The Southern Africa Crisis Appeal was a new departure for the Disasters Emergency Committee.
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. It encountered a large number of examples of better
practice, with instances from all the DEC agencies. However the quality of the interventions varied
between countries and between agencies, and sometimes between different country programmes
belonging to the same agency.
On the positive side there was probably more beneficiary participation in this crisis than in similar
crises in the past. Because of the political situation in Zimbabwe agencies were experimenting with
feedback mechanisms that could have far wider application. Beneficiary participation was also very
good in Malawi though participation here was largely limited to implementation as opposed to the
design of the intervention. 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.
In general the DEC agencies carried out their emergency responses in the areas where they had
their development programmes. The evaluation team considered this appropriate since these areas
were often the poorest. It also meant that the programmes funded were often appropriate to the
problems faced by communities, though timeframes were often shorter than optimal.
Some of the communities assisted by the DEC agencies in the crisis had previously been assisted by
the development programmes of the DEC agencies. The evaluation team noted that such
communities did not seem to be better able to weather the crisis than adjoining communities that
had not had been assisted by DEC agencies before the crisis.
Programme coverage was generally good and co-ordination mechanisms in the region worked well,
though there were major constraints to humanitarian space in Zimbabwe. Agencies were sensitive
to the cultural norms of the communities with which they worked and made efforts to support local
capacity. However, improvements could be made in some of the partnership arrangements that
DEC agencies have with local organisations.
The crisis revealed that DEC agencies did not always have a deep enough understanding of the
communities in which they worked. Underestimations of the importance of remittance or of coping
strategies were common. Agencies were also sometimes slow to scale up in response to the crisis
though this does not seem to have had any serious adverse effect on programme impact.
HIV/AIDS is a major factor in the region, with up to one third of adults affected in the worst areas.
Despite this the links between HIV/AIDS, coping strategies, and food security were not well
understood and further research is needed on these.
One of the biggest problems was that the DEC agencies, like the rest of the humanitarian
community, lacked a conceptual model for dealing with the crisis. 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.
DEC agency advocacy, though sometimes good, was nevertheless patchy across the region and
across agencies. More should have been done in this crucial area.
Agencies had a strong framework in place to ensure good financial management, though narrative
and financial reports were of a very variable quality. Agencies were also good at carrying out
evaluations, but more could be done to standardise approaches, improve the quality of evaluation
methods and promote inter-agency learning.