects, had a strong influence both on the nature of the crisis and the response to it.

Amongst the many constraints facing humanitarian assistance has been the limitation of secure access to the areas worst affected in the crisis, the culmination of several years of deteriorating access to South Central Somalia. This has limited the availability and quality of information as well as the ability to provide direct assistance. Heavy reliance on remote operations and untested partnerships has raised issues of effectiveness, quality and accountability. The absence of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) from these areas (forced to withdraw in 2010) left a major gap in the assistance chain, one that could only partly be filled by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and others.

This RTE draws three ‘top line’ conclusions about the international crisis response:

1) Famine was not inevitable, nor was the scale of human su"ering caused by the drought crisis. The political and military actors (Somali and international), whose conduct restricted people’s access to humanitarian assistance, bear primary responsibility for the failure to respond earlier and more decisively. Early action could have prevented, or at least substantially mitigated, the worst aspects of the crisis, but this did not happen on the scale required. The reasons are largely political, but the international humanitarian system – including the donors – itself bears some responsibility for this failure. While some important early action was taken using available pooled funds, it was not on the scale required by the situation.

2) The famine response when it came was proportionate and appropriate, though the extent of effective implementation is still uncertain, as is the impact of the response on the overall situation. Scaled-up implementation came well after the crisis had peaked in mid-2011 but it appears to have had at least a substantial mitigating effect on the scale and intensity of the food and livelihoods crisis, and to have prevented the spread of famine to Gedo region.

3) Though famine conditions have passed the situation remains critical for hundreds of thousands of Somalis. The potential for rapid deterioration remains and delivery capacity of the international system has been seriously compromised by the Al Shabaab ban on leading international agencies: UN, ICRC and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Humanitarian agencies and donors need to take urgent action to plan for the potential contingencies in 2012 and beyond.


R1: The mandates and working practices of the HCT and ICWG should be reviewed, particularly with regard to strategic decision making, planning and cross-sector analysis, in the light of the !ndings of the RTE.

R2: Clearer lines of accountability and decision making need to be established between HCT, ICWG and clusters – and within these bodies themselves.

R3: ICWG and Clusters should be formally tasked with needs assessment and crosssector analysis in response to major crises, facilitated by OCHA and reporting to the HCT. Field-level surveillance systems should be established in health, food security, nutrition and WASH as the basis for this.

R4: The HTC should require that costed, cross-sector contingency plans be drawn up as a matter of priority for both a large scale ‘preventive’ package of livelihood support, and a major Somalia-wide relief response, to be considered for implementation against agreed criteria in the event of a prospective food security crisis.

R5: In light of the growing dependence on local capacities, the HCT should task the clusters through the ICWG with conducting a local capacity review and drawing up a related investment plan.

R6: Urgent attention should be given to strengthening output reporting if the most basic accountability standards are to be met. More investment is also needed in assessing outcomes, linked to goals established through the CAP and other planning documents.

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