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Emergency Relief - Lessons Learnt and International Initiatives


A man wades through flooded fields in Reikhbaghwala village in Pakistan's Punjab province. Forests along the Indus have made way for agricultural land, now also flooded. Photo: Jaspreet Kindra/IRIN.2007-2009 Crisis lessons
South Asia 2005
Indian Ocean Tsunami 2004
Liberia Crisis 2003
Iraq 2003
Afghanistan 2001
General lessons
International Initiatives

2007-2009 Crisis lesson papers from ALNAP

The following papers are on the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP) website:

  • Responding to Urban Disasters 2009: Responding to urban disasters: Learning from previous relief and recovery operations, July 2009, Ian O'Donnell and Kristin Smart with Ben Ramalingam
  • Darfur 2009: Where to Now? Agency Expulsions in Sudan: Consequences and Next Steps, March 2009 by Sara Pantuliano, Susanne Jaspars and Deepayan Basu Ray
  • Gaza Crisis 2009: Deepening Crisis in Gaza: Lessons for Operational Agencies, February 2009, Ben Ramalingam, Sara Pavanello and Kim Scriven
  • Global Food Price Crisis 2008: The Global Food Price Crisis: Lessons and Ideas for Relief Planners and Managers, November 2008, Ben Ramalingam, Karen Proudlock and John Mitchell
  • Responding to Earthquakes 2008: Responding to Earthquakes: Learning from earthquake relief and recovery operations, July 2008, John Cosgrave
  • Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar 2008: Cyclone Nargis: Lessons for operational agencies, May 2008, Ben Ramalingam and Sara Pavanello. (Related article: Will corruption hurt Myanmar relief effort? AlertNet, 19 June 2008
  • Flood Disasters 2008: Flood Disasters: learning from previous relief and recovery operations, January 2008, Khurshid Alam and Flood response in southern Africa should draw on key lessons from global experience ODI, 21 January 2008
  • Slow-onset Disasters 2007: Slow-onset disasters: drought and food and livelihoods insecurity. Learning from previous relief and recovery responses, June 2007, Kerren Hedlund

South Asia 2005  

Learning from Previous Earthquakes, September 2005, Tony Beck and South Asia Earthquake 2005: Learning from Previous Recovery Operations, December 2005, Tony Beck

Indian Ocean Tsunami 2004

Tsunami Emergency - Lessons from Previous Natural Disasters January 2005, Rachel Houghton, (includes an Oxfam Case Study on Cash Responses, 2001)

Tsunami Evaluation Coalition Synthesis Report. The Tsunami Evaluation Coalition (TEC) is an independent, learning and accountability initiative in the humanitarian sector. It was established in February 2005 in the wake of the December 2004 st1:place w:st="on">Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunamis. TEC evaluations represent the most intensive study of a humanitarian response since the Rwanda multi-donor evaluation in the mid-1990s.

Recipient Perceptions of Aid Effectiveness - Fritz Institute conducted the first survey of aid beneficiaries across organizations, countries and time in response to the South Asia Tsunami. In partnership with TNS, a global social science research organization with a local presence in the affected countries, the Institute undertook a large-scale quantitative study of aid recipients in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka. These surveys, which included interviews with over 4,000 families from hundreds of affected villages, provide a record of the destruction of the Tsunami, the devastation on the lives and livelihoods, their perceptions of the quality, effectiveness and appropriateness of aid, and the challenges that they continue to face.

Tsunami Recovery: Taking Stock after 12 Months This report, from the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for tsunami recovery, former US President Bill Clinton, documents the status of the recovery effort at 12 months.

An independent evaluation of the Disaster Emergency Committee response to the tsunami crisis (December 2005).

Donor issues in the tsunami response: the view from DFID By Peter Troy, DFID.

Cash-based transfers – and alternatives – in tsunami recovery programmes By Lesley Adams, Tsunami Cash Learning Project, HPG. The tsunami response has allowed international humanitarian agencies to test and develop new approaches to disaster recovery. One such approach is the use of cash in place of traditional commodity transfers.

Linking preparedness and performance: the tsunami experience By Anisya Thomas, Fritz Institute.

