Synthesis of key findings from Inter-Agency Humanitarian Evaluations (IAHEs) of the international responses to crises in the Philippines (Typhoon Haiyan), South Sudan and the Central African Republic
Inter-Agency Humanitarian Evaluations (IAHEs) are a relatively new innovation, related to the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Transformative Agenda and triggered automatically by the declaration of a level-three (L3) system-wide emergency. This Synthesis summarizes and assesses the key lessons from the three IAHEs conducted to date: in the Philippines (the response to Typhoon Haiyan) in 2014, in South Sudan in 2015 and in Central African Republic (CAR), also in 2015. The Synthesis aims to highlight areas of convergence and difference in the main findings of the IAHEs, and to point out common conclusions. While many examples of good and effective practice emerge from the evaluations, the focus here is more on the challenges and areas that need corrective action.
Two types of findings emerge from this analysis. The first are those related to the relevance, effectiveness and quality of the United Nations-coordinated inter-agency response viewed as a whole. The second are those related to the inter-agency processes that contributed to the way responses were triggered, informed, planned, resourced, coordinated and reported. Some of the lessons are more relevant to rapid onset and natural disasters (Typhoon Haiyan), while others relate more to slow onset crises or situations of protracted conflict (CAR and South Sudan). A key factor to keep in mind is the difference in the relative levels of development and strength of governance in the three countries, together with the very different operating environments that each presents for humanitarian aid delivery.
The findings reflect the fact that in each case, the ‘inter-agency response’ comprised a set of distinct organizational responses that were more or less well harmonized and coordinated, rather than a unified response guided by a single strategic planning process and managed within a joint strategic framework. This created particular challenges for effective collective action and put a premium on strong senior leadership working across agencies. Each IAHE addresses the particular ways in which these challenges were met, along with the related question: what value do the collective processes add, and at what cost?
In reviewing the relevance and appropriateness of the inter-agency responses in each case, the evaluations all considered joint needs assessments and the extent to which they informed joint and single agency planning processes. All suggest that standard IASC joint multi-sector assessment models need to be adapted to the contexts in which they are applied if they are to be useful. Standard approaches risk being irrelevant in practice.
Concerning the joint planning processes, three main issues are identified. The first is the commonly reported lack of full ownership and buy-in to the Strategic Response Plans (SRPs), even by Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) members and certainly beyond the HCT. This raises questions about accountability for delivery against collectively agreed objectives. Secondly, the SRP is seen as a fundraising document rather than as a strategic road map that provides a basis for the HCT to manage and guide the overall response. The third issue concerns the operational level of planning, which is generally judged to be weak, based too heavily on outputs and vague indicators (“numbers of people reached”), and an inadequate basis for measuring progress.
On the question of effectiveness and the achievement of the SRP objectives, the Typhoon Haiyan evaluation notes that the Philippines country context “created highly favourable conditions for an effective disaster response” and hence was a good test case for inter-agency L3 responses in a positive operating environment. By contrast, neither CAR nor South Sudan provided a favourable context. The response achievements must be seen in this light.
The Typhoon Haiyan evaluation is generally positive in its conclusions about the effectiveness of the United Nations-coordinated response, while noting that its contribution to the overall results was “difficult to assess” in the absence of more data on assistance provided outside of the inter-agency coordinated system (which, strikingly, is estimated by the IAHE team to have made up over 84 per cent of the overall response). The subsequent transition to supporting recovery was judged too slow.
In South Sudan, the inter-agency response is credited with saving lives, preventing the crisis from becoming a major public health catastrophe and (probably) averting famine. That said, weaknesses in monitoring and information management made it difficult to determine the results achieved and their impact. Key achievements include stabilizing acute child malnutrition at pre-conflict levels; effective control of a cholera outbreak in 2014; working with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to protect 100,000 civilians within the mission’s own bases; and “strong, innovative work” on livelihoods—although the impact of these on overall food security could not be separately determined from that of food assistance.
In CAR, the IAHE found that the response “contributed enormously” to relieving the immediate crisis, saving the lives of many Central Africans, reducing suffering and preventing much worse outcomes. However, considered against the more protracted crisis, the response achieved only “modest results” in providing access to basic services, protection and assistance, and “poor results” in livelihoods and recovery. The response was judged highly unsatisfactory in its approach to resilience. Overall, the IAHE concludes that while successful in terms of relief, the inter-agency response missed the opportunity to use the great surge of capacity to address CAR’s protracted crisis.
