An evaluation by independent experts published today has found that overall the early stages of the DEC-funded response by its member agencies to the crisis in East Africa was efficient and effective. It also found however that the global response to the crisis which preceded the DEC Appeal had been slow and late.
The consultants concluded that much of the success of the DEC member agencies came from building on their strong existing presence in the region. They said most work they reviewed rightly placed a significant emphasis on mitigating future disasters – measures such as improving traditional wells rather than just trucking in water. DEC agencies were also praised for being accountable to communities through strong consultation, partnership working and clear complaints mechanisms.
The conclusion that the global response preceding the DEC Appeal had been slow and late reinforces many findings of the already published Save the Children and Oxfam report A Dangerous Delay (pdf).
The DEC East Africa Crisis Appeal has raised £75m and so far assistance has been given by member agencies using DEC funds to 1.3m affected people in the region.
Disasters Emergency Committee Chief Executive Brendan Gormley said:
“The UK public can be justifiably proud of the contribution they have made through their donations to saving lives and relieving terrible suffering in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. The money they have already given will continue to benefit many people in the region as our members work alongside local communities to help them rebuild their lives and livelihoods in the months ahead.
“But it should never have come to this. It is a scandal that the world continues to accept such high levels of chronic malnutrition in parts of East Africa and elsewhere. This leaves large numbers of very poor people at constant risk of starvation whenever there is adverse weather, conflict or other shocks.”
“This ongoing scandal was compounded by the fact that the East Africa crisis was accurately predicted and with earlier action many more lives could have been saved. The failure was a systematic one, so while it would not be fair to hold any single part of the humanitarian system solely responsible, nor would it be appropriate for any of us involved to shrink from determining what we must do differently in future.”
Consultants working for Valid International have written reports on what they found in Ethiopia and Kenya as well as a short summary document. Their assessment focused on the DEC-funded response from July 2011, based on field visits from the end of October that year. Security constraints at the time made it impossible to visit and assess work in Somalia and parts of northern Kenya including the Dadaab refugee camps.
The Real Time Evaluation process, of which these reports are the final product, is primarily designed to help DEC member agencies learn from each other’s experiences during the first phase of a disaster response. The full reports are published now to share this learning with others involved humanitarian response, to improve public understanding of disaster response work and to allow interested donors to hold the DEC accountable.
Although the consultants found that agencies did scale up their work efficiently and effectively from the middle of 2011 by building on their existing presence in the region, they said agencies tended to focus primarily on the same locations and areas of expertise as before. This created a risk that agencies would not necessarily reach new areas in great need or respond to needs that were outside their traditional expertise.
In addition, despite finding some good examples of preventative work by DEC member agencies prior to June 2011, the consultants concluded that overall agencies had struggled to scale up to meet the challenge of the emerging crisis in the first half of 2011, often for reasons that were outside their control.
Three main challenges for DEC member agencies in mounting a large scale pre-emptive response identified by the consultants were:
· A lack of donor funds for pre-emptive work despite clear evidence that this could have saved lives, an issue which was deemed a particularly important constraint in Kenya, · Restrictions and delays resulting from the centralised control of the aid effort by the Ethiopian government, although it was noted that Ethiopia had made considerable strides in preparing for disasters and limiting the impact of food crises, and that the government’s strong leadership during the crisis had a number of important benefits. · Inertia by aid agencies themselves which were in many cases slow to ‘change gear’ from their usual long term work to mount an urgent response to the gathering crisis, an issue exacerbated by decision making being split between local, national, regional and multiple international offices.
In addition, the DEC itself highlighted the difficulties of achieving and sustaining a high level of public and media engagement before the worst affects of the crisis were made starkly visible by the arrival of large numbers of severely malnourished Somali refugees in northern Kenya. It noted however that this visibility should not be a necessary precondition to move governments and institutional donors to deliver the levels of funding required for effective pre-emptive action.
The consultants noted that once DEC funds became available they were highly valued by member agencies for the bridging role they played from July 2011 until funds from other sources became available. However DEC funds were not available for pre-emptive work because of the timing of the appeal. The consultant’s noted that earlier public appeals, such as the one launched by the Red Cross in February 2011, received a very poor response.
The DEC is continuing to investigate how it could support its members and the wider humanitarian system to shift to a more pre-emptive, risk-management based approach to future food crises, as recommended by A Dangerous Delay and this evaluation.
Fundraising for the DEC East Africa Appeal closed on 31 January 2012 but the money already raised will continue to be used by member agencies to meet ongoing emergency needs and help people begin to rebuild their lives until July 2013.