Western NGOs and the Tsunami Test –Open Democracy (December 21, 2005) The December 2004 tsunami in South Asia resulted in one of the most critical humanitarian emergencies in contemporary times. Nearly a year later, many NGOs are being retrospectively congratulated for their role in helping people and infrastructure recover from the disaster. However, this ‘openDemocracy’ article points out that NGOs were not entirely successful in their recovery efforts. In future emergencies of such a large scale, NGOs must work together to coordinate both the quality and quantity of aid that they deliver.

The international tsunami response: showcase or circus? By Caroline Nursey, Oxfam GB.

OECD tracks tsunami aid  "While generous, the tsunami response revealed the need for major improvements in the systems for humanitarian aid. These include getting aid to affected areas quickly; coordinating emergency responses to fit with long term development policies; and being transparent and accountable with aid funds. "

Liberia Crisis 2003

Key Lessons from Evaluations of Humanitarian Action in LiberiaSeptember 2003, Rachel Houghton.

Iraq 2003

Iraq and Rehabilitation: Lessons from Previous Evaluations May 2003, by Niels Dabelstein and Rob Van Den Berg.

Afghanistan 2001

Aid Responses to Afghanistan: Lessons from Previous Evaluations
12-13th December 2001, Submitted by Niels Dabelstein, Chair of the DAC Working Party on Aid Evaluation to the DAC Senior Level Meeting

General lessons

The report, Mapping Accountability in Humanitarian Assistance, produced for ALNAP (see below), examines approaches to accountability, drawing on current practices and initiatives in the humanitarian sector, and experience in other sectors.

Humanitarian assistance: breaking the waves of complex political emergencies: a literature survey Joakim Gundel, Centre for Development Research Working Paper 99.5, August 1999.
The different outcomes of what can be termed humanitarian assistance interventions have sometimes been successful, at other times mixed, and in some cases even disastrous. This literature survey is an attempt to discern the main issues of the debates.

International Initiatives

The Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP) is a collective response by the humanitarian sector, dedicated to improving humanitarian performance through increased learning and accountability.

The Humanitarian Response Review (HRR) was launched by the Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC) to assess the humanitarian response capacities of the UN, NGOs, Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement and other key humanitarian actors including the International Organization for Migration (IOM), to identify the gaps and make recommendations to address them.

EU Presidency Statement - Strengthening of the Co-ordination of Humanitarian and Disaster Relief Assistance of the UN, November 8 2004

The Tsunami Evaluation Coalition (TEC) was established in February 2005 in the wake of the December 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunamis. TEC evaluations represent the most intensive study of a humanitarian response since the Rwanda multi-donor evaluation in the mid-1990s.

Strengthening National Capacities for Tsunami Early Warning and Response Systems in the Indian Ocean. This was an inter-agency initiative to support Indian Ocean governments to develop and strengthen their national plans for tsunami early warning and response. It was launched by a consortium of international bodies that are part of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) system.

The Sphere Project: Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response Humanitarian agencies committed to this Charter and to the Minimum Standards aim to achieve defined levels of service for people affected by calamity or armed conflict, and to promote the observance of fundamental humanitarian principles.

The People in Aid Code of Best Practice in the Management and Support of Aid Personnel The People in Aid Code of Best Practice consists of a statement of principles and a set of indicators to enable implementation, accompanied by actual examples of good practice supplied by UK and Irish aid agencies and sources of further information.

The 1994 Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in Disaster Relief (RRN Network Paper 7). This brief code with its three annexes – a collaborative product of many of the largest non-governmental agencies within the global relief system – sets standards for the work of NGOs involved in the provision of humanitarian aid.

Evaluating Humanitarian Action using the OECD-DAC Criteriaby Tony Beck, 2006. This guide was developed after discussions within the evaluation community, and within ALNAP in particular, about how to strengthen evaluation of humanitarian practice, and how to foster more effective use of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) evaluation criteria. The DAC evaluation criteria are currently at the heart of the evaluation of humanitarian action (EHA) - including within evaluations themselves and as part of agency guidance.

World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Disaster Risk Reduction Programme

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