Sunday, May 30, 2010

Haiti ... American Red Cross ... and how to show how well they are doing ... or not!

Dear Colleagues

In a few days I will be having a meeting with the American Red Cross (ARC) in Washington DC. The purpose of the meeting is for me to share the basic concepts of Community Analytics (CA) with some of the ARC staff ... and for me to learn from them what issues they are faced with in connection with their work in Haiti.

Clearly the news stories about relief and development progress in Haiti are becoming more and more negative ... but this may not be the whole story. Certainly there is plenty of evidence that the situation is not perfect ... but whether or not the work done has been not half good or not half bad (like "Is the glass half full or the glass half empty?") is a question which is difficult to answer. The following from the Miami Herald at the end of April is an example of negative questioning:
Scrutiny of Red Cross Effort Grows
Wednesday, 28 April 2010 15:28

Frances Robles reports on the American Red Cross in Haiti for the Miami Herald, noting the aid organization is coming under increasing pressure to explain how they are spending the $400 million in donations for Haiti. Robles writes:
But after consuming $106 million in the first 60 days, the Red Cross in the past month has tapped just $5 million more and has come under fire for what critics call anemic spending.
Other aid groups, members of Congress, bloggers and even a former board member are among the growing chorus asking what the Red Cross is doing with such a massive amount of money raised in such a short time.

The American Red Cross plans on spending about half of their donations this year, and the rest over a 3-5 year period, reports Robles. The former board member, Victoria Cummock, had some particularly harsh words for the organization, saying, "That's not disaster relief, that's long-term recovery, and that's not the Red Cross' mission and not the donor intent either."

Robles reports that Cummock, after asking about the Red Cross' relief efforts in Haiti, gave $25,000 to Project Medishare and UNICEF instead.

The three-month report released by the American Red Cross earlier this month raises more questions. According to their own numbers, the Red Cross network had built just 200 latrines in the previous month. Since along with shelter, sanitation provision is a top priority, this seems like a low number. USAID in their most recent update notes that out of a total of 15,300 latrines, just 8,727 have been built. Previous plans had been to build 11,000 by April 15.

The American Red Cross' three-month report also states the organization has distributed relief items to the same number of people (400,000 people) as in the two-month report. Does this mean that in one whole month, the Red Cross did not supply relief items to anyone new?

The bigger question underscored by the Herald article, however, is this, also from the three-month report: "Of the more than $400 million raised to date, the American Red Cross expects to spend approximately $200 million to meet the survivors’ immediate needs — mostly in the first 12 months following the earthquake. The remainder of the funds raised, now a bit more than $200 million to date, will be allocated for long-term recovery."

Why doesn't the Red Cross ramp up spending now to do what is necessary to avert disaster, with the current rainy season and the coming hurricane season?

Robles also notes that the Red Cross had been criticized by Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. In response to the representative's comments, the American Red Cross released a statement, which read, in part:
The results of our efforts are evident in many areas around Haiti. For example, the American Red Cross has provided 111,000 tarps, 4,400 tents, 29,000 shelter kits and 248,000 blankets.
It is unclear, however, if this is an accurate representation of the organization's efforts. The statement was given on April 8, however at the time the Shelter Cluster was reporting that the International Federation of the Red Cross network had only distributed 72,654 tarps.

Now, more than 100 days after the earthquake, relief efforts may have improved, however for many the situation has not. Deborah Sontag of the New York Times reported today on the conditions on Avenue Poupelard, writing:
Avenue Poupelard provides a less encouraging picture of the reach of aid, services and information than that found in official situation reports. Tucked into encampments too small to have attracted the nongovernmental groups operating in the big tent cities, many on Avenue Poupelard increasingly feel that they are on their own.
Asked if her situation had improved since immediately after the earthquake, Ms. Joseph paused and said,
“I guess it smells better with the bodies gone.” She and others on the street are still looking for sturdy tarpaulins or tents and wondering how to secure a foothold in the new temporary relocation sites, like the one north of this city in Corail Cesse Lesse, to which thousands from the camp at the PĂ©tionville country club were recently moved.