With regard to international engagement with national and local bodies and with affected populations, the picture that emerges from the IAHEs is a mixed one. As might be expected, the Philippines saw the closest collaboration between the United Nations-led inter-agency response and the Government, at both national and provincial or municipal levels. However, the international emergency response initially tended to bypass national systems and capacities, and it took time for the parallel systems to converge. In CAR and South Sudan, given the preexisting governance and capacity deficits and the politically contested nature of the context, engagement with Government was more limited and circumspect.
With respect to civil society engagement, some good practices are noted in each case, but even in the Philippines the level of engagement was less than might be expected. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the Philippines tended to operate separately from the international NGOs and from the HCT system, and the Typhoon Haiyan IAHE found “limited evidence” of effective engagement between the international response and national and local civil society.
Mutual lack of trust appeared to be a contributing factor to this. In CAR, few national civil society organizations participated in the inter-agency response, though a minority received funding through the Common Humanitarian Fund. In South Sudan, the evaluation found that while national NGOs lacked the capacity to mount a large response, they could have played a greater role than they did and could have been given more support to access responsewide resources, including pooled funding (they received less than 1 per cent of funding overall). International response stakeholders took positive steps in 2015 to encourage greater participation of national NGOs.
Community engagement was a strong feature of the response to Typhoon Haiyan. The evaluation found high levels of attention to Accountability to Affected Populations (AAP), although it lacked some of the necessary feedback elements. In CAR, by contrast, the evaluation found that this aspect of the response, and AAP in particular, was highly unsatisfactory; the failure to listen to the affected population increased “the potential for frustration, fraud and violence”. Likewise in South Sudan, the IAHE found that affected people had not been consistently involved in planning, implementation and decision-making, which affected the relevance and sustainability of programmes.
On coordination and coverage, a few recurrent themes emerge from the three IAHEs. The emphasis on central strategic coordination was not always matched by adequate operational (cluster/sector-level) coordination. Coordination processes tended to be resource-intensive and time consuming; the demand for data to feed information products was seen as “heavy”.
In the Philippines, the evaluation found that coordination mechanisms were well funded and rapidly established, and that the cluster system functioned as planned—although complicated by running in parallel to the Government’s own system. Excellent civil-military coordination greatly assisted the early stage of the response. While there was some unevenness in the geographic distribution of assistance in relation to needs, the IAHE found “no evidence of serious, sustained coverage gaps”.
In CAR, the HCT-led coordination model was questioned and its application widely criticized, especially by international NGOs and global stakeholders. Strategic coordination was considered weak, but operational coordination and efforts to avoid gaps and duplications in assistance were “mostly effective” despite coverage gaps at the sub-national level. In South Sudan, coverage was good in accessible locations and poor in remote locations. Coordination structures and processes were large and complex at the Juba level, but tended to be ad hoc and informal in areas outside the capital and state capitals. Leadership responsibilities were diluted among the various coordination bodies (including HCT and the Inter-Cluster Working Group), and a greater focus was needed on mandates and accountability.
The declaration of an L3 system-wide emergency is generally judged to have been appropriate and effective in each case, particularly in raising the profiles of the crises and enabling resources to be mobilized accordingly. Questions arise in each case as to the proper duration of the L3 designation and the need to switch focus in a timely way (and probably earlier) from relief to recovery while continuing to meet basic needs.
Interesting lessons emerge concerning the application and perceived relevance of the Humanitarian Programme Cycle (HPC) and its component elements. In the Philippines, it proved impossible to follow the HPC planning sequence, and the evaluation suggests that the HPC itself needs to be adapted to context, particularly in rapid onset emergencies. In CAR, the HPC was widely viewed as cumbersome and not well suited to a protracted crisis context.
In South Sudan, while the letter of the HPC was followed, the spirit was not. Since planning energies were directed more towards resource mobilization than operational planning, a basic principle of the HPC—that plans should follow evidence—was not followed.
Finally, with regard to leadership, the concept of empowered leadership was crucial in galvanizing the inter-agency response in CAR, allowing the newly appointed Senior Humanitarian Coordinator (SHC) to provide strong leadership. Tensions were noted in the Philippines, arising from the senior leaders’ need to both meet their own organizations’ expectations as well as contribute fully to the collective enterprise. All three evaluations raise questions about the leadership by the HCT, Inter-Cluster Working Groups and lower levels of coordination, and suggest that greater focus is needed both on empowering these levels of leadership and holding them to account.