Saturday, April 17, 2010

Haiti ... three months after the earthquake and it seems relief now totally out of control

The Haiti Earthquake Disaster Relief (HEDR) LinkedIn group coordinator has summarized a very large amount of recent data flow as follows:
There are MANY problems illuminated by the Sitreps, and what we can see by comparing one to the next, within a cluster, and similar info between two or more clusters. For some of these problems, it is not yet clear, how the relief effort got into a particular situation, or what exactly they are talking about.
  • Data quality ... here we are 3 months into the relief effort, and what changes from week to week are astronomical changes in the #s of people to be served and microscopic changes in the #s actually served.
  • Future Protection ... one of the areas it seems no one has a good grasp of, are the #s of people in harms way from the rainy season ... is it 40,000 or 400,000 or ... and NOTHING done yet to protect them from Hurricane Season, other than identification 2 months ago of land tenure problems not yet resolved
  • Not so much WASH, but some other reports I recently shared ... people and debris get shuffled around ... a place is established to dump them, enormous effort is expended to fix it up, then they all get kicked out, demolish it, start over, and whatever started over is considered to be temporary. No one knows when it will be recycled. Legal documents are not honored by legal authorities.
  • The latest WASH Sitrep speaks of "... the lack of an overall humanitarian strategy presents great dilemmas for agencies of how much and how to invest in current camps. "
  • There are official (UN+govs) red zones, where the military and police prevent aid from reaching the people in those zones. I have never seen an explanation for this which makes any kind of sense to me.
  • There are the civil society (land owner manager) red zones, where any aid supplied to quake survivors is regularly destroyed or sabotaged by local authorities or property managers, and/or the land owners demand to be paid $$$ in return for letting the relief workers in to help the victims.
  • There are the NGO red zones, where the security situation (criminals and other reasons) is so bad, no volunteers will consent to going in there.
  • Many relief efforts have had to shut down because the funds have run out.
  • Many more are at risk of following them out.
  • It has been known for over a month that there is a need to transfer funds from where there is an excess not being expended, to support underfunded operations. There is only microscopic evidence of anything being done about that.
Separately I have been in contact with a lot of individuals and organizations that are associated with activities in Haiti since the earthquake and it is clear that the emergency management situation has deteriorated catastrophically. It seems that there is nobody in charge and no accountability for anything of substance. I am reminded of previous experience I have had working with UNHCR (the High Commission for Refugess) and UNDP (the development program) where UNHCR was able to do amazing things quickly and UNDP struggled to do quite simple things and took for ever!

With regard to management ... I would argue that a lack of some quite basic information means that there cannot be effective management. Without having a good handle of what is going on in specific places, there will be limited ability to handle problems ... and currently there seems to be "stories" about places, but little coherent and relatively complete data about places.

A report distributed just before the March 31st UN pledging conference shows that the USA has committed over $1 billion to the emergency. To their credit the UN's Financial Tracking Service (FTS) has done a commendable job of consolidating the flows of money coming in ... but information about where the money is and where it has gone to or is going to is not visible to outsiders. Three months after the earthquake, there is now more than $2.5 billion of funds and in kind materials or services that have circulated, and, I think it is fair to say, nobody has a clue how it has been used and whether the use has been good, bad or indifferent.

I have been told over and over again by relief workers that they do not have time for "accounting"! My response is always the same, that if I had the same view about their salary checks, they would raise hell in a hurry ... and that basic accounting is not very time consuming and the information is invaluable in answering the eventual "accountability" question.

Much of the problem with data ... which does not help with accountability, is that there has been little guidance about how to convert rather disorganized daily data into very deep and valuable accountability material. People ought to know who they are, what date it is, what organization they are with, what they are doing, and where they are doing it. A journal ... a day book with this information is all it takes to have the raw material for an excellent foundation of data for accountability. In the modern era ... this information can be either on old fashioned paper, or it can transmitted using Twitter or SMS massages.

If the dataflow is trying to be more immediately valuable, the state of the place can be journalized and compared to what the place was like before ... either yesterday, or a week ago, or a month ago. The lack of trend and change information that is easy to understand seems to be a significant issue in the data overload that presently characterizes the Haiti ground work.

If people cannot be the source of data ... then organizations have to be the source of data. ALL the organizations take the view that they do not have the time ... but I regard this as a total "cop-out" and find the unwillingness of major organizations to have some modest level of transparency and to address the accountability issue to be totally reprehensible. The mindset MUST BE CHANGED!

Peter Burgess

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