Haiti earthquake: Independent evaluations needed

 

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.

Disasters and the traps of poverty and wealth

UN HQ in Haiti after the earthquake

Today’s post is contributed by John Mutter, Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences/Professor of International and Public Affairs and Director of PhD in Sustainable Development, Columbia University, NY

We like to categorize disasters into two types – natural and man-made. 2011 has begun with massive flooding in agricultural regions of Northeast Australia causing shoppers to brace for the inevitable increase in food prices that will soon follow. Just one death so far though and no doubt the rugged Australian farmer will get through this latest assault by Nature.

In 2010 we had a very well publicized example of a disaster of the man-made type in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico where 11 workers were killed and an enormous drilling structure incinerated and crumpled onto the sea floor causing an oil spill of historic proportions that threatened the Gulf coast. Pundits kept upping the drama of the event from the worst environmental disaster ever, to Obama’s Katrina, Obama’s 9/11 and even Obama’s Cuban Missile Crisis! None of this proved to be true and given the scale of the event itself – more oil released into the ocean than ever before – the scale of environmental damage seems to be not so great, not compared to what we all thought might be the consequences. We were all expecting thousands upon thousands of oil soaked seabirds but there were relatively few and just days after the seafloor gusher was finally plugged there was hardly any oil to be found anywhere.

On Boxing Day the New York Times published an extensive analysis of what went wrong 50 miles offshore Louisiana, the mistakes that were made many from inaction by workers on the drill rig though disaster was staring them in the face. The Times did not say so outright but it does seem that disaster could have been avoided. Certainly people will be held accountable. Someone will be blamed; perhaps many people will share the blame.

Who do we blame for the earthquake in Haiti earlier in the year on January 11th that killed around a quarter of a million people? (more…)

Helping Haiti: Colombia says ownership is the origin of aid effectiveness

 
 

Click on the image to go to the Acción Social site (in Spanish)

This contribution to the debate on aid ownership comes from Sandra Alzate, Director of International Cooperation, Presidential Agency for Social Action and International Cooperation – Acción Social, Colombia. You can see French and Spanish translations by clicking on the “more” tag.

I would like to express our rejection of the conclusion of Joel Brinkley in his article: “Don’t let Haitians help themselves“, according to which “if the World wants to help Haiti, aid officials should put aside the Paris Agreement on Aid Effectiveness. The donors should decide what to do with their money. The Haitian “government” can have no more than an advisory role, or nothing will ever change”.

There are several points to mention.

As expressed in the article, there have indeed been decades of unproductive work; unproductive work that gave rise to the reflections and actions for more effective aid strategies, both in countries dependent and not dependent on aid.

The Paris Declaration (PD) and the Accra Agenda for Action (AAA) have become a commitment of the international community with the most vulnerable populations of the world. Colombia shares the principles of the PD because it locates the responsibility for development with the so-called partner countries, and because it understands international cooperation as complementary to national efforts.

In particular, the principle of “ownership” is seen by Colombia as the origin of the aid effectiveness chain, and necessary in order to strengthen leadership, coordination, dialogue and interaction between all the development actors, thus enriching their cooperation policies and practices.

It is in this scenario that Colombia has played an active role in the international debate. This has generated new spaces of dialogue and has promoted the incorporation of the effectiveness agenda, and of subjects like broadening and the  democratization of the term ownership, the promotion of using national systems and mutual evaluation mechanisms, the recognition of the role of NGOs, the reference to south-south and triangular cooperation policies, and aid information transparency.

As anticipated in the PD and AAA, donors have the responsibility to develop capacities and leadership in Southern countries so as to support the sustainable construction of their own development. Nevertheless, traditional cooperation models in Haiti have reflected a lack of work from donors related to this responsibility (lack of capacity-building, creation of dependence, fragmentation of initiatives, high transaction costs, weakness of accountability, and lack of transparency).

Considering these factors, ownership becomes the common denominator that must govern in a vulnerable and, for decades, criticized context like the one in which Haiti has been living. This principle allows the exercise of an effective authority of development policies and strategies where donors respect the leadership and they contribute to local capacities development and strength.

To imagine a scenario like the one raised in the conclusion by Brinkley, where the Haitian reality reflects the presence of multiple international actors working to develop the country, without guaranteeing a firm leadership and an active participation of the Haitian government, only generates a lack of organization of the numerous cooperation actions, and a negative impact for the future generations of Haitian society.

Colombia, as a Middle Income Country, positioned as a donor of financial and technical cooperation in Haiti, has felt deep solidarity with the Haitian Government since the earthquake of January 12, 2010. As a result, Colombia participates as an observer in the Interim Recovery Haiti Commission (IHRC) and is using the Haiti Reconstruction Fund – created by the Government of Haiti and managed by the World Bank – to realize, as a request of the Government, a donation of $4 million for budget support to the agricultural and land reconstruction sectors.

