DEC Sothern Africa Crisis Appeal
Summary of published report
Over 1300 people waiting for seed vouchers in Maboleni
Valid International has recently published an evaluation of the Disaster Emergency Committee's (DEC) Southern Africa Crisis appeal that ran between July 2002 and June 2003. The scope of the report is far ranging although this summary focuses on findings most related to the emergency food and nutrition sector. The evaluation consisted of interviews with agency HQ staff in London, beneficiary assessments in Zambia and Malawi, visits to Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia and a desk study of agencies' own evaluations. Over 1,300 people were consulted, of whom more than three hundred were key informants.
The Southern Africa Crisis Appeal was a new departure for the DEC. Here, for the first time, was an appeal that was intended to prevent a humanitarian crisis rather than respond to one. This led to a response that was a mixture of traditional relief activities, together with activities that were more akin to rehabilitation or traditional development. The evaluation team found a mixed picture.
On the positive side, there was probably more beneficiary participation in this crisis than in similar crises in the past. Furthermore, DEC agencies were important actors in highlighting to the world the difficulties faced by the region. Some of the nutrition surveys and analysis carried out by them, for instance, were instrumental in raising awareness of the impending crisis. Programme coverage was generally good and co-ordination mechanisms in the region worked well. Agencies were also sensitive to the cultural norms of the communities with which they worked and made efforts to support local capacity.
Women work all day for a pot of beans
More critical appraisal included the need for improvements in some of the partnership arrangements that DEC agencies have with local organisations. Furthermore, DEC agencies did not always have a deep enough understanding of the communities in which they worked and there were underestimations of the importance of remittances or of coping strategies. Also, agencies were sometimes slow to scale up in response to the crisis although this did not seem to have had any serious adverse effect on programme impact. Another criticism was that the links between HIV/AIDS, coping strategies and food security were not well understood and further research was needed on these.
Perhaps the biggest criticism was that DEC agencies lacked a conceptual model for dealing with the crisis. Thus the crisis was overstated in terms of the threat of famine, but at the same time the chronic roots of the crisis were understated. While internal agency analysis was often more sophisticated and nuanced than the message presented to the media, even this did not capture the whole picture. The lack of an appropriate conceptual model led to some inappropriate responses.
Vegetable plot for aids orphans
The evaluation contained a large number of recommendations. Amongst those that directly related to nutrition and food security were the following;
- DEC member agencies should devote some resources to investigating jointly the links between HIV, coping strategies and food security, at both the micro and macro level.
- The DEC agencies should, for nutritional surveys, present the 95% confidence limits for prevalence first rather than the sample prevalence.
- DEC agencies should, when comparing two nutritional surveys taken for the same population at different times, indicate the probability that surveys reflect a change.
- DEC agencies should introduce the general principle that food assistance packages are proportionate to family size.
Taken from Field Exchange Issue 21, March 2004