Spotlight on the Start Fund
Lessons Learned responding to floods in Northwest Bangladesh
Lessons Learned responding to floods in Northwest Bangladesh: Summary of report following the Lessons Learned Workshop led by CARE Bangladesh on November 19, 2014
CARE, Christian Aid, Islamic Relief and Oxfam responded to severe flooding in Northwest Bangladesh with Start Fund projects beginning in September 2014. Christian Aid, Islamic Relief and CARE Bangladesh all applied for the extra 1% budget for learning activities. Christian Aid undertook a lessons learned workshop at field level with its staff and implementing partners’ staff. Islamic Relief did post-distribution monitoring and case studies. CARE Bangladesh decided to organize a lessons learned workshop at the national level for all the awarded organisations. These key lessons from this workshop are summarised below.
In August 2014, heavy and unremitting rainfall led to the worst flooding in northern Bangladesh since 2007. The flooding affected over 3 million people across 17 districts. A large number of households were displaced due to river erosion; crops and infrastructure were damaged or destroyed. Without immediate humanitarian aid, these vulnerable communities would have to resort to negative coping mechanisms, such as distress selling of labour and assets, in order to survive.
On August 26, Muslim Aid triggered the Start Fund. The following week, the Allocation Committee unanimously agreed to respond to this emergency with a £200,000 allocation, after an unprecedented deferment of the decision to await the results of the Joint Needs Assessment. Thirteen agencies applied, and a locally-based project selection committee awarded funds to four NGOs – Christian Aid, Islamic Relief, Oxfam and CARE Bangladesh.
Photo Credit: CARE Bangladesh
The Emergency Response
The four NGOs had seven days within receiving the funds to start implementing their project, and 45 days within initiating the response to complete the action.
- Christian Aid provided shelter and non-food items (NFI) and WASH assistance to 1,520 households (HHs) in the Gaibandha district. This assistance took the form of shelter & NFI kits (tarpaulin, rope, ground sheets, and mosquito nets), hygiene kits (bucket, mug, soap, antiseptic cream, and comb), health & hygiene awareness sessions and repairs of tube-wells.
- Islamic Relief provided food assistance to 3,825 HHs in the Jamalpur and Gaibandha distrcits The food support included 20kg of rice, 5kg of potatoes, 2kg of lentils, 2L of cooking oil and 1kg of salt.
- Oxfam provided WASH, food and livelihoods support to 1,600 HHs in the Kurigram and Sirajganj districts. Oxfam distributed cash grants of BDT 2,500 per HH, as well as hygiene kits (soap, laundry soap, Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS), bleaching powder, sanitary napkins, pitchers with covers and water purifying tablets). Oxfam also repaired 30 tube-wells, 50 latrines and disseminated basic hygiene information.
- CARE Bangladesh supported the food security needs of 6,000 HHs in the Sirajganj, Jamalpur, Bogra, Kurigram and Gaibandha districts. The food distributed 7.5kg of flattened rice, 2.5 kg of sugar and 1 kg of salt. CARE also provided ORS packets and jerry cans in order to prevent the spread of water-borne diseases. In addition, CARE Bangladesh teamed up with P&G to provide water purification sachets to targeted HHs.
All the projects were completed by October 19th, and reached over 70,000 people. A summary of the activities and people reached is detailed in the tables below.
Table 1 - People Reached Per Activities Table 2 – People reached by Age and Sex
|Water purification solutions & jerry cans||56,452||Under 18||15,752||18,147||12,668||10,952|
|Oral rehydration salts||28,226||18-50||14,609||18,810||13,995||14,201|
|Hygiene kits & hygiene promotion sessions||20,085||Over 50||5,806||5,649||5,010||5,033|
|Emergency shelter kits||7,524||
|Unconditional cash transfer||7,110|
|Construction of toilets & hand pump repair||5,439||Overall %|
*These numbers are not adjusted for no double counting. Source: Start Fund Crisis Response Summary.
The lessons learned workshop was designed and facilitated by CARE Bangladesh using the 1% learning budget made available by the Start Fund. CARE Bangladesh invited the three other NGOs that had been awarded the fund – Oxfam, Christian Aid, and Islamic Relief – as well as the NGO that had triggered the alert, Muslim Aid. The workshop aimed to facilitate a process whereby the organizations and their staffs could reflect back on their emergency responses in order to improve future performance and interventions.
Through a series of interactive and participatory exercises, the attendees could think back on the actions taken, how the beneficiaries were impacted and what the challenges and strengths of the humanitarian responses were. The participants came from the four awarded NGOs and had been involved in the project, from budget planning to implementation and monitoring. The Program Coordinator from Muslim Aid also attended the workshop. In total, 18 people from five organisations involved in the flood response programmes were present.
The workshop had two components. The first, which aimed to identify and discuss best practices and lessons learned, was facilitated by CARE’s Impact and Evaluation Coordinator. The second part was facilitated by an external evaluator of the Start Fund to assess the overall performance of the Fund and identify areas for improvement.
