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Targeting in complex emergencies: the cases of Somalia and Columbia

Summary of case studies1,2

An IDP camp in Somalia where the evaluation was undertaken.

The World Food Programme (WFP) recently commissioned research to investigate the participation of recipient communities in the targeting and management of humanitarian food assistance in complex emergencies. Four case studies were carried out involving desk reviews and field visits. The purpose of the research was to understand the ways in which participatory or community-based approaches to targeting (CBTD) have been attempted within the definition of community-based targeting suggested by WFP. This definition includes the notion of working through local or traditional leaders to target food to the most vulnerable. Two of the country case studies are summarised here.

Somalia case study

The Somalia case study looked at CBTD under the ongoing WFP Protracted Relief and Rehabilitation Operation (PRRO). The majority of food aid is targeted to the south-central part of the country where political stability has been most problematic. The largest single category of assistance has been general food distribution for food insecure rural populations as well as for internally displaced populations (IDPs). However there is now a substantial amount of food assistance going to urban populations as well.

According to the review, targeting at the geographic level of district and livelihood is well informed by analysis but less informed by adequate assessment at village and household level. Security considerations, limited staff numbers and other constraints have long meant that the actual oversight of what happens to the delivered food must be left in the hands of local leaders at the village or IDP camp level. Under these circumstances, there have been allegations of widespread diversion of food aid by militias and other powerful actors before it reaches the community level, and widespread practices of the redistribution of food aid beyond the WFP-targeted recipients at the community level. The limited access for follow up and monitoring means that the real impact of redistribution is not known.

In Somalia, the WFP relies to some extent on local leadership to oversee and target food aid within the community. However, there are large differences in the accountability and legitimacy of local leadership in different locations. These range from a reasonable degree of accountability of leadership in rural communities (where the presence of clan elders and religious leaders allowed for some checks and balances and some redress mechanisms) to populations effectively kept in check by 'gate-keepers' who control information, access, and resources. The latter type of local leadership tends to predominate in IDP camp situations. Although committees of local leaders exist in both situations, the degree to which leaders actually represent the community differs enormously and most of the evidence about diversion of assistance comes from situations in which representation is the lowest.

The practice of redistribution limits the number of people in any recipient community who are excluded from food assistance, but also ends up ensuring that no one receives very much. Strong views were expressed virtually everywhere the study team visited that external assistance in the form of food should be shared equally within communities.

Much of the process of food aid targeting remains opaque to recipients. They are often not aware of their entitlements or the process of determining who is entitled. Redistribution rarely takes place in an organised or supervised way, and is often so ad hoc and disorganised that it results in fighting or even loss to looting.

The authors of the Somalia case study conclude that improved targeting would be promoted by an improved analysis of context, increasing the capacity of staff and partners to target at the village level, and a willingness to work with the reality of sharing and redistribution. Other means of improving the participation in targeting include identifying and bolstering appropriate checks and balances, involving all stakeholders in planning, improving transparency through informing the community of overall food aid being delivered and making better use of localised complaints mechanisms.

Columbia case study

Columbia has one of the largest displaced communities in the world - between 1.8 million to 3.7 million people. Women and children and marginalised ethnic minority groups such as the indigenous and the Afro-Columbian people are over-represented among the IDP populations. There are currently 2,000 communities assisted under nearly 3,000 projects in PRRO 10366. Approximately 499,000 beneficiaries are served by the PRRO.

The case study involved visits to five very different geographic regions. In this case, targeting involves two distinct steps. The first step involves the use of geographical and administrative targeting methods, based on geography, population and institutional criteria using a vast network of informal partners, as well as a formal agreement with two Government of Columbia (GoC) institutions. The second step involves choosing between seven possible food assistance modalities (relief, food for work, food for training, nutritional risk, mother and child, pre-school feeding and school feeding), each with their own specific beneficiary profile and food assistance package delivered by a chosen implementing partners. Both steps involve various decisionmaking processes.

There is ample scope for direct community participation in Columbia because about one third of WFP implementing partners are community based organisations. Community based participation begins after the second step of targeting and revolves more around programme implementation than programme design and setting selection criteria. The study found that some communities can influence the implementing partners' negotiation process with WFP to implement a food assistance project and hence can be said to participate successfully in the targeting strategy through advocacy. This is much more likely to happen in communities with strong cohesion and with leadership styles that encourage good working relations with outsiders wishing to support that particular community. In some cases, the beneficiary community itself approaches WFP to implement the project - this was seen to be more likely to be led by women in urban settings, where perhaps traditional leadership styles had somewhat broken down.

Participative methods are encouraged by WFP for all its implementing partners and set out in the Columbia PRRO 10366 operations manual. Important examples include encouraging meetings with beneficiaries (especially women), explaining the origins of food assistance, and creating a Food Committee or equivalent. Close and regular contact with the communities and implementing partners was found to be an essential ingredient for participative and representative approaches. The WFP has successfully achieved this in many of the projects it supports. The creation of representative food committees in the community to run food assistance projects was seen to be one of the most successful ways of balancing out leadership roles and introducing checks to mitigate against corrupt leadership styles. In addition, the food committees were seen to have successfully empowered female community members to advocate for the strict adherence of the programme selection criteria and gain networking and resource mobilisation skills. Where the food committee was made up of hand-picked friends of corrupt community leaders, the scope for community participation was seen to be greatly diminished. Participative consultation techniques were also observed among representatives of IDPs who had accumulated years of experience representing their community and had gained their trust.

The main exception to this observation was the mechanism of working with targeting practices already in place through established community leadership mechanisms set up for other purposes. This proved to be the mechanism that was most prone to abuse in terms of promoting participation, especially when associated with the selection criteria under GoC food for work programmes. Corrupt leadership is something for which WFP's current targeting strategy has few checks and balances.

Main enabling factors for participatory targeting included:

Constraining factors included:

The case study authors concluded that CBTD is an approach that needs to be judged for its contribution to more effective targeting, as well as for its contribution to more participatory programming methods. In the case of Columbia, CBTD achieves both of these objectives when it empowers community members to gain new skills and does the opposite when communities cause further exclusion through unfair systems of targeting.

Show footnotes

1Jaspars. S and Maxwell. D (2008). Targeting in complex emergencies. Somalia country case study. Feinstein International Centre, July 2008.

2Frize. J (2008). Targeting in complex emergencies. Columbia country case study. Feinstein International Centre, July 2008.

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Targeting in complex emergencies: the cases of Somalia and Columbia. Field Exchange 35, March 2009. p12.



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