Field Exchange Nov 2002: Aid responses to Afghanistan - lessons from previous evaluations

Originally published
Summary of report1
A review of over 50 formal evaluation reports was conducted by a Development Assistance Committee (DAC) Working party on Aid Evaluation (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), whose findings were submitted by their chair to a DAC senior level meeting on 12-13 December 2001. The purpose of the review was to distill key lessons from previous evaluations, which may have direct or potential relevance to the ongoing situation in Afghanistan. The reviews and lessons learnt were compiled with the help of ALNAP and an expert group. It was hoped that DAC members and other key international actors would consider how to ensure that the lessons from previous operations were built into the planning and co-ordination mechanisms for aid to Afghanistan and how to institute the necessary actions and safeguards to facilitate this. The following key findings of the review may be of particular interest to readers of Field Exchange.

1. The need to develop a coherent policy framework that recognises that humanitarian aid requires it own 'space'

The central findings of the Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda was that aid cannot be a substitute for political action and that in the absence of a just and sustainable political settlement, the potential achievements of aid will be modest. In Afghanistan the Strategic Framework process, launched in 1997 to achieve policy coherence, had some limited success but failed in its policy coherence aims. The full potential of the framework as an aid coordination mechanism was not realised due to the differing conceptions of what politics can do and what aid can do.

The review stressed that the DAC members should agree on a single conception of the role of aid, and design their structures and programmes in Afghanistan accordingly.

2. Co-ordination requires clarity of structure, leadership and a willingness not to 'fly national flags'

Evaluations reveal a tendency for large-scale emergency responses to generate multiple, overlapping co-ordination mechanisms where lines of authority and therefore accountabilities are unclear. In addition, a recurring pattern for many organisations and agencies is to disregard coordination mechanisms when it does not suit their perceived interests. Donor organisations should collectively take the lead in developing criteria and benchmarks for assessing the performance of coordination mechanisms and the behaviour of those being co-ordinated.

3. The primary role of external military forces should be the provision of security and protection rather than aid delivery

External military and peacekeeping forces have assumed varying degrees of humanitarian aid delivery roles in many of the large-scale emergency operations since 1990. Where their role has been evaluated, the evidence is that they are several times more expensive per unit of aid delivered than humanitarian or commercial suppliers. In contexts where fighting has just ended and where the capacity of those channels is not sufficient, the military may play a useful role in the immediate restoration of vital infrastructure. Where military forces undertake security roles and particularly in those situations where they are belligerents in the conflict, a clear separation has to be maintained between such forces and any humanitarian or other aid delivery. Confusion of roles and of local perceptions of humanitarian and aid agencies can endanger the activities of agency personnel.

4. The relief-rehabilitation-development transition requires delegation of authority, flexibility and strengthened monitoring

Evaluation of relief-rehabilitation-development transitions reveals lack of continuity between initial relief provision and the delivery of rehabilitation and longer-term development assistance. Factors implicated in the difficulties are high turnover of agency personnel and rapid falls in (what may have been initially generous) levels of assistance in the face of the very real difficulties of working in weak institutional environments, often with diversion of attention and resources to subsequent crises elsewhere. Current assessments of best practice point to the need for a number of prevailing circumstances, which require a vision of end goals shared by the donor community and local actors. In addition clear schedules and assigned responsibilities are essential components of hand-over from emergency personnel and agencies to their successors undertaking rehabilitation and development programmes.

5. Strengthen, use and support local institutional capacity

Unmanaged influxes of aid agencies are an increasing feature of high profile international political-military-aid interventions. For example, in Rwanda approximately 200 organisations were present, while the figure reached 300 in Kosovo. Such influxes drive up office and housing rents, draw good local staff away from their normal jobs, spur bidding competition among organisations and create the perception that the agencies and their personnel are benefiting more than the local population. The most efficient way to contain the problems of expatriate dominance and disruption is to prioritise the identification and engagement of local and national emergency and rehabilitation actors, even where national and governmental structures remain weak or not fully legitimate.

6. Control the 'war economy' and confront the risk of entrenched chronic violence

Evaluations and other studies on Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola and Cambodia have shown that semilegal and illegal activities can be an important motivation for factional conflict and for sustaining certain faction leaders in power. In the Afghanistan context, narcotics production plays a very significant role and it will be necessary to understand how such activities may be influencing political negotiations and ongoing instability, and work to reduce the incentive for poppy production. Early efforts to rehabilitate irrigation systems and re-establish production of food and other legal crops will be required together with efforts to regulate and reduce the role of illicit trade. If drastic narcotic substitution programmes are implemented, safety nets will be required for those who may be rendered destitute.

7. Accountability and learning mechanisms of the aid system require strengthening

Weaknesses in the accountability structures of aid organisations have been recurrent findings of many evaluations. The Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda recommended the establishment of an independent monitoring entity and ombudsman function. While this recommendation has not been acted upon, it did lead to the creation of the Humanitarian Accountability Project (HAP) which is planning to field test methods for ensuring the accountability of all aid agencies in Afghanistan over the next few months.


1 OECD (2001). Aid responses to Afghanistan: Lessons from previous evaluations. DAC senior level meeting, 12-13 December 2001. DCD/DIR(2001)31