After the storm: recovery, resilience reinforced - Final evaluation of the Cyclone Nargis operation in Myanmar, 2008 - 2011

Evaluation and Lessons Learned
Originally published
View original



The Cyclone Nargis operation implemented by the Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRCS) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) between 2008 and 2011 successfully contributed to the recovery of communities across 13 townships that had been severely affected by the disaster that occurred on May 2nd and 3rd, 2008. As this report shows, MRCS and IFRC managed to provide relief and recovery against substantial challenges - difficult access for international staff, initial weaknesses of MRCS, and the sheer scale of destruction. The experience of the operation and instrumental support of the IFRC have led to a significantly more capable MRCS. As the operation has wound down, the present and future challenge is for MRCS to sustain its recent capacity gains and to grow further - in order to serve vulnerable communities even better in future.

Based on the review of earlier reports and programme documents, qualitative research, and a community survey, this final evaluation analyses the operation along seven criteria and provides key lessons learnt and recommendations. “After the storm” sets out by setting the context - describing the immense destruction caused and the response operation that ensued. To be able to deliver relief and recovery programmes effectively, the Cyclone Nargis operation saw the establishment of nine operational hubs that became its cornerstone. Through close collaboration with township branches and IFRC field offices, and leadership and support from MRCS headquarters and IFRC, the operation delivered programmes in shelter, livelihood, health, PSP, and water/sanitation. With a volume of CHF 68.5 Mio, the operation assisted some 100,000 households to cope, rebound and regain their livelihoods.

The delivered programmes were generally found to have been relevant and appropriate: community-based assessments, a strong involvement of beneficiaries in implementation and effective feedback meant that the assistance provided was kept in line with the most urgent needs of communities. MRCS/IFRC efforts complemented efforts of other humanitarian actors, with whom effective coordination mechanisms had been maintained throughout the operation. In spite of the restrictive access to international staff and a three-month period during which most international staff were banned, the operation managed to continue without major interruptions.

The quality of most delivered products was adequate - where quality problems were identified (e.g. early road construction, ferro-cement tanks), adequate actions were implemented to rectify these issues. While international standards such as SPHERE played a minor role in day-to-day operations, quality assurance and monitoring was generally effective. In some cases however, in particular in the water/sanitation sector and to a lesser extent in construction, limitations in available human resources led to imperfect or delayed identification of quality issues.

By and large, the Cyclone Nargis operation proved to be effective: most of the set targets were reached - by late May 2011, roughly three quarters of targets had been fulfilled to at least 80%. The nine hubs that had been set up as the operational cornerstone proved to be hugely effective and are seen as the most viable option for the operation’s management, given that IFRC sub-delegations were not feasible and that the scale of the operation was grossly in excess of the capacity of existing township branches. However, the establishment of hubs brings about challenges to the relation with township branches and overall sustainability - in future, they should thus be only established in after very large-scale disasters. For small and medium-sized response operations, the reinforcement of township branches is preferable. In the Cyclone Nargis operation, issues such as latent conflicts between branches and hubs were carefully managed, and a smooth transition of responsibilities facilitated.

The operation has created a significant impact on both the target communities and MRCS. Generally, communities are seen to be healthier, better off and better prepared for future hazards than they would have been without the support of MRCS and IFRC. While solid and positive impact-related data exist only for the health sector, a wide range of indications justify the assessment of a positive trend due to the overall operation. For instance, 89% of survey respondents express that the operation has had a great or very great positive influence on their economic situation. 86% say that they feel better prepared for future disasters.

MRCS has experienced several significant improvements in capacity and procedures. New departments were established, assets added, procedures introduced, and volunteers trained. IFRC has provided instrumental advice towards these immense gains. The immediate task for MRCS is to retain volunteers and knowledge and to sustain its capacity gains.

Accountability to beneficiaries came as a new concept to MRCS but has been fully embraced; deliberate efforts were made to provide this accountability to communities. However, the letterbox system introduced as a feedback channel was little used, and community meetings and volunteers were the most effective channels. Having identified this crucial role of volunteers, MRCS should aim to sensitize them further for their role as a go-between of community and MRCS management.

Throughout the operation, conscientious efforts were made to facilitate sustainability: the close involvement of communities and the requirement of financial or in-kind contributions of beneficiaries are seen as crucial in having facilitated a strong sense of ownership. Low-tech solutions have been chosen that can be maintained by beneficiaries (maintenance committees have been established), and most survey respondents express that they feel confident in maintaining their new assets. MRCS has Red Cross posts and a large number of well-trained and experienced volunteers and enjoys a positive image in target communities. The closure of hubs and the transition of responsibilities to township branches appears to have proceeded smoothly.

Thus, there exists a sound basis for achievements to be sustained. However, much will depend on the MRCS headquarters’ future efforts to provide continued support and guidance to its branches. If it can provide this support, if it upgrades its volunteer management to retain the many well-trained volunteers, and if it can capitalize on its improved image through fundraising, the legacy of the Cyclone Nargis operation will be tremendous and may be seen as a step towards MRCS’s expressed goal of approaching the characteristics of a well-functioning national society.