Prior to the workshop, all the awarded agencies had to submit a final report for their project. CARE Bangladesh had also requested that its field offices that had been involved in the project (Rangpur, Sirajganj, Mymensingh) undertake a SWOT analysis of the project. Finally, all the awarded agencies were asked to prepare a short presentation for the workshop to remind all participants what had been done by each NGO during the Start Fund project and focused on lessons learned.
The day started with a story sharing exercise. Templates were used to guide the discussion along and prompt the participants for lessons and recommendations that stemmed from their particular experience. The stories and lessons were then shared and discussed with the whole group. This was followed by a short timeline exercise, where participants were asked to identify the key actions of the project: pre-implementation, during the implementation and post-implementation. The participants were asked to rate them by the degree to which they were “highlights” or “lowlights” to pinpoint at which point in the project’s lifetime the major challenges arose. Finally, an evaluating exercise was performed: participants were asked to write the challenges and opportunities posed by the actions identified and asked for recommendations on improving these actions in the future.
The second part of the workshop consisted of three short exercises. Initially a quick timeline exercise helped analyse whether the Fund had filled a funding gap and helped to capitalise on more emergency relief funding. This was followed by two plenary discussions: to assess whether the Start Fund had successfully achieved its vision of diversity, decentralization and collaboration and to understand how the participants viewed the future for the Start Fund, including recommendations for improving efficiency.
The Lessons Learned
Pre-implementation: Proposal development, budget, partner selection, procurement and project start-up
- All the agencies agreed that the proposal format was very comprehensive and relatively brief. However, the time allocated for completing it was extremely short, 24 hours, and therefore made the proposal development process stressful and not as efficient as it could have been, especially for allowing coordination between a number of teams.
- Agencies noted some of the information required was extremely specific and therefore hard to obtain – for instance, specifying the age and sex of the intended beneficiaries within the proposal. Efforts should be made to simplify the process.
- All the agencies noted that the budget allocated by the fund was not enough to cover the large number of affected households. One NGO was awarded funds based on its proposal, but not the whole amount that it had bid for. The NGO then had to fund ways to reduce its operational costs in order to keep the same number of beneficiaries. The agencies noted that in order to overcome this issue, coordination between themselves, other NGOs and local government was essential. This would allow them to avoid overlap, maximize the number of people receiving support and optimize the overall emergency response.
- Oxfam, Christian Aid and CARE Bangladesh all used implementing partner NGOs (PNGOs), whilst Islamic Relief implemented the project directly. For the three NGOs using PNGOs, the partner selection process was efficient and rapid. All of them used partners they had worked with previously or were working with currently. In general, the four NGOs found that implementing the emergency response in areas where they had a long term presence or pre-existing project was very advantageous. The aid agencies however recommended providing some training for their PNGOs on this new funding mechanism.
- The main lesson learned in terms of procurement was for the need to implement this process at a local rather than national level. For instance, both CARE and Islamic Relief were able to save on line items by procuring the goods locally, which allowed them to increase their beneficiary pool by 1,500 and 325 respectively. The importance of having already pre-selected vendors at the local level for the various items was also highlighted in order to fast track the procurement process. Quality was ensured by some agencies by doing the procurement themselves rather than depending on their PNGOs or using pre-existing stock.
- Getting approval for an internationally funded project and accessing the funds is a tedious and lengthy process due to the way the Government of Bangladesh deals with foreign funds. The Start Fund requires the agencies to initiate the project’s implementation within seven days of receiving the funds. Some NGOs were able to obtain rapid approval from the NGO Bureau through planning this step in advance and early communication with the bureau. However this is not necessarily a viable solution for all the aid agencies, and therefore allowing more flexibility within the activities’ timeline would improve the project’s start-up.
Implementation: beneficiary selection, distribution, accountability and quality of the action
- The four NGOs selected their beneficiaries using a participatory process of consultations with the communities themselves, local government officials and other local NGOs. However, a few challenges still arose. Many of the NGOs mentioned the pressure from local government and local elites to include more beneficiaries than had been originally allocated for or beneficiaries that did not fit the selection criteria. This was a very delicate issue to overcome as cooperation from these individuals was essential for the success of the project.
- Furthermore, as a large number of households had been affected, the criteria had to be developed in a very strict manner in order to not select more beneficiaries than could be supported given the budget. The NGOs therefore emphasized the need for more community-level discussions in future interventions in order to explain and justify the selection criteria as well as the limited resources available. One possible way would be to hold validation sessions at the community level to verify and finalize the selection; however this would be a rather time consuming step.
- Gender and disabilities were considered and prioritized within the selection process. Data was collected in order to make sure that the most vulnerable groups – people with disabilities, elders, pregnant and lactating women, children – were supported response.
