What can we learn from a great example of high speed policy response to the Nepal Earthquake?

May 19, 2015

     By Duncan Green     

For a while, I’ve been arguing that policy wonks need to grab the windows of opportunity created by shocks, scandals and Alnap Nepal covercrises, producing reactions, research and proposals in the immediate aftermath of such a ‘critical juncture’. For example, we know there are going to be floods in Somerset or Pakistan at some point in the next few years, so in advance, why not get a response paper summarizing the evidence on the links to climate change 90% done and set up a network of scientists, business people, faith leaders, NGOs that are all ready to go when disaster strikes? That way we can have a significant response out there within days, just when policy makers, media etc are desperately looking for explanations and new ideas.

Now Ben Ramalingam and David Sanderson have done just that on the Nepal earthquake. Nepal Earthquake Response: Lessons for operational agencies, published by the ALNAP network provides a 25 page summary of the most relevant lessons learned from previous earthquakes and urban disasters, (crucially) all contextualised to what is already happening on the ground in Nepal, with links to websites, key documents etc.

In the report, 17 ‘lessons’ get a page or so each. They are:

Strategy and management

1. Work with and through national and local actors, structures and networks.

2. Use the extensive preparedness planning that has already taken place.

3. Ensure that capacity development is seen and used as a vital form of aid.

Nepal earthquake damage4. Coordination is essential and must be tailored to the Nepali context.

5. Support pre-existing goods and service delivery systems.

6. Logistics are critical and demand the effective brokerage of international expertise.

7. Recognise the regional nature of the response.

8. Understanding and anticipating population movements are essential.

9. Pay special attention to marginalised, hidden and vulnerable populations, especially in urban areas.

Technical delivery

10. Assessment is the foundation for appropriate response.

11. Use digital technology and engage in two-way communication with affected communities.

12. Use cash-based programming linked with market analysis.

13. Get ready for the monsoon with temporary durable shelters such as high-quality waterproof tents.

Getting water flowing

Getting water flowing

14. Rebuild settlements safely to be ready for the next earthquake.

15. Debris management: urban rubble presents a challenge, but also a resource.

16. Health and WASH needs change quickly and require continuous assessment and adaptive responses.

17. Emergency education efforts should address both immediate and long-term needs.

As an example, here’s the page for Lesson 7:

‘Recognise the regional nature of the response.

The earthquake response has a strong regional dimension, with India and China in particular playing a central role. International actors should seek to align and coordinate with and mutually support these actors. Six members of the Asian Disaster Reduction and Response Network have already responded: NSET Nepal, SEEDS India, Mercy Malaysia, PGVS India, Doctors for You India and Dhaka Community Hospital Bangladesh, with coordination taking place via Nepal Quake Hub.

The efforts of key regional actors should be worked with and integrated at all levels. In Myanmar after Cyclone Nargis the creation of the Tripartite Core Group as an ad hoc coordinating body by the government, UN and Association of Southeast Asian Nations allowed for greater international-regional collaboration in response and recovery. Similar efforts should be made to integrate regional players into the NEOC system in the Ministry of Home Affairs. This should also provide a strong platform for regional engagement in local levels of operational management, for example, by bringing representatives of regional actors into the various clusters, leading to the better use of resources and a reduced coordination burden at the district and local levels.’

ALNAP logoThis came out within two weeks of the earthquake, and shows just how good humanitarian types can be responding to events. Speaking to one of the authors, I get the sense that this is an intensive ‘real-time’ process, with the team doing a lot of interviews and reviewing a lot of material in a very short time, and getting feedback from frontline responders. Lots to learn here for those of us working in long term development or advocacy.

Two suggestions though – could the authors and ALNAP think about making this a living document/website, which could evolve as new ideas, documents and websites emerge in the weeks after the quake? That would make for a genuine real-time learning process.

And looking at the ALNAP website, the contextualised lessons papers are clearly very popular, but they don’t seem to be published after every crisis – so some big crises (like Haiti or Haiyan) see generic lessons being circulated. But given the importance of context, perhaps this kind of learning process should become more routine in the humanitarian sector?