Issue 13 Editorial
The first in a new series of articles appears in this issue of Field Exchange. 'Embracing Cultures', written by Ariana Curdy will, over the next few editions take a look at some of the cultural issues that affect how we work in the emergency food and nutrition sector. Ariana kicks off the series looking at ways different cultures use and understand language, based on her early work experiences in Niger. The theme of cultural differences comes up again in a research study involving nurses recently returning from work in refugee programmes. The 'Critical Incident Technique' was used to determine the skills most valued by the nurses in carrying out their work effectively. Not surprisingly cultural sensitivity and flexibility in the face of different cultural values came up as important attributes.
One of the themes to emerge from our field articles is the value of complementing anthropometric data with good quality food security information, in order to help inform decisions about intervention needs and timing. An article written by Claire Chastre and Sonya Le Jeune (SC UK) uses three case studies (Liberia, Northern Darfur and Burundi) to demonstrate this. For example, in northern Darfur (2000) household food economy (HFE) data showed that food security was not currently compromised in spite of the poor harvest, indicating instead that the high rates of wasting recorded were largely due to a recent outbreak of measles. The authors suggest that without the HFE data the high rates of wasting could so easily have been attributed to lack of food due to the poor harvest.
In a second field article Fitsum Assefa (SC US) describes how an outbreak of scurvy in drought affected northern Afghanistan seemed to conflict with survey results showing low levels of wasting. However, other data collected indicated people were resorting to increasingly desperate coping strategies demonstrating how 'close to the edge' this population had become. Fitsum strongly recommends that systematic in-depth monitoring of the food/economic security situation, especially use of coping mechanisms, should be established in the area. This would then provide an analytic basis, from which appropriate responses are designed that are not only directed to saving lives, but also saving livelihoods.
The high quality and credibility of food economy data collected in northern Darfur as part of the SC UK Early Warning System (EWS) is the subject of an article by Steve Collins. Using this data, Steve formed a confident view about the extent of the emergency in the province in 2001. However, on presenting his findings to DfID back in the UK, it emerged that a rapid survey from another INGO had contradicted these results. The article questions the results from the rapid assessment in terms of the methodology used, the lack of time spent in the area, and limited use of baseline data. The ensuing delays in mounting a DfID response raises issues about how donor governments decide upon the credibility of survey findings during emergencies, especially when these are contradictory. What exactly are the procedures and protocols within donor organisations for reviewing the myriad of survey and assessment reports that land on donor desks as supporting evidence for funding requests from humanitarian agencies? There appears to have been very little study or review of this process. An evaluation of the Somali crisis in 1991/2 funded by the Dutch government, involved an analysis of criteria donors use to assess validity of problem identification by agencies. The evaluation concluded that 'agency track-record' and 'reputation' were a key to credibility of agency findings. Clearly, such criteria may not always be safe. A related difficulty is that agencies frequently use different methodologies to conduct assessments. A study in northern Iraq (see research section) examined 27 nutritional surveys and found huge variation in methodology and quality making comparability extremely difficult. While many donors have become increasingly sophisticated in appraising project proposals, e.g. the requirement for log frames in proposal writing, it is by no means certain that criteria for assessing problem identification are sufficiently rigorous and institutionalised.
Finally, Joyce Kelly, the newest member of our ENN team has been out and about attending a WFP workshop in Cameroon on Emergency Food Needs Assessment methods (see news section). It was a good opportunity to meet people in the field and as can be seen in the 'People in Aid' section, this also gave Joyce an opportunity to practise her photographic skills.
Taken from Field Exchange Issue 13, August 2001