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IASC Real-Time Evaluation of the Humanitarian Response to the Horn of Africa Drought Crisis in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya - Synthesis Report

Evaluation and Lessons Learned
Originally published


  1. Executive Summary

1.1 Tens of thousands of people died, hundreds of thousands were displaced, and millions suffered deep erosion of livelihoods and assets in the 2011 drought crisis. However, the majority of the 13 million people affected received life-saving aid that prevented disaster. Suffering and mortality were most extreme for people in Somalia, and for Somali refugees moving to Ethiopia. Humanitarian response reached most people in time in Ethiopia and Kenya, but it failed to prevent a famine in Somalia.

1.2 The crisis was regional across three countries because drought and food price rises were regional, but also because interlocking regional conflict affected people’s choices, restricted humanitarian aid, and created internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees. Successive rain failure made people dangerously vulnerable to the El Niño affect that hit the region in 2010/11. Actions by all warring parties in the region inhibited and greatly complicated the humanitarian response.

1.3 Late humanitarian response was a problem in all three countries, but the effects of delay were much more disastrous in Somalia where people were in a more desperate situation. Ethiopia’s sophisticated food security and humanitarian system ultimately responded well and saved many thousands of lives. Kenya’s response was slow but eventually effective. Response in Somalia was profoundly compromised by conflict and the lack of an overarching humanitarian strategy. Humanitarian response only got to scale when the worst had past. Famine could have been avoided.

1.4 Responsibility for failings in Somalia must be shared by the politicized aid strategies of al-Shabaab,
Western counter-terrorist policy and the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT). Gradual withdrawals of Western aid seriously reduced food-aid volumes throughout 2010. Potential criminalization of aid agencies inhibited aid requests and aid flows in the important run-up to the famine. Al-Shabaab’s bans on the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and several non-governmental organizations (NGOs)—with no good alternative humanitarian plan—restricted people’s options at a crucial time.
The HCT’s misreading of the crisis led to insufficient urgency, an inappropriate strategy and a late response.

1.5 Most parties later mitigated initial failings in Somalia and caught up on their late starts in Kenya and Ethiopia. In Somalia, US and European donors commendably loosened aid-risk restrictions to respond fast and flexibly once famine was declared. Islamic States, UN agencies, NGOs and Islamic humanitarian organizations became dynamic and effective. Similar international engagement scaled up Government efforts after early inertia in Kenya and delays from political negotiation over numbers in Ethiopia.

1.6 Early warning was accurate and timely across the region. It prompted some early action in Ethiopia but not in Somalia and Kenya. In Somalia, local early warning was good quality but irregular, and the use of proper needs assessments was patchy by UN agencies and NGOs. Early warning in northern Kenya failed to mobilize the Government and the HCT.

1.7 Humanitarian strategies, planning and resource mobilization were very strong in Ethiopia but weak in Kenya. They initially failed in Somalia. Famine prevention in Ethiopia built on strong Government, donor, UN and NGO partnerships. The Kenyan Government response needed strong international support and had a low base of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and resilience links from which to respond. Somalia had very weak Government leadership, and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) cluster system failed to design and deliver a coherent strategy on time.

1.8 Coordination and connectedness worked well in Ethiopia, except around the refugee acute emergency response, but were uneven in Kenya and weak in Somalia. Ethiopian inter-agency coordination was improved by a new high-level mechanism co-chaired with the Humanitarian Coordinator (HC). Kenya’s sector working groups performed well when strongly supported by international agencies, but most were weak at the field level. Somalia’s cluster system failed to achieve strategic coherence and operational coverage in the early stages of the crisis.

1.9 The humanitarian system can learn important policy lessons from this crisis. These lessons indicate the importance of anti-famine governance; the management of “aid risk” in conflict; multi-year funding cycles; cash transfers; more-refined pastoralist responses; and key changes in IASC organizational culture and practice.

1.10 This synthesis report provides a short and immediately usable summary of real-time evaluation (RTE) lessons learned for the benefit of the wider global humanitarian system. It focuses on what worked well and what did not. It will be circulated widely to IASC agencies and stakeholders, and it is the first such synthesis of an RTE.