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Image focusing specifically between 2001 - 2009 of the change in humanitarian action timeline, showing key events, with changing levels of; natural hazards, civil conflicts, funding and recipients.
Focused detail of the change in humanitarian action timeline

Challenges to accountability in the humanitarian system since Rwanda

What would you identify as the key moments since Rwanda when serious questions have been asked about the accountability of the humanitarian sector?

Course note: Further down in the course we will be exploring subject matter that could be of an upsetting or sensitive nature for some learners around the world. Please note that the case study chosen is for the purpose of understanding the educational context around the subject matter.

The responses to many of the emergencies highlighted in this timeline have not necessarily been poor. The reality, as was seen in the Rwanda evaluation, is that in every emergency response there is good practice, and sometimes exemplary performance, given the conditions and context.

At the same time, you will see the humanitarian system continues to face unprecedented demand. In the ALNAP timeline, you will notice alongside the succession of major crises, and efforts to improve accountability, a noticeable increase in four areas

  • Number of targeted aid recipients, reaching 82.5 million in 2017 up from 26 million in 2007

  • Total humanitarian aid funding reaching $24.1 billion in 2017, over 10 times higher than the 2001 figure

  • The number of natural disasters globally has remained steadily around the 300-400 mark

  • The number of state based, non state and one sided conflicts has reached nearly 150 by 2015

(ALNAP 2017)

Despite examples of good performance, this increasing demand is placing strains on the system. Equally, a small sample of evaluations this century identifies a number of important issues which required attention at a system and organisational level at the time, and in some cases, still present major challenges.

2001 – West Africa

  • ‘Food for sex’ scandal – highlights sexual exploitation and abuse as a major issue (CHS Alliance 2018).

2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami

  • The Tsunami Evaluation Commission recommended in 2007 a redistribution of power in decision making from aid agencies to communities and local government (CHS Alliance 2018).

  • ODI Study highlights lost opportunities for multi-sector cash transfer programmes (CHS Alliance 2018).

2010 – Haiti earthquake

  • Oxfam Haiti scandal in 2018 – renewed attention on sexual exploitation and abuse as well as concerns over management culture.

  • Despite widespread use of feedback and complaint mechanisms, affected people still felt their participation was limited (CHS Alliance 2015).

  • Limited collaboration between international agencies and government (CHS Alliance 2015).

2012 – Typhoon Haiyan, Philippines (Hanley 2014)

  • Cash transfer programming was employed on an unprecedented scale with at least 45 international humanitarian agencies implementing cash transfer programmes, highlighting value of cash transfers but also need for better coordination.

  • Coordination of international response actors, with existing but over-stretched government disaster management systems, and national and local civil society, could have been improved.

  • Weaknesses in the international system’s ability to work with government and support transition from response to early recovery were highlighted.

This is not a complete list, so you are encouraged to research evaluations done on other emergencies during this period to identify learning.

Your task

Attached is the summary of one evaluation of the response by the UK’s Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) to the Gujarat earthquake of 2001 (Vaux 2001). The DEC brings together 14 leading UK charities. Through appeals, it aims to maximise fundraising for major emergencies.

Read part one of the Vaux report, covering the response (pages 5-9) and parts three and four, covering conclusions and recommendations (pages 15-16) and consider:

  • What common issues and lessons are emerging across different reports?

  • What are your thoughts about the performance of the DEC agencies against the Red Cross Code of Conduct, summarised on page 15?


CHS Alliance (2015) On the Road to Istanbul: Humanitarian Accountability Report. Geneva: CHS Alliance

CHS Alliance (2018) Humanitarian Accountability Report. Geneva: CHS Alliance

Hanley T et al. (2014) IASC Inter-agency Humanitarian Evaluation of the Typhoon Response. New York: UNOCHA

Vaux T (2001) Independent Evaluation of the DEC Response to the Earthquake in Gujarat. London: Disaster Emergency Committee [online] available from https://www.alnap.org/system/files/content/resource/files/main/erd-3432-full.pdf [10 December 2018]

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This article is from the free online course:

Disaster Management and Accountability

Coventry University