Part I
Financial Information and Analysis

Ten Key Lessons for OCHA
The Tsunami Evaluation Coalition, the South Asia Earthquake and the Lebanon Crisis

In 2006, the Evaluation and Studies Section led or participated in evaluation activities ranging from independent system-wide evaluations of the international response to the Indian Ocean tsunami and an inter agency evaluation of the drought response in the Horn of Africa to internal lesson learning reviews of OCHA’s performance during the Pakistan and Lebanon emergency responses. Some of the lessons learned are specific to OCHA, while others relate more generally to emergency response.

While each response differed in nature and scale, general lessons can be drawn to inform the way OCHA responds to crises, manages relationships and develops internal procedures to ensure consistent coordination. These lessons are timely for two reasons:

The following ten lessons are derived from some of OCHA’s most important experiences in 2006. Many are not new and echo earlier evaluations and reviews.



Surge Capacity

Lesson 1: Weak surge capacity due to insufficient human resources assigned for surge continues to hamper early response and the rapid scaling-up of humanitarian presence in sudden-onset emergencies. More investment is needed in surge staffing and emergency rosters, as well as the inclusion of quality, geographically diverse staff with broad experience.

OCHA repeatedly faced the problem of weak surge capacity. While there are several surge mechanisms available (internal, UNDAC, standby partnerships), these need to be managed in a more cohesive and complementary way. A functional review of all surge instruments, including a profiling of surge staff capacities, could provide insights into the creation of a more effective overall mechanism for surge and standby capacity.

The holiday period timing of the Indian Ocean tsunami as well as its multi-regional impact revealed serious limitations in all actors’ ability to rapidly deploy staff. Weak surge capacity meant that in some cases, untested consultants and inexperienced and junior staff were deployed.

Existing surge rosters need to include a more diverse range of staff that speak relevant languages and understand the dynamics of countries to which they may be deployed. Surge teams should be tailored to the needs of the emergency and have expertise in areas such as information management, coordination (including civil–military), reporting and environmental issues. The absence of a consolidated in-house roster and regular information exchange among the existing and operational rosters should also be addressed. OCHA should ensure that high-quality national staff have the opportunity to deploy to emergencies in other countries.

An online accreditation programme for current and future humanitarian workers could be developed, including only those – or alternatively favouring those – who have taken the minimum number of credits. This would be in line with the TEC recommendation to improve professionalism in humanitarian agencies by establishing accreditation and certification mechanisms.

>> Short-term external emergency staff are instrumental during crises within a development context like Lebanon

Bringing in extra external capacity for a condensed period of time – a special HC, experienced emergency staff and services like the United Nations Joint Logistic Centre and Humanitarian Information Centres (HICs) – proved crucial to bolstering and reorienting the humanitarian response in Lebanon.

Natural disaster responses have shown that where the capacity of actors on the ground is geared towards the development environment, the expertise provided by short-term external emergency staff is instrumental in defining the response. Agencies’ headquarters need to quickly assess the capacity of humanitarian CTs and establish how best to support them and to transfer capacity and knowledge to in-country actors.

The responses to the emergencies in Pakistan and Lebanon were quick: within 8–10 hours of the earthquake, OCHA and UNDAC had deployed staff to Pakistan, and in Lebanon, rapid deployment occurred even in the face of heavy bombardment. While OCHA was quick to deploy its first team, subsequent full and appropriate capacity was often not reached during the height of the emergency. The response in Lebanon never reached critical mass and lacked the appropriate balance and regional expertise. In Sri Lanka, the HIC was only fully staffed ten months after the tsunami. Common to both the tsunami and Lebanon responses, there was a lack of clear and transparent planning and decision-making on the profile and numbers of staff to be deployed, recruitment and equipping of the OCHA Office. In Pakistan, the later replacement of surge capacity with regular staff was delayed, leading to the prolonged deployment of UNDAC teams.




Lesson 2: In order to attract instant funding and allow agencies to mobilize quickly, the initial flash appeal should be issued within a few days, based on quick common needs assessments. A more rigorous joint needs assessment involving national stakeholders should then take place and inform a subsequent revision of the appeal a few weeks later. Appeals must be realistic in order to be credible and help meet the needs of the affected population.