“I’d love one of those places with latrines,” Ms. Joseph said. “The hole we dug for our toilet here is filthy and sick, and now we go inside broken-down houses to relieve ourselves.”
Reports such as this one are hard to reconcile with the Shelter Cluster's report from April 26, which says that 99.6 percent of those in need have received shelter materials. One problem may be with the shelter material itself though. The most recent report from OCHA states that:
constant rain over the past few days has revealed that some tents are not waterproof, requiring additional plastic sheeting.
In addition, rope has only reached 37 percent of those in need and took kits only 11 percent. These inputs are key to ensuring a sturdy and waterproof shelter. OCHA noted on April 16 that the lack of rope and fixings, "remains a vital gap in the response", and that "Most constructed emergency shelters will therefore require strengthening prior to the rainy season."
My impression of the Haiti emergency response is that the rescue and relief up to now has been quite well done considering a lot of the constraints that had to be overcome ... but within the overall program an awful lot has fallen through the cracks, and the more time passes, the more it seems that the cracks are taking over.

The are some reasons for this ... but the data to understand the performance of the overall program either do not exist or are being kept secret and away from public scrutiny.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) has introduced a "cluster" system to coordinate day to day activities in Haiti ... and this seems to be better than the system used in years past where a UN agency would act as the lead agency for each sector. In the old system many key activities like for example logistics were replicated over and over again. In the cluster system ... all logistics come together under the logistics cluster. It is not perfect but it is better than before.

A lot of people ... a lot of organizations ... feel left out. This was inevitable as long as the program was to all extent and purposes centralized at the National Level and mainly in Port-au-Prince. Increasingly it appears that progress has slowed down ... but this is difficult to ascertain because the metrics are voluminous but not particularly easy to use in an analytical mode.

In this context it is possible to say almost anything you want about the performance of the American Red Cross ... and then get data to back up whatever you have chosen to say. For its part the American Red Cross can probably justify what it has done ... with data to support what they are saying. This is not a particularly satisfactory way of "keeping score" about performance in a relief and development setting. Something way better is needed ... and this is what Community Analytics (CA) sets out to do.

The following are some of the elements of CA that are relevant:
  • The CA approach is community centric more than it is sector or "cluster" centric;
  • The CA approach is people centric ... enabling people to do more for themselves;
  • What are the needs for the people in the community?
  • What are the available resources in the community already? 
  • What incremental resources are needed?
  • What organizations are available?
  • What incremental organizations are needed?
In the CA community model there are needs that may in part be satisfied by activities carried out by people in the community leaving a net need. What is it that has to be done so that the net need is reduced?

Progress is measured by how fast the net need in the community is eliminated. Progress is also measured by how the "state" of the community improves over time.

Performance is measured by how much resource is needed to reduce net need. This is sometimes referred to as cost effectiveness.

Both progress and performance are measured relative to a community ... with activities being carried out by organizations that are active in the community ... with resources that in some part come from the community and in some part come from external sources.

Constraints impact progress and performance. What are these constraints in the community.

While there are more data available about Haiti and sectors / clusters ... the data are not easy to use in a specific location context. The CA data organization puts data that are needed to plan and manage progress in the community into a form that provides for easy community focus access.

Organizations are responsible for activities. Activities should produce progress in the community that can be measured both as to cost and as to impact. While most organizations do not do this type of analysis for reporting  to the public the underlying data to do this is likely available in most organizations. Organizations have payroll records ... have daily plans ... have expense reports ... have purchase reports ... have inventory records ... etc. ... not to mention all sorts of pictures and stories that have been collected to impress donors and post to websites and give to the press.

There are activities that cost a lot and do very little. This is something that an organization does not want in any publicly accessible accounting for accountability. Nobody knows at the moment how much of these high cost low value activity is going on in Haiti ... but negative reporting suggests that it is substantial.

In the CA approach impact is about value ... and value is subjective ... and value is not easy to quantify. For the purpose of impact quantification the value of different outcomes in the community is quantified using a concept of "standard value" ... something not unlike the standard cost used in cost accounting. Good CA style value reporting might show that there are many good activities that have low costs and very high values.

CA is not static ... it is dynamic with variables respected. CA also has a value chain analysis dimension that aims to address the unintended consequences of different activities. Value chain analysis, for example, helps to explain why costs and prices are what they are, and where there are profits, value adding and value destruction. Sustainable progress is only possible when there are both local profits and local value adding without the need for continuing inflow of financial or material subsidy.

It is only when there are data that there can be analysis and management ... good planning, organization and good activities. The challenge is to do this within the existing framework of dataflows.

Peter Burgess

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