Evaluation of WFP response to Hurricane Felix in Nicaragua

Evaluation and Lessons Learned
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Executive Summary

On 04 SEP 2007, a Category 5 hurricane, 'Felix', hit the coast of the Northern Autonomous Region (RAAN) in Nicaragua. WFP responded immediately by distributing emergency relief from existing stocks and launched an immediate response emergency operation (IR-EMOP) to assist 38,000 victims, and a nine-month emergency operation (EMOP) to assist 80,000 persons with a general food distribution (GFD) followed by a supplementary feeding programme (SFP) for 35,000 beneficiaries. WFP also planned food for work (FFW) for 55,000 persons. It is unlikely that the under-funded protracted relief and recovery operation (PRRO) could have achieved the same results. The EMOP was resourced 90 per cent against the appeal. A no-cost extension to NOV 30 2008 was made.

The evaluation objectives were: first, to assess the achievement of objectives, the effectiveness of the means employed, and account for expenditures; and second, to draw lessons to improve hurricane responses in Nicaragua and the region, make recommendations, and highlight good practice. The evaluation used stakeholder discussions, particularly beneficiary perspectives, field observations and secondary data. Some WFP staff were no longer in post and some key informants were not in country, but the evaluation is confident that it succeeded substantially in establishing the facts and securing valid interpretations. The anticipated lack of baseline data on location-specific nutritional status and food security data was a limitation.

The EMOP was designed to assist half of the Government's highest estimate of affected people. The design related well to the livelihood strategies and priorities of beneficiaries by addressing immediate food needs and then recovery of damaged infrastructure and production systems. It accorded with WFP, donor and Government policies and priorities.

Thanks to its previous activities, which contributed directly to preparedness, WFP was able to intervene immediately with GFD, and within a week identified priority needs through an emergency food security assessment (EFSA). A second EFSA in Mar 2008 reviewed progress and changing need.

Efficient staffing and administration were achieved by using existing country office (CO) staff, recruitment of local people in RAAN, and four targeted secondments. Appropriate training for the EFSAs strengthened the response. The logistics unit performed well in a very difficult environment. Sourcing was efficient and without negative effects on local markets or production. Transport was inevitably expensive. Working with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAGFOR) was a strength, particularly in view of the scarcity of other partners.

There was a two-month gap between GFD and FFW phases partly due to shortage of implementing partners (IPs), but eventually they implemented a wide range of FFW activities, restoring and building assets, though achievement of food security was difficult because some beneficiaries prioritized housing recovery over food production. Possibly the nutritional objective was too ambitious given the short time frame, chronic malnutrition and continuing food insecurity.

The ration was nutritionally appropriate, culturally acceptable and delivered equitably throughout targeted communities without marginalization. Nutritional impact could not be measured because the proxy indicators for nutritional status in the logical framework (MUAC and weight-for-height) were not collected. Food covered basic needs for some of the time and reduced expensive food purchases. Rations were smaller than planned, but delivered to more people. Communities used both GFD and FFW to support their recovery. Food provided to vulnerable groups was perhaps less effective than the GFD and FFW, as it did not necessarily contribute to community activities, though it revived use of maternal and child health (MCH) clinics.

The extension recommended by the EFSA was justified by the reduced GFD and FFW food and the time needed to get FFW projects started with few implementing partners. Food assistance will have strengthened self-sufficiency by 30 NOV 2008, but this depends on a successful harvest and restart of the PRRO. There was no aid dependency, but community structures endured.

The EMOP exit strategy was based on the expectation that nutritional status and food security would have improved, rather than on measured nutritional well-being or food security status. On the field evidence of the evaluation, the EMOP is likely to achieve this improvement, but, due to division of affected areas between WFP and other agencies, outcomes depend on other actors. Partnerships have strengthened, infrastructure improved and local capacity developed: these will be of value in the post-EMOP PRRO. Communities have been resilient, self-reliant and able to use food aid in recovery. But chronic malnutrition remains. WFP's challenge in RAAN is, with limited PRRO resources, to respond to chronic food problems while preparing future emergency interventions in a marginalised area with few other actors.

Both timely EFSAs were acknowledged by other agencies to be valuable snapshots of emergency conditions; they also provided sound data for WFP plans and programmes. WFP must maintain its present capacity to carry out emergency need monitoring, and should incorporate these capacities into other programmes to monitor trends. This will provide baselines both for normal conditions (i.e. chronic emergency) and extreme emergency conditions. EFSAs built on the comprehensive food security and vulnerability assessment (CFSVSA) baseline by using some of the same variables; this allowed trend data to be updated.

The logical framework had weaknesses in indicators and in risk assessment; consequently monitoring and reporting varied in quality. WFP must ensure: first, that indicators are suitable for EMOPs; second, that monitors are competent to use the indicators; third, that monitoring partners are fully au fait with WFP norms in monitoring and reporting; fourth, that selected indicators accord with the practices of IPs such as clinics; and fifth that reports to key partners are delivered on time. Indicators must be suitable to emergencies, but relate to those routinely used so as not to be completely novel. Specific nutritional and food security indicators are needed for EMOPs.

Because, using FFW, some beneficiaries prioritised rebuilding homes before agricultural recovery, food production recovered slowly. The EFSAs showed that this was likely and WFP should ensure the use of FFW to secure recovery of food production and purchasing power.

CO had to make a choice between provision of larger numbers of people with smaller rations to improve food security, even at the expense of nutritional objectives. This choice between coverage and nutrition and between nutritional and food security objectives raises the question of whether a short-term EMOP can realistically have the nutritional impact stated in the project objectives.

WFP's partnership with MAGFOR benefited both agencies and allowed WFP to step up effectively from earlier PRRO activities in which they had been involved with WFP. Further development of MAGFOR's monitoring capacity should strengthen the partnership for both emergency and non-emergency work. Other implementing partnerships were strengthened but more implementing partners must be sought.

The EMOP mechanism allows exit strategies to be extended if necessary. Such extensions need explicit justification, whether because more time is needed to complete activities, or whether changing circumstances led to further unmet needs. In the Felix EMOP it appears both changing circumstances and delay in implementation contributed to the need for extension, albeit at no additional cost.

There are 19 recommendations covering preparedness, EFSAs, logical framework, monitoring, partnerships and programme delivery. Under preparedness a major recommendation is to maintain and improve the state of preparedness for emergency through building on experience in the IR-EMOP and EMOP. At the end of the EMOP, with MAGFOR, and possibly with RB and IPs, WFP should undertake an after-action review of WFP and IP performance. This review should be used in the design and modification of the Contingency Plan. The quality of initial EFSAs should be maintained by training in anticipation of emergencies, and the quality of subsequent EFSAs maintained by training, such as was carried out for the second EFSA.

Logical frameworks and monitoring should be improved by linking monitoring and reporting systems to logical framework planning, and with consideration of the capabilities and capacities of monitors. Risk assessment must be more thorough, and assess criticality, probability, urgency and priority of risks. The Programme Support Division of HQ should develop nutritional and food security indicators for EMOPs. If these are not technically possible, proxy indicators such as food consumption surveys or household interviews could be developed. In addition to routine monitoring, CO should consider permanently monitoring in more depth a few sentinel sites, representative of livelihood systems, environments and social structures. These could also identify food sources other than WFP.

WFP should support the institutional development of MAGFOR, by training for monitoring, and implement a computerized monitoring and evaluation (M&E) System, including database management that allows collection of timeline data. CO should plan EMOP exit strategies in relation to harvests so that the probability of recovery is increased.