In the tsunami-affected countries, pressure from United Nations senior management to propose a very large aid operation in the initial flash appeal led to unrealistic expectations for its implementation. This resulted in later problems with reallocating emergency funds to longerterm recovery. One lesson from this and other appeals is that the duration of appeals should be more clearly defined – whether for short-term relief or longer-term transitional needs – according to realistic operational capacities. A flash appeal of the magnitude seen in the tsunami-affected countries should be restricted to relief needs plus some basic early recovery activities. The IASC policy to follow a flash appeal with a better-informed, longer-term consolidated appeal (if necessary) should be adhered to.

>> Tracking expenditure and revising the flash appeal down in Lebanon – a positive signal to the government

Donors responded well to the flash appeal in Lebanon, enabling relief operations to be launched without delay. Six weeks after the appeal launch, and at the request of the Lebanese Finance Minister, an interim humanitarian report on its progress provided assurance to the host government and indicated to donors that an overall monitoring system was in place. This reporting ensured that the government and donors received real-time information on how their money was spent and what was achieved, enabling the impact of aid to be monitored.

Two months after the initial launch, the early phasing out of the humanitarian response and the shortening of the flash appeal’s lifespan provided a second positive signal that the government was in the driver’s seat and that humanitarian needs had largely been met – a step welcomed by donors.

There was concern in the Horn of Africa that the flash appeal risked becoming institutionalized as a funding mechanism for a broad range of needs. It must be recognized that neither consolidated nor flash appeals can address chronic structural problems of extreme poverty and insecurity. Other financing mechanisms, such as insurance schemes and social safety nets, must be developed to avoid this.

>> Lessons from the outpouring of sympathy following the tsunami

The media attention surrounding the tsunami resulted in an outpouring of sympathy from the public and governments around the world, presenting new opportunities for funding and partnerships for OCHA and other humanitarian organizations.

In Sri Lanka, it was reported that some people came to the OCHA Office with generous offers of telecommunications and other support, but there was no capacity to follow these up. There was also no tracking of whether advice was followed to submit their offers elsewhere. OCHA must appoint a private sector focal point on the ground (in tandem with the private sector focal point at headquarters) to assist with channelling and responding to such offers.

The Pakistan flash appeal was undertaken more quickly than previous large-scale flash appeals (launched within three days of the earthquake) but consequently it suffered from a lack of high-quality information and analysis. The appeal was successfully revised a few weeks later when better information and government plans were available.

Humanitarian actors must become more transparent and accountable to affected populations and the public – a concern often expressed following the tsunami. The IASC responded to this, expanding its financial tracking system (FTS) to display expenditure for projects in the tsunami flash appeal, online and in real time. This achieved the goal of providing public access to funding information, but the real-time provision of this information was found to be a burden to aid agencies, there was duplication of information from different databases and there were complaints that the FTS did not provide as much detail as expected. OCHA and UNDP have now agreed on a model for transitioning from the FTS for the flash appeal period to the Development Assistance Database (DAD) in the longer-term recovery period.

Fund-raising strategies must take better account of non-traditional donors (including civil society and the private sector) and develop procedures for engaging with them. The Horn of Africa and tsunami evaluations found that civil society, expatriates and the private sector play a critical role in resource mobilization during an emergency. United Nations fund-raising strategies should target civil society in affected countries and overseas populations, but it should be noted that OCHA will need to make a significant investment in new procedures in order to start working with these non-traditional donors.



Disaster Risk Reduction

Lesson 3: The impact of natural disasters can be greatly reduced and loss of lives minimized if risk reduction becomes a standard feature of preparedness and response. OCHA should support the capacity-building of national actors to ensure that appropriate disaster risk reduction strategies are embedded in national contingency and preparedness plans as well as in ongoing development programs and policies.

The lack of preparedness by the United Nations and its partners was a common theme in evaluations, highlighting the importance of developing contingency planning and disaster-preparedness with government and local institutions. This should involve a regional component – as would have assisted the response in the tsunami-affected countries and in Lebanon. Good practice at the national level was evident in Pakistan and Lebanon. OCHA supported the establishment of the Pakistan Disaster Management Authority and seconded a National Disaster Response Adviser to the country. In Lebanon, before withdrawing its Office, OCHA supported the government’s development of a disaster preparedness plan. These initiatives were welcomed, however they were also perceived by some as ‘too little too late’.

>> Preparedness in the Horn of Africa

In the Horn of Africa, countries with viable governments were well prepared to scale up commodity-based responses using pre-existing mechanisms in a slow-onset disaster. However, sectoral responses to health and nutrition, water/sanitation and livelihoods needs were mainly ad hoc and not prepared for a rapidly evolving crisis.

