Using citizen feedback to improve services for earthquake victims in Nepal

joy Apr 1, 2016

This “Closing the Loop” piece comes from Feedback Labs Collaboration Fund winners. In Fall 2015, Integrity Action, Ground Truth Solutions, Youth Initiatives, Local Interventions Group, and Accountability Lab won US$20,000 to implement and experiment with closing the loop for earthquake victims in Nepal. Here is our mid-term update to help Feedback Labs and its members learn from their efforts. This blog was posted by them here

In April and May 2015 Nepal was struck by 2 earthquakes of 7+ magnitude which devastated the South Asian nation. As well as over 8,000 deaths, 450,000 homes destroyed and 2.8 million people displaced1 , the disaster has also caused immense damage to Nepal’s infrastructure, including communications and transport networks, which has severely impaired access to communities in need which are located in remote areas.

Despite the efforts of over 330 humanitarian agencies contributing towards relief efforts, the situation on the ground is dire for many Nepal citizens in need of aid and support. Outside Kathmandu people are often not aware about relief efforts going on where they live, or they feel that efforts are unsatisfactory and are not addressing their basic needs.

Into this context, Youth Initiative Nepal has launched their Youth in Post Disaster Integrity project with support from Integrity Action. This project was co-designed with GroundTruth and AccountabilityLab and funding from the Feedback Labs collaborative. It built upon the work that these organisations have been carrying out in Nepal around citizen feedback on the earthquake response, using local groups of volunteers to track satisfaction with relief efforts in all of the worst affected districts.

This Youth in Post Disaster Integrity project is part of Youth Initiative’s drive to promote citizen engagement in development, particularly through youth inclusion, as well as their combined efforts, with Integrity Action, to implement Community Integrity Building in Nepal. This intervention is pioneering Community Integrity Building (CIB) to provide a feedback loop and solution-focused approach to disaster relief. This is in order to ensure that aid agencies, government and NGOs are more accountable and responsive to citizens who are in need of aid, as well as to support citizen empowerment to monitor aid activities so that ultimately the needs and concerns of citizens are heard and understood, whilst the public is informed about vital aid relief they are entitled to.

The 3 month long pilot was launched in November 2015 targeting relief efforts in Gorkha, Makwanpur, Dhading, Raasuwa and Sindupalchowk districts. Because it is a short pilot, the key goals of the project are to:

  • Ensure better access to relevant relief aid information
  • Enhance beneficiaries satisfaction from NGOs and Government in relief distribution and reconstruction
  • Improve fairness in distribution
  • Ensure the voice of victims are heard by key stakeholders and acted upon
  • Have at least 5 recommendations, for improved response, adopted
  • Ensure 50% of identified problems are resolved
  • Ensure at least 40% of the population are satisfied with the relief service
  • Ensure 70% of the population will have access to information related to relief aid and support

To date, twenty community monitors have been trained across the 5 districts where they have been identifying the key failings in the relief efforts by interviewing citizens and monitoring the implementation of aid efforts on the ground. They have made several key findings including:

People who live near roads have much better access to relief and support from the government and NGOs compared to those in most need in isolated areas

  • Access to political parties has been important for NGOs trying to distribute aid due to political interference with the relief efforts
  • Food aid has only been provided to Dalits (socially considered untouchable caste)
  • Improper management of the relief response is inhibiting citizens access to available water resources
  • People who are eligible have not been receiving government compensation with some not aware of their eligibility
  • Single women and pregnant women were unable to receive relief materials
  • Citizens with disabilities have not been able to access compensation, which they are legally entitled to

Findings from monitors are being discussed at Joint Working Groups (collaborative groups where stakeholders work together) and Integrity Hubs. Youth Initiative and the monitors have invited key stakeholders from government, NGOs and communities to gather together and discuss the monitors’ findings and identify and implement solutions to improve relief aid performance in these settings. These have provided a new platform for dialogue and grievance sharing which have been raising awareness about the problems uncovered by the monitors.

The following recommendations made by Youth Initiative’s monitors, based on interviews and focus group discussions with citizens in the effected districts, have been implemented:

  • Village Development Committees (VDC) in Gorkha, Dhading, Rasuwa, Makwanpur and Sindhupalchowk districts are now sharing lists of households who are entitled to relief benefits. Youth Initiative’s monitors visit households eligible and help them to register with the chief district office in each district so they can receive their benefits.
  • VDC staff in all districts will attend monthly events arranged by Youth Initiative where monitors will share feedback on the effectiveness of aid and relief from citizens. This will also be a forum for monitors to better understand the problems citizens are still facing and develop more effective strategies in response
  • Local activists have agreed to work with Youth Initiative and to begin identifying problems with aid and relief distribution where they live and report this to Youth Initiative’s monitors so an effective response can be agreed.

Youth Initiative has so far not faced considerable political challenges implementing their project. They have been able to work with NGOs, communities and government representatives. However, there are instances where JWG members in high ranking government positions are not available to attend meetings and do not turn up due to time constraints, made worse by the geographic problems and gaining access to certain areas. To mitigate this challenge, Youth Initiative and monitors have visited important JWG members in local government in places convenient to them so as to ensure their findings are shared with the most important stakeholders.

The logistical problems encountered in getting to the geographical locations in some of the districts have also proved to be a serious challenge for Youth Initiative. Travelling between districts and within districts has proved time consuming for monitors and Youth Initiative staff as well as stakeholders and citizens who are being engaged. This has meant that individuals are sometimes forced to stay overnight for meetings.

Due to the short nature of this project Youth Initiative will face added pressure to ensure that partnerships established over such a short space of time remain durable and open to hearing citizens’ voices. Failure to do so will inhibit their ability to close the loop on problems discovered and to ensure recommendations are implemented.

Lessons learnt
Stakeholders in local government have been willing to engage with community monitors and are eager to learn about the problems citizens are facing accessing relief. In addition, because monitors have been carefully selected, based on their capacity, time commitments and links to local areas, they have been able to easily build trust and engage with citizens and important local stakeholders. This has enabled them to bring groups together in dialogue to discuss important issues and propose solutions.

The inclusion of journalists and media stakeholders in forums to discuss problems identified by the monitors has proved to be a success, enabling Youth Initiative to gain additional positive media coverage around their project as well as highlighting problems that have been discovered by monitors.

Moving forward
Youth Initiative hopes that by tracking the progress of recommendations made, as well as the commitments from NGOs, government and humanitarian agencies, and following up to ensure they are carried out, they can contribute towards ensuring that aid is reaching the most vulnerable and that the voices of citizens are heard. They hope that by bringing citizens together with key stakeholders in government and aid agencies aid will become more accountable and responsive to the needs of citizens and ultimately improve the lives of those in desperate need as a result of the earthquake in Nepal.