Tsunami Evaluation Coalition

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The Tsunami Evaluation Coalition (TEC)[1] was a unique learning and accountability initiative in the relief and development sector. It was first established in February 2005 to carry out joint evaluations of the response to the Asian earthquake and tsunamis of 26 December 2004.

The TEC had over 50 member agencies from the United Nations, Donors, Non-Governmental Organisations and the Red Cross. These organisations have been working together since the TEC was established to:

  • To improve policy and practice in the relief and rehabilitation sector.
  • To provide some accountability to both the donor and recipient public.
  • To improve evaluation in the relief and rehabilitation sector by learning from the TEC process itself.

Need for evaluation[edit]

Evaluation is needed in humanitarian aid to maintain the quality of the response, as there is no commercial feedback mechanism as with running a business, or direct political feedback as with running local services. Evaluation helps to provide aid managers and policy-makers with feedback on how well the whole humanitarian system is doing.

The TEC was the most significant evaluation effort in the humanitarian sector since the Joint Evaluation[2] of the response to the Rwanda Crisis in 1994, and followed in the footsteps of Study 3 [3] of that evaluation which examined humanitarian aid and its effects.


The TEC was guided by a Core Management Group of about 15 members. The TEC was hosted by the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP)[4] Secretariat in London. The Secretariat was responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the TEC under the direction of the Core Management Group. Participating agencies worked within a framework that encouraged sharing of information, lesson learning, accountability, and mutual support and transparency.

Each of the TEC thematic evaluations was separately managed by its commission agency or agencies and the steering committee for that evaluation.

Thematic Evaluations[edit]

TEC members commissioned five different thematic studies. The topics of the studies were chosen on the basis that they were topics that would particularly benefit from a joint evaluation. The five thematic evaluation are all independent, and were carried out by independent consultants.

The five thematic evaluations carried out field work in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, the Maldives, Somalia, and Donor capitals from September to November 2005. Their reports were published together with the main synthesis report in July 2006. These five thematic reports cover:

  • Needs Assessment
  • The Impact on Local and National Capacities
  • The Linkages with Relief, Rehabilitation, and Development
  • Coordination
  • The Donor Response

The TEC products[edit]

The TEC produced a series of reports:

  • An initial findings report in December 2005.
  • The main synthesis report, the five thematic reports, and the underlying country studies and other subsidiary reports in July 2006.
  • An expanded summary of the synthesis report in January 2007.

All the TEC reports can be found on the TEC website.[5]

The six initial findings[edit]

The TEC published an initial findings report[6] in December 2005. These preliminary findings were based on initial reports from the more than fifty consultants involved in the field-work.

Relief was effective[edit]

The relief phase was effective in ensuring that the immediate survival needs were met, through a mixture of local assistance in the immediate aftermath and international assistance in the first weeks after the disaster. However, these relief responses were generally not based on joint needs assessments and were not well coordinated, leading to an excess of some interventions such as medical teams, alongside shortages in less accessible areas or less popular sectors such as water supply.

Unprecedented response[edit]

The scale of the generous public response was unprecedented, not only in the amount of money raised (about $14 billion internationally) but also in the proportion of funding from the general public, and the speed with which money was pledged or donated. The scale of the funding allowed an early shift to rehabilitation and the use of cash assistance programmes. It also acted as a giant lens, highlighting many of the existing problems in humanitarian response systems. The scale of funding also created coordination problems as it increased the number of agencies while removing some of the normal incentives for agencies to engage with coordination mechanisms.

Local capacity underestimated[edit]

Although local capacity is key to saving lives, this capacity is underestimated and undervalued by the international aid community as well as being overlooked by the international media. International agencies did not engage sufficiently with local actors, and assessed the skills of local actors relative to those of their own agency rather than in terms of skills appropriate to the local context.

Capacity of the humanitarian system is limited[edit]

The capacity of the international humanitarian system is not infinitely elastic. Despite the generous response to the tsunami, the appeals-based system for funding humanitarian emergencies is flawed, with a pattern of under-funding humanitarian response in general. This pattern of low funding for most emergencies limits the development of capacity within the international aid system, and makes it difficult for the system to scale-up to respond appropriately to a large emergency such as this.

Agencies focus too much on "brand" promotion[edit]

Agencies focus too much on promoting their brand and not enough on the needs of the affected populations. Agencies are still not transparent or accountable enough to the people they are trying to assist. In some cases agencies are also not sufficiently accountable to those providing the funding.

Recovery is proving far more difficult than relief[edit]

The recovery phase is proving a far bigger challenge than the relief phase. This is due in part to the greater complexity of recovery and to the demands that such complexity places on the aid agencies.

The main synthesis report[edit]

This report[7] synthesised the whole TEC evaluation effort. The foreword of the report was written by former US President Bill Clinton in his capacity as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery.

The four main findings dealt with:

  • Local capacities.
  • International support for local actors.
  • The quality of interventions.
  • The unpredictable funding system.

Local capacities determine how many survive[edit]

It was local people themselves who provided almost all immediate life-saving action and the early emergency support, as is commonly the case in disasters. Thus, it is often local capacities that determine how many survive in the immediate aftermath of a sudden onset natural disaster. The TEC studies found that international agencies experienced major problems in scaling up their own responses. Those agencies that had invested (before the disaster) in developing their emergency response capacity had the potential to be more effective. Pre-existing links, and mutual respect, between international agencies and local partners also led to better use of both international and local capacities.

International action in support of local actors[edit]

International action was most effective when enabling, facilitating and supporting local actors. International agencies often brushed local capacities aside, even though they subscribe to norms and standards that call for engagement with and accountability to local actors such as governments, communities and local NGOs. International agencies often ignored local structures and did not communicate well with local communities nor hold themselves accountable to them.

Many examples of poor quality work[edit]

There were many examples of poor quality work in the response to the tsunami, not only in the relief phase (largely from inexperienced agencies) but also in the recovery phase. Different parts of the international humanitarian response community have, over the last decade, launched several initiatives to improve the quality of humanitarian work. These initiatives typically set up norms or standards, but none of them has an effective mechanism to sanction agencies for failing to meet them.

Arbitrary funding[edit]

The tsunami highlighted the arbitrary nature of the current funding system for humanitarian emergencies. This system produces an uneven and unfair flow of funds for emergencies that neither encourages investment in capacity nor responses that are proportionate to need. Despite the commitment to Principles of Good Humanitarian Donorship (GHD) by some donors, the TEC studies found that donors often took decisions on funding the response based on political calculation and media pressure.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ [2]
  3. ^ [3]
  4. ^ [4]
  5. ^ [5]
  6. ^ [6]
  7. ^ "Joint evaluation of the international response to the Indian Ocean tsunami: Synthesis Report" (PDF). TEC. July 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-08-25. Retrieved 16 June 2013.