While early warning systems in the Horn of Africa region were effective in collecting and disseminating a wide range of early warning data, there was little information exchange between early warning systems and regional actors. In addition, needs assessments in early warning systems focused on agriculture while neglecting gender and urban issues.

There is a continuing need to make the humanitarian response more demand-driven, and improving preparedness would have a positive effect on the appropriateness of aid delivery. Contingency planning and disaster preparedness should identify locally appropriate responses, and, at the headquarters level, non-standard gender-sensitive approaches to these should be examined.

There are many examples of inappropriate and supplydriven aid provision – such as the winter clothing provided to the Indonesian Red Cross or the tents suitable for hot climates provided in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. In the tsunami-affected countries, this was in part due to the pressure on donors from the media to be seen to be responding – pointing to the need to better educate the media.

Agencies struggled to identify ways to provide assistance in the middle-income, urban and politically complex Lebanese context, with the ability to support its own population. Greater emphasis on assessment and working with local capacity, and engaging competent staff from the region and the country, would help to avert many mistakes in aid provision. It should be noted that working more closely with non-state and local actors will require different skill sets and staffing capacity.



Information Management

Lesson 4: The lack of a common needs assessment methodology impedes coordinated planning and response. OCHA must take the lead in developing a common needs assessment methodology and an information management platform within the cluster approach.

The quality and accuracy of assessments was widely criticized, and in general they failed to influence decisionmaking: ‘Too often, situation reports and assessments served the interest or mandate of the assessing agency more than that of the potential beneficiary’ (TEC Needs Assessment Report).

>> TEC Needs Assessment Evaluation

Agreed standards of assessment quality and approach were lacking in the response to the tsunami. Common, countrywide information standards, definitions, criteria and software were not established, and as a result there was an uncoordinated, duplicative scramble for ill-defined, rarely shared data. Assessors used multiple assessment forms of variable quality and methodology, ultimately covering some areas repeatedly and others not at all.

Much more should be done to improve the assessment of needs and to use this information to shape the humanitarian response. In Lebanon, agencies could have done more to assist municipalities in identifying beneficiaries and in listening to their views on the neediest sections of their communities. For example, the municipalities believed that host families should receive assistance while the United Nations agencies identified IDPs as priority recipients. Some municipalities responded by stockpiling assistance to ensure that all those they believed needed assistance in their communities would
receive it. This raises questions about whether United Nations targeting practices were appropriate, particularly in a context where cultural norms require attention. This failure to listen to and support host communities was also noted in the tsunami response evaluation.

To develop its relevance and usefulness, OCHA’s information management systems must be aligned with humanitarian reform. More specifically, the HIC needs to redefine its role within the cluster system: with clusters now responsible for collecting cluster-specific information, the HIC must focus on consolidating this information. The lack of analysis provided by HICs was criticized in several of the evaluations undertaken in 2006. While the role of the HIC is emphasized as one of information management and not analysis, OCHA must ensure systematic analysis of the data provided by the HICs – whether this is undertaken within or between clusters.

In Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the HIC was criticized for locating the majority of its staff at the capital level. Subsequently, in Lebanon the HIC quickly located its staff and equipment in the southern Lebanese hub of Tyre.


Lesson 5: Collection of gender- and age-disaggregated data and gender-sensitive needs assessment and monitoring are essential for effective targeted programming. In large-scale emergencies, the RC/HC should be supported by the early deployment of a gender adviser to provide technical advice and facilitate gender equality programming.

The TEC found that the tsunami response lacked a consistent, quantified and coordinated gender analysis – an omission that resulted in serious protection anomalies and the persistence of male-dominated decision-making structures. Gender disaggregated data for targeting programmes was absent.

>> Emergency response still male-biased in Indonesia

A group of war widows in an Aceh village chose to leave their temporary shelters to avoid violence in the camps even though going back to their villages meant that they could not receive assistance. Similarly, a claim-holder survey in Sri Lanka found that women respondents were less satisfied with all phases of the tsunami response than their male counterparts. Six months into the recovery period, needs assessment data and baseline data for the HIC were not gender and age-disaggregated.

The TEC recommends the deployment of a gender Officer to the HC’s Office to support the mainstreaming of gender issues through all programmes. There is also a need to build capacity among humanitarian actors, through clear guidance on gender- and age-aware information gathering.



Advocacy and Communications

Lesson 6: Unless there is a consistent and coordinated advocacy strategy which encompasses public information, media outreach and mass communications, humanitarian aid will inevitably be criticized for lacking transparency, responsiveness and understanding of local contexts. More consistent informati-onsharing would also contribute to reducing opportunities for manipulation and corruption of humanitarian funds.