Colombia has also seen in South-South Cooperation an opportunity to promote in Haiti a new philosophy that encourages an integrated and new approach to development, based on a coordination scheme between all the actors involved, connecting the emergency and recovery stage, and guaranteeing the active participation of local communities in decision-making.

What the author proposes in his article is not new, but is a scenario that has caused a continued chaotic situation in Haiti. It is for that reason that we would like to invite the author to reframe his ideas and to better ask donors what they have done, or what they are doing, to develop Haiti’s capacity for leadership. (more…)

Helping Haiti: Should donors make the decisions?

A US Marine shows a Haitian woman how to use a radio

In a widely-circulated editorial opinion piece that the International Herald Tribune printed under the headline “Don’t let Haitians help themselves“, Pulitzer prize winning journalist Joel Brinkley argues that the Haitian government is so corrupt and ineffective that “If the world wants to help Haiti, aid officials should put aside that Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. The donors should decide what to do with their money”.

In criticizing the OECD-backed Declaration that over 100 ministers, heads of agencies and other senior officials have now adhered to, Brinkley focuses on the principle of “ownership”: “Developing countries set their own strategies for poverty reduction, improve their institutions and tackle corruption.”

Brenda Killen, head of the OECD division working on aid effectiveness, replies to Brinkley.

We agree with Joel Brinkley that corruption can undo the best of efforts and intentions, and it has a strong hold in many of the neediest countries. But we strongly reject his conclusions that Haitians should not be trusted with their own rebuilding and that donors should abandon the principles of the Paris Declaration.

The Paris Declaration sets out five strong principles to make aid work for development. Brinkley zeroes in on one of them: countries must take the reins of their own development. The reasons for this seem obvious to those of us who have had the privilege of growing up and living in countries that do so – at least when we are talking about our own countries and futures.

But the principle of ownership, like the other principles that underpin the Paris Declaration, is not an expression of political correctness. It is based on objective assessments of what works – and what doesn’t – and drawn from experience in the field.

Countries like Vietnam (which has adapted the Paris Declaration to its own priorities and needs) and Ghana (which has set its own programme to achieve middle income country status by 2015) illustrate why local ownership is essential if aid is to be a catalyst for effective development.  And even where systems are weak and there is corruption and inefficiency, ownership is key to uncovering and reversing this. Post-conflict Uganda in the 1990s provides a well-known example in the form of the Public Expenditure Tracking Surveys of education grants that showed a reduction in the diversion of funds from 80 percent to 20 percent over a decade – reflecting strong ownership by the public (through broad public debate and citizen engagement) and government (through reform and strengthening of public financial management systems) of the country’s post-conflict process.

Referring to the origins of the Paris Declaration, Mr Brinkley states that it came out of “decades of unproductive work”. Certainly, if the donors and developing countries that adhered to this Declaration found it worthwhile to work on making aid more effective, it was not because aid had achieved nothing. It was, rather, that the experience gathered over time provided evidence of what could be done to make it work better. The Paris Declaration made harmonisation of donor efforts imperative long before the media reported stories of duplicated and wasted efforts due to turf battles among donors.

One of the major obstacles to aid effectiveness during the decades referred to by Brinkley as “unproductive”, was that a substantial part of aid was tied to conditions and services set by the donors. In other words, donors – not recipients – controlled it and how it was used. The Paris Declaration has helped to reverse this situation, and today almost 90%of aid is untied.

But above and beyond the specifics of aid effectiveness – which are often very complex and process- oriented – there is another, overarching lesson that today seems obvious: aid is not an end – or a solution – in itself. Nor can it take the blame, or the credit for that matter, for what has or has not worked. The problem in Haiti is about much more than aid, and here – as in so many other places – the Paris principles must be applied not in isolation, but rather in the context of much larger, more complex development issues.

Brinkley states that “Haitians were as poor and uneducated as ever” before the earthquake. It could be argued that this is simply not true. The 2009 Human Development Index report states that “Between 1980 and 2007 Haiti’s HDI rose by 0.77% annually from 0.433 to 0.532.” Not great, but still an improvement.

Yet this still leaves the fundamental question raised by Brinkley: earthquake or not, is Haiti in a position to be able to direct all international aid resources through its own government systems? Absolutely not. On this we agree. But does this mean we should not be working with the Haitians? Or does it mean we should be working to help them get to a point where aid can eventually go through Haiti’s national systems? We believe the answer is the latter. Absolutely, we should and we must.  

At the heart of the issue is the question of how to combat corruption. Punishing a crime requires legal institutions. Should foreign charities or donor governments run these too? Rather than standing on the high moral ground and telling Haitians what they must do, shouldn’t we be helping Haiti to build those institutions?

The Principles for Good International Engagement in Fragile States are about just this – how do we move from the chaos of disaster and conflict to a stable development path?  The ultimate aim is to support Haitians in building the ownership (in the form of democratically elected government, strong institutions and a voice for the poor) that will enable them to achieve – and sustain – their own development.  Fragile states realise this and the g7+ group of fragile states is calling on donors to recognise it as well. 

