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Disasters Emergency Committee RTE of their East Africa Crisis Appeal

Kim Scriven

By Kim Scriven on 16 February 2012.

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Today sees the publication of the Disasters Emergency Committee’s (DEC) Real Time Evaluation (RTE) of their East Africa Crisis Appeal, an important milestone as agencies seek to evaluate and learn from their ongoing responses to this massive and multifaceted emergency.

Reassuringly, for the first major inter-agency RTE published, the evaluators are broadly positive about the ongoing response in Ethiopia and Kenya (the RTE did not look at Somalia). DEC funding is cited as achieving its goal: allowing a scaled-up relief response by member agencies in the second half of 2011. The report notes that scaling up relief activities through existing development programmes is particularly beneficial, something which chimes with ALNAP’s recent drought lessons paper, so it’s great to see these lessons feeding into practice. Despite the scale of need and familiar institutional constraints (for example high staff turnover), the overall quality of response in Kenya and Ethiopia was judged to be high.

One particularly positive area was the high level of accountability to aid recipients achieved by agencies. At least some of the credit for this should go to DEC itself, which has worked hard to develop and roll-out a robust accountability framework across its membership. The report talks about innovative approaches adopted by agencies, with examples such as creative thinking in the design of cash-for-work activities. This ensures vulnerable groups are the main beneficiaries, while enhancing community solidarity about such decisions. It will be important to find ways to more thoroughly document and disseminate such evolving areas of practices for future responses. Another challenge for the future will be evaluating the extent to which these advanced models for accountability can be linked back to the quality of agencies response more generally; something that is often a weakness in evaluations.

The evaluation is, of course, not all positive. The familiar and important criticisms – that such a large scale emergency response was needed at all – are at the top of the list. The report notes that there were two major points at which the system as a whole failed to act: from late 2010 there was a failure of preventative action and from early to mid-2012 there was a collective failure to respond with adequate relief in a timely manner. The usual external constraints such as donor priorities, bureaucracy, as well security and logistical constraints are all cited, but so is the institutional inertia of DEC member agencies – a finding that the leadership of these organisations should note and address. Another striking finding that should cause us all to pause it that “in both Kenya and Ethiopian, it took an essentially ‘foreign’ crisis (in Somalia) to spur international action to respond to the clear but less dramatic crises unfolding in each country.” The question of how to achieve scale up before a situation becomes acute will need to be revisited (again) in the aftermath of the crisis.

This is of course just one RTE – all be it an RTE of a collection of some key INGO players. It will be particularly interesting to see if others outside DEC member agencies share the picture and conclusions painted by the evaluation. The team themselves evidently feel that their findings can speak of the wider system’s response, noting the RTE “can be seen as a snapshot of the performance of the wider system” and that “the overall response by DEC member agencies – and indeed by governments and the wider international community – can be considered only a qualified success.” We’d be particularly interested to hear if others responding in East Africa recognise this view.

 The synthesis report and country studies can be found here: www.dec.org.uk/east-africa-crisis-appeal-evaluations

NOTE: The DEC is an umbrella group comprising fourteen UK NGOs, and provides a platform to appeal for humanitarian funding in the UK, and is an essential channel for rising private funding from the British Public. Its East Africa Appeal Raised £75 million, which is being used by agencies to assist an estimated 1.3 million people across East Africa. A statement of the generosity of individuals at the sight of humanitarian need, the £75 million figure also represents around four per cent of all international funding to the crises.

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