Evaluations conducted in 2006 consistently referred to OCHA’s added value in raising the profile of crises in the media and with donors. Visits by the ERC, along with proactive advocacy strategies by RCs/HCs and OCHA, were praised – particularly when the information was translated into the language of the affected population.

However, there was no effective joint agency mass communication with affected populations, including a complaints procedure and information-sharing on the availability and use of funds and planned activities. Little attention was given to mass communications in the first six months in particular, with the exception of Lebanon – partly due to self-imposed restrictions by agencies with committed project money. The expertise of certain United Nations agencies (such as UNICEF and UNHCR) should be tapped to assist OCHA to improve in this area: OCHA should be at the forefront of coordinating common advocacy and communications strategies for emergencies. Scarcity of information and unfounded rumours led to dissatisfaction in affected populations – something that is relatively easily addressed with transparent and regular public information-sharing (at the same time as mitigating opportunities for corruption). To minimize corruption, strict anti-fraud and anti-corruption strategies should be developed and widely shared by humanitarian CTs. A public information strategy can address potential image issues of international actors, a lesson also identified during the Iraq response.

>> The public image of the United Nations in Lebanon – the benefits of a proactive advocacy strategy

The situation in Lebanon confirmed the need to improve the unpopular image of the United Nations in the Middle East. During the conflict, two Arab United Nations Goodwill Ambassadors resigned from their posts in protest over what they saw as the United Nations’ ineffective political response to the conflict. Despite this, OCHA and the HC were able to partially restore the United Nations’ image through a proactive advocacy strategy. The Secretary-General, the ERC and the HC strongly condemned the atrocities, demanding humanitarian access for aid convoys, the lifting of Israel’s economic blockade and the handing over of information on the firing of cluster bombs into southern Lebanon by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The HC’s message that the crisis was one of protection and not a humanitarian disaster was welcomed. The presence of staff focused on media and advocacy was crucial in achieving this.



Supporting Local Capacity

Lesson 7: Working with highly capable national authorities requires a different coordination approach. OCHA needs to review its interaction with national coordination structures and develop guidance for staff on how to complement national coordination systems.

Several evaluations criticized the way the international response displaced national response mechanisms rather than building on them. Too often separate coordination and response mechanisms were established on the assumption that local capacities were weak. While this may have been the case during the early stages in some contexts, it took too long for the international response to scale down, handover and phase out.

National response capacity was demonstrated in the ways appropriate new institutions were promptly created (for example the Federal Relief Commission in Pakistan and the Higher Relief Commission in Lebanon) and existing institutions began action (for example the Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Agency in Ethiopia). In Lebanon and Pakistan, the humanitarian community introduced the cluster approach to these institutions, which generally received a positive response.

Despite the existence in many cases of strong national governments with well-developed institutions and functioning legal frameworks, at the local government level coordination mechanisms are often much less developed. The TEC evaluation pointed out that OCHA must place more emphasis on supporting local coordination structures rather than deploying junior or inexperienced staff or consultants to the province or district level. Effective coordination at the sub-national level requires as much expertise as at the national level, and this must be reflected in OCHA’s deployment strategy.

A mapping of local capacities and potential partners during contingency planning or pre-disaster periods, and appropriate training, would lead to more effective coordination with local actors concerned and enable international actors to effectively contribute to, rather than displace, national response capacity.

In Pakistan, many local NGOs quickly formed to provide services and implement projects following the earthquake, yet few had appropriate experience or capacity. To manage this issue better, OCHA would require additional staffing capacity to address non-government actors in contingency planning and preparedness processes.

In the tsunami-affected countries, the sheer number of actors made it difficult to develop a cohesive coordination system. In such cases, NGOs should be encouraged to create NGO-specific national and international coordination platforms that appoint representatives to the IASC-CT.


Lesson 8: Agencies should develop an exit strategy in tandem with their entry strategy to ensure proper handover to national government.

To better support national government capacity, humanitarian actors should ensure the connectedness of short-term emergency activities and longer-term recovery. In both Pakistan and Lebanon, the humanitarian CT successfully handed over local coordination mechanisms to national authorities; clusters in both contexts coordinated the mechanics of ending or transforming the cluster at the conclusion of the emergency phase well.

Coordination capacity established for the emergency phase is usually quickly dismantled, as was the case in Lebanon. The combining of the RC and HC offices, as was done in Sri Lanka, was seen by many as the preferred way to avoid a rupture in coordination services during the transition period.



