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Real Time Evaluation: Hurricanes Eta and Iota Response Operation in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua December 2020 to June 2021

Evaluation and Lessons Learned
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The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has provided a timely, relevant and effective response to the Eta and Iota Regional emergency operations. The context was particularly demanding for a number of reasons: a COVID (C-19) pandemic that affected all countries and required important resources, other emergencies including the assistance to migrants’ caravans, efforts to curb the endemic vector-borne diseases, the launching of 7 Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) appeals in the region to assist countries affected by Eta and Iota, and politically sensitive environments (e.g. presidential elections in Nicaragua in 2021). IFRC launched one Regional Emergency Appeal with three different EPoAs (one per country).

The three countries covered by the Real Time Evaluation (RTE) and their respective Emergency Plan of Action (Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala) therefore had to cope with many challenges in providing the emergency response.

Furthermore, the disaster coincided with the presidential elections in the United States, which drew attention away from the visibility of the disaster after the passage of hurricane Eta. When Iota struck a few days after the passage of Eta, it provided another opportunity to draw the attention to the disaster situation in the affected countries.

Originally, the response to the Regional Appeal was struggling because of low visibility, planning for the end of the year holidays, and a globally increasing demand for humanitarian assistance worldwide making resource mobilisation more difficult under the C-19 pandemic.

Each National Society clearly led the response in their respective country and established the priorities and conditions under which the IFRC would support the regional appeal. Yet the form in which the IFRC supported the regional efforts varied from country to country in line with the requirements of the NS leadership, the number of available resources and the extent of the damages. The geographical areas affected by the disaster ranged from remote and hardly accessible rural areas to urban areas, with a mix of typologies in each country. Furthermore, the priorities established by each NS meant that the IFRC was expected to provide its support along those lines. One of the three countries, representing the largest number of affected population and the largest budget requirements, Honduras, also benefitted from the deployment of no less than six Emergency Response Units (ERUs).

This is the first time during the pandemic that such a large-scale disaster response was launched worldwide, and all actors had to redouble coordination and communication efforts to ensure the success of the three plans of action for the Eta/Iota operations.
Globally, the Regional Appeal was a success in terms of the relevance of the interventions provided under the response by each NS with the support of the IFRC.
Evidence from key informant interviews (KII) Focus Group Discussions (FGD) and surveys show that the response was timely, relevant and effective, and covered gaps in assistance that the IFRC network was better placed to provide. Despite the complex operating conditions, volunteers showed their quality and commitment and dedication, although many were also affected by the disaster.

The evaluation methodology was ground-breaking as it focused on data collection from affected communities and volunteers in the three countries covered by the RTE.

Substantial data and information were therefore received through remote data collection tools and FGD, thereby showing that despite C-19 travel limitations it is possible to obtain primary data.

The engagement with the affected communities remains relevant today, but there needs to be a revision of the regional appeal in order to better tailor the recovery activities and budgets to the existing opportunities and capacities. It also proved more difficult to obtain resources for non-emergency activities, suggesting that the IFRC should start engaging different funding partners for its recovery activities.

IFRC rightly planned a phased transition from emergency to recovery, as shown by the planning scenario under the regional appeal of 18 months, which is a timeframe largely superior to that of an emergency response only.
However, it must review its Regional Emergency Appeal and each country’s EPoA in recovery to best address the outstanding community needs where it has a comparative advantage to do so (first aid, disaster risk reduction, community health including C-19, WASH and hygiene education) while building up the volunteer base that form the backbone of its outreach capacity.

The response in Honduras was made with the NS setting up a “mirror operation” which proved to be a good structure to enhance the NS capacity and knowledge transfer. The “mirror structured” entailed that the IFRC emergency operational structure had a corresponding national counterpart in the NS. This was a model of good practices.

Furthermore, Honduran Red Cross (HRC) also strongly advocated for the passage of the International Disaster Response Law (IDRL) law which was instrumental in facilitating the efficiency of the response while generating substantial tax savings. This should be encouraged and replicated in the other countries of the region. In Nicaragua and Guatemala, the number of rapid response personnel deployed was not as significant and no ERUs were deployed, making the use of a mirror structure less relevant. While in Nicaragua the request for support from the NS entailed a limited deployment structure, in Guatemala the IFRC had a stronger presence of international staff. It needs to be stated that Nicaragua had not officially requested international assistance after the Hurricanes Eta/Iota and decided to respond to the emergency through its national structures.

In relation to the C-19 pandemic, the RTE finds the need to harmonize the C-19 protocol amongst the Movement members as it is simply not realistic to have different protocols for different members of the Movement who work in the same operation and with the same communities.

In terms of the assistance provided, all physical, material, and economic support was well received, as were all services provided, in particular Psychosocial Support (PSS). Water, hygiene, well cleaning, food, kits, cash transfers, health interventions all received high levels of appreciation from the communities. Despite some evident challenges and the fact that resources did not allow to cover all the identified needs, the response was generally timely, relevant and efficient (as also shown in the qualitative feedback from affected communities through the FGDs) in all three countries, while coverage and inclusion issues also surfaced during the feedback from community FGDs.

In conclusion, the majority of the identified priority needs were covered under severe and complex operating conditions, thanks to the dedication and commitment of the volunteers and a strong organisational structure, particularly looking at the size of operations in Honduras. Volunteers showed the same level of commitment and dedication in Guatemala and Nicaragua, although the number of affected communities supported by the NS through their individual EPoA was lower.

The multidisciplinary nature of the response was highly relevant, as was its timeliness. The IFRC support was timely and showed good adaptive capacity to the different operational contexts in each country and the different leadership styles. The quality of the IFRC teams was high as reported by the leadership of the NS in Honduras and Guatemala, and facilitated the smooth running of the operations. In Nicaragua, the current team was also praised as bringing constructive support to the NS, but, for several reasons, IFRC did not have a constant presence in the country immediately after Eta/Iota. The regional response was justified, although for the recovery phase a review of the regional appeal should be undertaken to guide funding and future programming of the country’s individual EPoA until February 2022, corresponding to the end of the IFRC Regional Emergency Appeal.

The three NSs have shown their capacity to lead the disaster response although there remain some challenges in streamlining less visible aspects in the field of administration and finance that ultimately affect the operational efficiency of the response, and to define more clearly together with the engagement of the affected communities the actions in this recovery phase.

Specific recommendations are formulated at the end of the report.