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Haiti earthquake: Independent evaluations needed

17 January 2011

 

Aid arrived, but the capacity to process it was limited

Today’s post is by Hans E. Lundgren and Megan Kennedy-Chouane of the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate

It has been called one of the worst disasters in human history. The earthquake that struck Haiti on 12 January 2010 saw destruction on an unprecedented scale.

Some 230,000 people lost their lives and 300,000 more were injured. Over 1 million people were left homeless.

In response, the international community mounted a massive humanitarian relief effort. The Red Cross, for instance, deployed the single largest country response in its 148 year history. People around the world gave millions in charitable donations and governments pledged $5.8 billion for relief and recovery.

At the peak of the emergency response, four million people received food aid and 1.7 million people were provided with material for basic shelter or tents.  Over time, 158,000 families have been relocated into sturdier transitional shelters. Today, 1.3 million people have access to potable water and one million are using 15,300 newly built latrines. Immunisation against major diseases has been provided to 1.9 million children and hundreds of thousands of children are back in school.

And yet, as the world marks the one year commemoration, many of us are disappointed with the overall result. Over 800,000 people are still living in camps and day-to-day conditions are extremely challenging for many Haitians. Journalists and experts in and outside of Haiti have criticised the United Nations, the donor community and NGOs for failing to improve conditions.

We support lively public debate about the effectiveness of development aid generally and the humanitarian response in Haiti specifically. However, while anecdotes and stories are useful for highlighting individual experiences, these discussions should also be informed by credible evidence – evidence that can be provided through independent evaluation. 

Here are just a few of the insights that evaluations of the earthquake have provided so far:

  • Humanitarian coordination: An independent Real Time Evaluation three months after the quake showed evidence of the recurrent problems of weak leadership and limited collaboration among international humanitarian organisations working in Haiti, despite recent progress in improving the efficacy of the humanitarian system.
  • The role of the government: Pre-existing governance weaknesses in Haiti were compounded by the earthquake.  International groups did not do enough to consult with local and national institutions and engage them in coordination mechanisms. Long-term development cannot be a donor-led process but must be effectively driven by a legitimate government. When formed, the new government will need to act decisively to approve projects, resolve issues around land ownership and set priorities for reconstruction and job creation. (IASC, 2010 and OXFAM, 2010)
  • A challenging urban setting: Reports from the Humanitarian Practice Network and OXFAM  show that delivering water, sanitation and other basic services in a major city presented very different challenges than those arising in rural environments (where humanitarians tend to have more experience). For instance, new solutions had to be found for providing toilet facilities for the hundreds of thousands of people camping amid the rubble or in dense tent cities. Organisations must have the capacity to innovate and work flexibly with local communities to find technical solutions suitable for the physical, social and cultural circumstances of the disaster-affected population.
  • Making the right kinds of donations: The Haiti response operation received tonnes of relief items, but the capacity to process these goods and get them quickly to people in need was limited. This lead to high storage costs, waste and the clogging-up of airports and roads. Some items sent were not appropriate, including expired medication that had to be destroyed. (IASC, 2010) Only goods for which there is a clearly expressed demand, and established means for distribution, should be sent.  (Read more about how best to help.)

These evaluations can be found on the ALNAP Haiti Learning and Accountability Portal. Another source for independent evaluations of development aid is the Development Evaluation Resource Centre (DEReC), hosted by the OECD DAC Evaluation Network.  This is a free online collection containing over 1700 evaluations of humanitarian and development aid programmes, including assessments of past donor efforts in Haiti and reports on other disaster responses.

In the context of broader debates about the adequacy of the Haiti earthquake response, evaluators are providing concrete lessons for the future. Sadly, some of these lessons have been highlighted before (see for example this World Bank Evaluation brief or ALNAP’s earthquake lessons note). We need to focus more on creating incentives to implement lessons, in order to ensure that mistakes are not repeated (again) in future disasters.

Useful links

Read more about Aid and the Haiti Earthquake on the Development Evaluation Resource Centre (DEReC)

Find out how the Haiti Evaluation Task Force is working to encourage credible assessments of the aid response.

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