Lessons Not Learned

A report just released by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies titled Tsunami – Global Lesson Learned, highlighted six key lessons learned.

“…facing the challenges of leadership and coordination, achieving equity in recovery, embracing people’s participation, countering corruption and ensuring accountability, innovating in disaster risk management and the fundamental question of whether we will do better next time.”

The fundamental question has to be whether we will do better next time. A quick review of evaluations and lessons learned from both Darfur and Rwanda show that these “lessons” are not new. An evaluation by the Tsunami Evaluation Coalition (TEC) in 2006, describes many of the same problems found in ALNAP’s Lessons Learned the Darfur Experience (2004) and the¬†Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda (JEEAR, 1994). A quick scan of the findings in each of these reports shows that although major efforts were launched to improve the quality and professionalism of international aid many of the same problems still exist.

Problems with coordination

Tsunami

“The appointment of a high profile UN Special Envoy for the tsunami response was seen as a positive step. Also, coordination (of both UN/international actors and internally to the RC Movement) showed a marked improvement in late 2005. Nonetheless, the TEC reports show numerous examples of poor coordination.

Darfur

“A strong international coordinating nexus was by all accounts not present in the Darfur crisis.”

Rwanda

“With so many agencies and organisations involved in the response, there was a critical need for a strong capacity at the centre to provide leadership and overall coordination.” – Rwanda

Lack of accountability for the success or failure of aid projects.

Tsunami

“On the whole, however, the urgency to spend money quickly and visibly led to many poorly executed aid projects and acted against the best interests of affected people.¬† Opportunities to strengthen and build local capacity were therefore often missed, and agencies often did not adequately consult with, or even inform, the affected population about their projects. This tendency did not establish a firm footing for building appropriate local capacity and longer term recovery.”

Darfur

“A recurrent theme in the Darfur evaluations was the need for improved performance. The issue was not about the need for accountability but rather for what and to whom: that is, standards and mechanisms”

Rwanda

“NGOs played a vital role in the response, undertaking most of the delivery of assistance to beneficiaries. Whilst many NGOs performed impressively, providing a high quality of care and services, a number performed in an unprofessional and irresponsible manner that resulted not only in duplication and wasted resources but may also have contributed to an unnecessary loss of life. The need for NGOs to improve their performance is now widely recognized.”

Media attention affecting the aid that is provided

Tsunami

“The myth that any kind of international assistance is needed, and now, is fueled through lack of understanding among the mass media and donor public.”

Darfur

“Fourth, the effort to mount a major humanitarian mobilisation for Darfur found itself engaged in a losing competition with higher-profile emergencies elsewhere for priority and resources and media attention.”

Rwanda

“It was apparent that the media played an important and, at times, influential role within the international humanitarian aid system. The advent of on-the-spot satellite broadcasting, and the powerful nature of the images of the influx into Goma, contributed to the massive response there.”

Will international aid learn its lessons?Perhaps the Darfur lessons learned says it best.

“Yet, a largely negative conclusion remains unavoidable: that the institutional weight of past practice is giving way all too slowly to the insights of creative practitioners and intrepid evaluators.”

How many more “lessons learned” will be written before aid practices significantly change?