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Evaluation of the response to Hurricane Matthew, Haiti

Summary of research1

On 3 and 4 October 2016, Hurricane Matthew struck southwest Haiti, affecting an estimated 2.1 million people; the first major disaster since the May 2016 World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul. A real-time evaluation (RTE) was undertaken to determine if the response lived up to the commitments made at the WHS, especially those laid down in the ‘Grand Bargain’ agreement between donor governments and agencies. Two independent experts visited Haiti in weeks six and seven of the response to assess if the international response was effective, efficient, relevant and timely and how it reflected the Grand Bargain commitments.2 The following provides a summary of findings in the RTE report. 

The overall finding is that there has been significant, albeit uneven, improvement in the international humanitarian response to Hurricane Matthew compared to earlier disasters in Haiti, with major differences in the understanding of the scale and complexity of the disaster among donors and operational humanitarian agencies, who responded at different speeds and with different levels of investment from headquarters. The efforts made in disaster preparedness and resilience-building since the 2010 earthquake have largely paid off; prepositioned stocks and trained staff facilitated a rapid start to the response, even before communication with the affected area was re-established. National leadership and coordination under the Haitian Civil Protection Agency was rapidly put in place, albeit constrained by the absence of a national disaster law. Despite a strong United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) presence during the initial phase, it took some time for effective system-wide coordination to be put in place and for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to step up its role and capacity.

At the time of the RTE, there was still no consolidated picture of where the most urgent needs lay or of who had received assistance. Some sectors were performing better than others; affected communities had received water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services in particular; however urgent shelter needs were still not being met. There were also problems coping with increased food insecurity; by weeks six to seven of the response, significant parts of the highly affected areas had still not been reached with food, largely due to logistical and security constraints and insufficient implementation capacity on the ground. This raises the dilemma of doing the right things (ensuring access to any kind of food) or doing things right (only distributing a comprehensive, balanced food ration). In tropical rural areas, where food rations would be temporary and where wild food and leaves would provide part of the micronutrient ration, distributing an unbalanced food aid ration quickly to as many families as possible is better than waiting to distribute a balanced ration.

Key findings according to the relevant Grand Bargain commitments are:

More support to local and national responders: The Haitian authorities have taken the lead in managing and coordinating the response to Hurricane Matthew and international actors have given them space to do so. However, United Nations (UN) and international agencies need to provide more coordination, guidance and take initiatives in consultation with the authorities.

Increase the use and coordination of cash-based programming: In Haiti, the World Food Programme (WFP) was quick to assert a leading role in the coordination of cash. However, as cash should be used for all relevant sectors and not only for food, intense negotiations resulted in the creation of a workable, OCHA-led cash coordination mechanism.

Improved joint and impartial needs assessments: The collection of data and the coordination of needs assessments and analysis could have been better managed and coordinated. Early in the response, certain data (especially mortality figures) became a politically charged issue, exacerbated by competition for limited funds. OCHA’s initial weaknesses resulted in many shortcomings in terms of data management; this has improved significantly with OCHA’s increased capacity.

The participation revolution: The Grand Bargain stresses the need for affected people and communities to be included in decision-making that affects their lives and for agencies to share relevant information about their plans and activities with them. The response in Haiti shows that many of the commitments in this area are not yet taken sufficiently seriously and the level of participation depends very much on the agency.

Enhance the engagement between humanitarian and development actors: In Haiti, the linking of humanitarian plans and development strategies is a daunting task not only because of the political context, but also because of the plethora of plans and strategies that have been developed. One major drawback is that several major donors were in the process of leaving Haiti before Hurricane Matthew and it remains unclear what affect this will have on the availability of multi-year humanitarian and recovery funds.

Key recommendations are:

Adjustments to be made to the current response

  1. Develop a consolidated overview of areas not yet reached by aid;
  2. Accelerate the process of supporting food security;
  3. Ensure that displacement in evacuation centres does not become prolonged and accelerate the delivery of proper assistance and protection for those who return to their areas of origin;
  4. Continue efforts to overcome the bottlenecks in the delivery of aid;
  5. Improve the shelter situation;
  6. Step up coordinated inter-sector and integrated responses, especially for areas that have not yet received assistance;
  7. Facilitate a gradual transition to cash-based solutions;
  8. Further improve communications with affected populations to ensure better acceptance and improve security;
  9. Increase access of national and local NGOs to financial resources and capacity-strengthening support.

Key recommendations for the longer term

  1. Ensure that the adoption of a national disaster law is a key priority of the government in order to set out roles and responsibilities in the management of preparedness and disaster response and make provision to facilitate appropriate investment in recovery, preparedness and longer-term, risk-informed development;
  2. Improve the disaster information management system;
  3. Make communication systems resilient;
  4. Develop pre-disaster arrangements with the private sector to ensure that sufficient equipment for road clearing is in place at the commune and departmental levels.

Key recommendations for the humanitarian sector

  1. Strengthen the capacity of OCHA in fragile states and at-risk countries;
  2. Establish proper dialogue with regard to assessing the gravity of a situation and agency mobilisation;
  3. Strategically use opportunities offered by remote-sensing and crowd-sourcing technologies;
  4. In contexts where clusters are not activated, UN and international agencies must realise that they have a responsibility in coordination, in particular in actively supporting government coordination capacities;
  5. Identify a way or mechanism that can make humanitarian and development funding instruments better articulated and able to address key humanitarian and recovery needs more quickly.

Key recommendations in the context of the Grand Bargain

  1. Continue to use the Grand Bargain as a basis for a two-way dialogue between donors and operational agencies;
  2. Insert a level of realism and honesty in working together.




1Grünewald F and Schenkenberg E. (2017). Real time evaluation: response to hurricane Matthew Haiti, November-December 2016. CCIC, CCO, CLIO, DfID, IFRC, OFDA/USAID, SDC, United Nations.


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Reference this page

Evaluation of the response to Hurricane Matthew, Haiti. Field Exchange 55, July 2017. p89.



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