- The location of the distribution points needs to take into account accessibility for both the beneficiaries and the implementing staff. One NGO was unable to access one of its distribution points due to water damages that made the roads unusable. Another NGO ran into some trouble when heavy rains disrupted the distribution. The location used that day did not have any protected sites such as a school or village hall that could be used as an alternative location. In both cases, NGOs found solutions and were able to deliver aid on target. Reflecting on this, though, the NGOs expressed the crucial need for considering all possible factors that can affect the distribution when choosing the location.
- Time management was another important challenge. For many of the NGOs, the distribution points were in remote locations where the most affected and vulnerable households reside. Distribution activities were delayed due to hartals (political strikes) that occurred in October, continuous rains, poor road conditions and delays in the supply of material. Time management during the actual distribution was problematic due to the sheer numbers of beneficiaries. The implementing staff dealt with this by opening more distribution booths and monitoring the process to instantly address any arising issue. The NGOs therefore reflected on the need for flexibility with regards to the distribution activities timeline.
- The choice of the support package must be considered based on local context and people’s needs. The NGOs raised this point within the workshop with regards to the lack of food items and non-food items directly relating to the needs of the very vulnerable: lactating or pregnant mothers, children, elders and people with disabilities. None of the NGOs had included highly nutritious food such as proteins biscuits for the children.
- Visible Complaint Response Mechanisms allowed for a more transparent and accountable project. However, the aid agencies noted that people were more likely to provide verbal complaints or feedback rather than written ones. This is partly due to the low literacy rates, but also to the fact that verbal feedback expedites the process and provides guarantee that the complaint has been heard. The NGOs therefore suggested that instant CRMs should be promoted in those initiatives, especially when time is a constraint.
- Accountability and transparency was also ensured by engaging with the communities and the local government. For instance CARE Bangladesh had created such a good working relationship with the local government that even during the hartals the Upazila administration assisted with the distribution.
- Although most of the staff actively involved in the implementation had been trained in emergency response protocol, some of the agencies noted the need to build the staff’s capacity beforehand on maintaining humanitarian standards and principles. The aid agencies felt that involving the field or regional office teams to monitor the quality of the implementation at different stages resulted in higher standards of activities.
Post-implementation: beneficiaries’ reflections and reporting
- Overall the beneficiaries were very satisfied with the emergency response, as most of them had no other recovery option. The support ensured that many avoided turning to negative coping mechanisms such as distress selling of assets and labour.
- The beneficiaries would have liked more assistance such as livelihood restoration support and higher amounts of cash support. Nevertheless, all the NGOs mentioned the need for creating stronger mechanisms and frameworks for collecting beneficiary reflection. This would provide greater feedback for the NGOs and PNGOs and allow them to learn from it.
- The reporting was unproblematic for all agencies, who found the format to be simple and straightforward. However, the agencies would have liked more time, especially for the financial report. Furthermore, many of the development agencies regretted not being able to undertake a post-distribution monitoring.
Start Fund Process:
- Muslim Aid was the only agency present that had been confident enough to pull the alarm as its staff had received training on the Start Fund process. This raised the need for building the capacity of the NGOs’ staff, especially those at field level who will be the first to assess the scope and impact of any local disasters.
- The NGOs also raised the need for improving the coordination within the Start Network to ensure that the alert can be raised jointly. This would avoid sending multiple messages to the donor and instead a consolidated report from the network could be sent.
- In general, the NGOS felt that the Start Fund could do more to promote collaboration between the members of the network. For instance, the NGOs are in a strong position to do important advocacy work but this was not capitalised on.
- The rapidity of the Fund allowed the NGOs to provide immediate assistance before accessing funds from other donors. However, the hastiness of the action does not allow the NGOs to undergo a risk assessment before and during the project despite the constantly changing needs of the affected population. This can lead to less pertinent interventions.
- The agencies also approved of having the proposal reviewing committee in Bangladesh, which guaranteed the expediency of the process and ensured that the committee had a good working understanding of the context and needs. The NGOs, though, did request for more comprehensive and clear criteria for the selection of the committee’s members.
- The Start Fund was delayed due to the discussions around the Joint Needs Assessment (JNA). The projects were only initiated two and half week after the floods had begun. NGOs highlighted the importance of allowing the humanitarian imperative to take precedence over any other work, and in the future will ensure that they respond to the immediate needs even during the JNA process.
Overall, the NGOs felt that this funding mechanism was a successful initiative and has great potential for improving rapid emergency response. The reflection process made possible through the Fund’s additional 1% learning budget allowed the NGOs to identify the areas that could be improved in future interventions. They found that if the implementation was on the whole very successful, the pre and post implementation processes could become more efficient through more simplification and increased flexibility. Nevertheless, all the NGOs believe that the Start Fund has the scope to become a game-changer in the way that emergency funds are disbursed from donors to responding aid agencies.
Download the full version of this report here.