Opportunity knocks: Realising the potential of partnerships in the Nepal earthquake response

Evaluation and Lessons Learned
Originally published


Executive summary


In the Oxford online dictionary, the definition of ‘opportunity knocks’ is given as ‘a chance of success occurs’ and this is true of partnership in the Nepal earthquake response: for the first time in Nepal and for one of the first times in response to a large-scale disaster, the international humanitarian community has been united in its early adoption of partnership as the dominant modality of providing relief and recovery. At the time of writing, the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) has acknowledged the importance of using and not replacing local capacity, and it is hoped that the findings from this study will provide practical support to efforts to ‘localise’ humanitarian response.

While there have already been several strategic reviews of the earthquake response conducted by members of the international humanitarian system, this study is different in that it seeks to capture and amplify the perceptions of national responders about partnership performance in the earthquake response and how the international humanitarian system can provide better and more predictable support for disaster response in the future.

The role of partnership in the earthquake surge and relief response
At an international level, there are encouraging signs that the negative experiences from the international surge triggered after Typhoon Haiyan and documented in the Missed Again report are being translated into action with calls for greater investment in national-level first responders. While in Nepal there had been some efforts taken to prepare, the investment made in localising surge capacity had been limited and after the earthquake the focus of many INGOs was to strengthen their own capacity in advance of that of their partners. If disaster response is to be localised, there is an important need to prioritise funding for preparedness and surge capacity both nationally and at a district level.

In terms of the effectiveness of the earthquake response, the findings of the research supported by secondary evidence suggest that partnerships made an essential contribution to the breadth and depth of humanitarian action, although the need to broker new partnerships to reach the scale required may have slowed the response. UN figures suggest that in the initial relief phase many of the priority needs were met, which goes some way to answering one of the most vexing partnership challenges – that of whether partnership can deliver humanitarian assistance at scale. With a few caveats, the earthquake response suggests that it can.

NGO partnership approaches and an assessment of performance
The earthquake response offered some examples of good practice: for pre-existing partnerships, INGOs brought knowledge, training, trust and ambition, which supported local NGOs to quickly scale up and to work more effectively with their international partners. In contrast, newer partnerships were frequently more project-based, with local NGOs often confined to subcontracting roles as INGOs replaced rather than reinforced local capacity. A number of partnership challenges were encountered by local NGOs (see table on page iii) but it was the lack of equity in partnerships that was the most significant concern, and it has taken time for INGOs to start to address this.