Lessons from Indonesia, Philippines & Vietnam

25/03/2011

An independent report for the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) into the response by its member agencies to a series of disasters in the Asia-Pacific region in 2009 has found that timely and appropriate help was given 27,000 families within three months.

The summary of existing evaluations found that DEC member responses to typhoons in the Philippines and Vietnam, and an earthquake in Indonesia, had successfully involved survivors themselves. This approach has been shown to increase the effectiveness of disaster responses, and to help people rebuild their own lives rather than fostering dependence.

In some cases however the report said agencies reached more people at the expense of reaching those who were in remote or cut-off areas. Ideally assistance should be given according to need alone, regardless of the logistical challenges and additional costs of reaching sometimes small numbers of remote survivors.

Several agencies did however make significant efforts to ensure they reached survivors in outlying areas after typhoons and flooding struck the Philippines and Vietnam, and an earthquake hit the Indonesian island of Sumatra, within a few days in late September and early October 2009.

DEC Chief Executive Brendan Gormley said:

“It is understandable that our member agencies’ first focus will often be on the large groups of survivors they can see immediately have been badly affected by a disaster. We must always remember though that there may be more isolated pockets of survivors who may be hard to find, or to reach, but who are in at least equal need of our help.”

The independently produced Validation report for Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam also identified a number of other challenges and issues facing member agencies responding to these crises:

  • In the Philippines, an election was underway which meant agencies had to take particular care to ensure that lists of those to participate in cash-for-work programmes were not manipulated by local authorities to benefit political allies.
  • Merlin noted the challenges of organising disaster responses in countries where agencies do not have a pre-existing presence.
  • CAFOD and Christian Aid had to explain to local communities that they gave aid regardless of creed and without seeking to spread any religious belief after some non-DEC agencies were accused of proselytising in Muslim-majority Indonesia.
  • In some cases, the Sphere Standards for sanitation and shelter were not fully met, principally because of a lack of space in some congested urban areas.
  • The British Red Cross found that it took some time to persuade partners and government authorities of the value of temporary shelters that would give people somewhere better to live than a tent or under plastic sheeting while permanent homes were rebuilt.
  • Many agencies found the comparatively low level of funding available for their programmes difficult. DEC fundraising had been hampered by the rapidity with which the media agenda moved on after the disasters.

In a matter of days in 2009, Typhoon Ketsana made landfall in the Philippines near Metro Manila on 26 September and then a major earthquake struck near the city of Padang on the Indonesian island of Sumatra on 30 September. Ketsana moved west, hitting Vietnam, and on 4 October Typhoon Parma left a trail of destruction across the northern Philippines. In all, more than five million people where significantly affected by the string of disasters and more than 1,500 died.

All the money raised by the DEC has now been allocated to member agencies and two-thirds was spent in the first year of a two year response that is due to be completed in October 2011. The largest areas of expenditure have been shelter 34%, livelihoods 21% and water/sanitation 12%. Of the £9.3m appeal total, £5.7m was raised directly by the DEC and will be accounted for by the organisation. A further £3.6m was raised as part of the appeal by member agencies.

The validation report was prepared by independent consultants at RESULTS Matter for the DEC based on a desk study of DEC and member agency evaluation and assurance processes. It can be downloaded here.

Notes to editors

  • The DEC member agencies are: ActionAid, Age UK, British Red Cross, CAFOD, CARE International UK, Christian Aid, Concern Worldwide, Islamic Relief, Merlin, Oxfam, Save the Children, Tearfund and World Vision.
  • The DEC Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam Appeal raised £9.3m and further details of the disaster and response can be found here in the 2009-10 DEC Annual Report.
  • Key numerical standards for disaster responses have been set by the Sphere Project and are widely used as a benchmark by DEC member agencies.
  • Key humanitarian principles are set out in the Red Cross Code of Conduct to which all DEC members are signatories.