Relationship with the Military

Lesson 9: An effective humanitarian response requires appropriate coordination with national and international military bodies. Civil–military coordination must be strategic and adequately resourced to best integrate military support into humanitarian response.

The evaluations reveal both missed opportunities and some successes; cooperation with the military should be further explored. In Pakistan, the military was well positioned to respond, and United Nations coordination ensured that the military granted access to politically and militarily sensitive areas, such as Pakistan-administered Kashmir – where prior to the earthquake, access had been tightly controlled. This improved situation has been sustained.

>> Lebanon – an innovative approach to working with the military

The notification and concurrence procedure established by the United Nations with the IDF in Tel Aviv during the conflict was an unusual but successful approach. For the first time, United Nations personnel deployed inside the IDF operations
meant that there was a constant link between Israel and operations in Lebanon. Furthermore, the IDF developed a greater understanding, and possibly even respect, for the work of United Nations agencies. The situation enabled relatively safe passage of humanitarian convoys, and the notification procedure has the potential to be developed into a standard operating procedure for use elsewhere.

There are also limitations to working with the military. For example, the IDF denied access for humanitarian organizations south of the Litani River in Lebanon during the conflict, and prevented the movement of Lebanese civilians trapped in the far south of the country along the Blue Line bordering Israel and Lebanon.

>> Lessons on civil–military coordination from the tsunami response

During the acute phase of the tsunami emergency, military logistics were an invaluable part of the response. However, the humanitarian community failed to provide military bodies with a coherent assessment of needs across all countries. OCHA’s civil–military capacity was limited by: shortcomings in its surge roster; lack of technical support; questionable terms of reference; weak pre-deployment briefings; difficulties with emergency contracting arrangements; and petty cash availability. OCHA has since produced a ‘United Nations Humanitarian CMCoord Concept’ which was endorsed by the IASC in May 2005, and CMCS staff are now routinely deployed during the early stages of a sudden-onset disaster.



The Cluster Approach to Coordination

Lesson 10: There were initial problems in the application of the new cluster approach in 2006, in part due to lack of guidance and effective dissemination of the approach’s principles and objectives to the field. As with any new approach, a solid testing and learning period is required to ensure that lessons identified inform ongoing practice and guidance.

Although it was agreed that the cluster approach would be first applied to new major emergencies in 2006, the interagency response to the South Asia earthquake of October 2005 offered an early opportunity to test the approach, and the UNDAC team, the HC and the humanitarian CT applied it as a framework for coordinating the emergency response. Ten months later, it was applied for a second time in the major sudden-onset emergency in Lebanon. In 2006, it was also applied in several ongoing emergencies (including Liberia, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia) and in two new emergencies (the Philippines, Indonesia [Yogyakarta earthquake]).

>> The demonstrated benefits of the cluster approach in Pakistan

The inter-agency real-time evaluation of the cluster approach in the South Asia earthquake found that the new approach provided a single and recognizable framework for coordination, collaboration, decision-making and practical problem-solving in a chaotic operational environment. It was seen as flexible and adaptable to the in-country situation. However, for the clusters to function effectively as a coordination tool, not just an information-sharing tool, the approach
needs to be strengthened – notably through the greater participation of OCHA.

The evaluations showed that there were several potential areas of improvement for the cluster approach. In both Pakistan and Lebanon, humanitarian CTs showed an inconsistent understanding of the cluster approach. In some instances, cluster leads faced difficulties in separating their cluster responsibilities (acting as independent brokers for all cluster members) from their agency-mandated functions. The participation by NGOs and government representatives in the clusters, particularly in Pakistan, was inconsistent. Gender, human rights and the environment tended to be overlooked in
clusters’ planning and activities. Some staff lacked the leadership experience and skills to coordinate clusters, and the information management function of the clusters was weak. The tendency to ‘over-clusterize’, or create unnecessary sub-clusters, was problematic.

In Somalia, the external real-time evaluation found that the cluster approach was valuable, in particular for the mobilization of resources, but that the approach placed considerable demands on participating organizations. The approach was not implemented in the rest of the drought-affected Horn of Africa countries because of the existence of established, government-driven coordination mechanisms.

Since mid 2006 and the creation of a Humanitarian Reform Support Unit, OCHA has made a concerted effort to address specific early concerns about the implementation of the cluster approach, including those raised in the evaluations. In the subsequent application of the approach in disasters affecting Indonesia (Yogyakarta) and the Philippines, feedback on the added value of the approach has been increasingly positive.