Improving relief in post-earthquake Nepal through citizen engagement

joy Apr 25, 2016


Following the earthquake which hit Nepal on 25th April, 2015 a number of studies demonstrated that relief was not always reaching those who needed it. And there were negative perceptions about the distribution of aid. One such report was conducted by Ground Truth[1] who engaged Integrity Action in order to try to respond to some of the relief distribution issues highlighted in the report.

This pilot was designed to test whether the situation for citizens in disaster areas could be improved through a higher level of citizen engagement. The pilot worked to introduce a feedback loop between citizens and those responsible for the relief efforts hoping that increased communication would lead to better coordination and distribution of aid. Integrity Action set out to do this with Youth Initiatives through the training of volunteer, youth monitors. This approach was pioneering in that is sought to see whether monitors could ensure that the needs and concerns of those worst affected could be taken into account by aid agencies, government and other organisations involved in the disaster response.

Integrity Action conducted this trial in partnership with Youth Initiatives in Nepal, GroundTruth and AccountabilityLab, with funding from the Feedback Labs collaborative. The findings of this pilot suggest that the creation of this feedback loop and constructive engagement between citizen monitors and those responsible for relief can improve disaster response. It also demonstrates that citizen engagement and a solution-focused approach to disaster relief has a positive impact on implementation effectiveness and indicates the potentially transformative effects of using this approach at scale to improve the responsiveness of aid agencies to the needs and priorities of citizens within disaster zones.

Pilot implementation

This pilot builds on the work participating organisations have been carrying out in Nepal around citizen feedback on the earthquake response. Using local groups of youth volunteers to understand and track satisfaction with relief efforts in the worst affected earthquake districts. Under this pilot activities have been ongoing in Gorkha, Makwanpur, Dhading, Raasuwa and Sindupalchowk districts.

Youth Initiatives Nepal have been working alongside Integrity Action to use the Community Integrity Building (CIB) approach to engage citizens and dialogue with local government and relief agencies. Through these efforts the aim was to ensure that aid agencies, governments and NGOs were held accountable and increase their responsiveness to citizens in need of aid.

To identify areas of focus and to build on the findings of GroundTruth’s report a survey across the 5 districts of Nepal was carried out by Youth Initiatives to better understand the situation, needs and priorities. Findings demonstrated:

  • Only 1% of homes were suitable for living in due to the earthquake damage
  • 1 in 5 people faced problems accessing relief
  • 1 in 5 people found that the relief efforts lacked transparency
  • 29% of people were not satisfied with the assistance they had received
  • Almost 50% of households had not received the primary cash relief entitlements for the winter

Monitors gathered these findings by carrying out 1,000 household surveys[2] and in the process worked to identify key gaps in the relief efforts in the 5 districts. The 20 trained community monitors worked with relief organisations and local government to suggest recommendations for improvements before monitoring to ensure these recommendations were carried out to the satisfaction of the communities affected.

From the initial findings Youth Initiatives realised that in many cases those responsible for relief efforts were not aware of the issues communities were facing. In response to this they established Integrity Hubs and invited key stakeholders from government, NGOs and communities to discuss the monitors’ findings, identify and then implement solutions. This approach has been successful in providing a platform for dialogue and raising awareness about the problems uncovered by the monitors.

Together the solutions identified by those involved in the Integrity Hubs have led to:

  • 1,448 households receiving information through Youth Initiatives monitors on how to access vital aid and what they were entitled to. These households are now equipped with the knowledge to enable them to access food, clothing and water and Youth Initiatives will follow up to check they have now accessed these resources
  • 25% of the 24 problems discovered and actioned by the monitors, during this pilot, being resolved to date
  • 141 families have received food, blankets and warm clothes through the recommendations made by the monitors, who would not have received this support without the pilot
  • 119 primary school children received warm clothes and books as a direct result of the intervention

Although these results are modest, due to the size of the pilot, the exciting implication is that applying this approach more widely across disaster areas could be potentially transformative. This intervention provided vital relief to families, who otherwise would not have had access, and also set up structures and relationships to ensure sustainability. Based on recommendations suggested by Youth Initiative’s trained monitors, and agreed within the Integrity Hubs, the following have been implemented:

  • Village Development Committees (VDCs) in all 5 districts are now sharing lists of households who are entitled to relief benefits. Monitors, equipped with this information, are able to support those eligible households to register and receive those benefits.
  • VDC staff in all districts now attend monthly meetings where monitors share feedback on the effectiveness of relief aid from the point of view of the citizens.
  • Youth Initiatives have developed relationships with other local activists who are also identifying problems with aid and relief distribution and reporting this to trained monitors so that effective responses can be designed.

Lessons learned

Throughout this pilot it has been critical to ensure local officials understand that the work being carried out by monitors is to support the relief effort in a constructive and non-confrontational way. Disclosing reports from joint stakeholder meetings at times were met with resistance, especially when negative findings had been reported and discussed. However, on understanding the goals for this pilot local officials came on board. This was demonstrated by the willingness of officials in all districts to attend monthly events to hear feedback from monitors on the effectiveness of aid and relief. As disasters can often strain fragile links between communities and government it is essential to bring together citizens, government and aid agencies to build trust and understanding during the relief effort. This also enables citizen’s expectations to be better managed and continual feedback to citizens involved can further help to monitor and manage these expectations.

Looking to the future

The pilot covered a relatively small geographic area so the results are correspondingly modest, but applying this approach more widely in disaster-affected areas has great potential. Citizen monitors have been able to identify, share and respond to problems as well as create a platform for citizens, local officials and aid agencies to engage with one another. There is more to do but the pilot shows the potentially transformative effect of using trained monitors to make sure feedback from citizens is heard and their concerns addressed quickly and effectively.

Case study1 - Monetary compensation: In Sindupalchowk, monitors discovered intended beneficiaries from the World Vision International project were not receiving monetary compensation. Each household eligible should have received 7,500 Nepali Rupees towards repairing their homes damaged in the earthquakes. However, citizens who spoke to the monitors informed them they had not received these funds. The monitors approached local World Vision staff and made them aware that certain households eligible for the money were not receiving it. They discovered that some homes had not been included in World Vision’s records. After constructive engagement between the monitors and World Vision it was agreed that the beneficiaries would be remapped. As a result, 100% of households eligible received the vital financial compensation.

Case study 2 - Water scarcity: Monitors have been able to identify gaps in the provision of aid. Through Focus Group Discussions with women’s associations and cooperatives they realised there was a scarcity of water and inadequate sanitation facilities. The monitors were able to bring this problem to the attention of the local government and the responsible organisation who are now working to explore new ways of water distribution, including the construction of a water reservoir.

[1] Frontline Worker Survey, Nepal Round 1, 04/08/2015, Inter-agency common feedback project

[2] 100 households across 10 VDCs were selected and asked questionnaires which involved questions around effectiveness, transparency and accountability in relief recovery response and the means of information dissemination which had taken place, including its effectiveness