Just as South Korea was able to use aid as a catalyst to move from poverty and conflict to leadership of the G20 in less than two generations – building on strong national ownership and committed international support – other countries can do the same.  Liberia, Timor Leste – and Haiti.

The Paris principles are highly relevant to Haiti’s current situation.  In particular, they highlight the need to coordinate the many aid efforts more effectively so aid gets quickly to those who need it. But they can’t stand alone. Without action on many fronts – and action that takes into account the location-specific realities of each country – neither aid nor development will be effective.

Useful links

The Partnership for Democratic Governance  (PDG) is proposing Service Delivery Guidance in English, French and Creole to assist Haitian authorities and the donor community

Watch the trailer of an OECD-PDG documentary about Haiti made to accompany the forthcoming OECD-PDG Handbook on Contracting Out Government Functions and Services in Post-Conflict and Fragile Situations.

Catalyzing development: A new vision for aid,  a workshop organised by Brookings in July 2010, concluded that: “Donors remain far too eager to lead, despite empirical evidence that aid programs that are truly owned by recipients have the biggest impact.”

The DAC Network on Development Evaluation  works to increase the effectiveness of programmes through evaluation. In Haiti, the Network is supporting a collaborative approach to assessing the international aid response.

The Development Co-operation Report is the key annual reference document for statistics and analysis on trends in international aid.

The Dili International Dialogue sets out a new vision for peacebuilding and statebuilding

Again the phantom city burns

This post contributed by John Mutter, Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences/Professor of International and Public Affairs and Director of PhD in Sustainable Development, Columbia University, NY and Elisabeth King, a political scientist researching conflict, peacebuilding and development in Sub-Saharan Africa and postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

How much do the tent cities forming around Port-au-Prince remind us of the camps set up to shelter those who have fled the violence of civil war?  How much do the ruins in the streets of that city remind us of the destruction of violence?  The scope of the casualties, perhaps more than 200,000 (we’ll never know the true figure), certainly echoes numbers we hear from war zones. To the Haitian President René Préval the similarities are stark.  A few days after the earthquake he said “The damage I have seen here can be compared to the damage you would see if the country was bombed for 15 days. It is like in a war.”   Such similarities between disasters and violent conflict are often noted superficially, especially by the news media in the immediate aftermath, and this has certainly been the case in reports about Haiti’s earthquake.

Perhaps we might expect remarks of this sort in reference to places like Haiti that have a history of conflict but such analogies are common, even in places that do not have a history of violent conflict.  In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, many reporters commented on how that scene appeared like a war zone.  When the National Guard arrived in New Orleans, the disaster relief operation transformed into the military operation of restoring and maintaining order and images of soldiers in armored vehicles with weapons at the “ready” position were indistinguishable from those we commonly associate with peacekeeping in conflict situations.

The analogy ought not to be taken too far and certainly, there are very important differences between disasters and violent conflicts.  Natural disasters are generally portrayed as the result of a capricious act of nature, perhaps made worse by human agency, while conflicts are usually thought of as acts of one group of people against another.  Nature is rarely invoked as a cause of conflict despite a growing recognition that environmentally driven scarcity could enhance social stresses and raise tensions.  With the exception perhaps of extended periods of drought, most natural disasters are shorter duration events than conflicts and none match the extended civil conflicts in Sudan or Colombia.   There are no obvious analogies to war crimes or war crime trials and no equivalents to truth and reconciliation efforts though there is little doubt that there is opportunistic criminal behavior during disasters and legal actions sometimes follow.  Nor is there an equivalent to a negotiated ceasefire or victory by one party over another.

Yet there is more at work here than the somewhat gratuitous media comparisons between disasters and conflicts might suggest.   (more…)

Haiti: We knew what to do even before the earthquake

Brian Tucker, President of Geohazards International (GHI) contributed this article to the Guardian. GHI’s work focuses on reducing loss of life and suffering due to natural disasters in the world’s most vulnerable countries, through preparedness, mitigation and advocacy.

The disaster that struck Haiti, in the form of an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale, has delivered death and devastation, ruin and suffering, on a deeply tragic scale. But this was not an “act of God”, in that it was not an event that could not have been foreseen.

While earthquakes are not as frequent as hurricanes in the Caribbean, they are common. Today it is well known that poor design and construction practice results in buildings that are sure to collapse during earthquakes of this magnitude, killing and maiming those caught in them and leaving a trail of social disruption, sometimes for generations.

It’s like seeing an accident caused by a drunk driver you’ve tried repeatedly to stop drinking and driving.

Japan and the US state of California have improved their building codes and construction standards to reflect their seismic vulnerability, and the lethality of earthquakes in both places has been massively reduced during the last century. We know how to mitigate the devastating effects of earthquakes.

For someone like myself, who has devoted most of his professional life to reducing loss of life and suffering due to natural disasters, to see the images coming out of Haiti is like seeing the scene of an accident caused by a drunk driver you have tried repeatedly to stop drinking and driving. (more…)