Learning from the mistakes of the past

Published: 19 December 2016 4:01 CET

The saying in Creole “Ti pas ti pas na rive,” loosely translated, means that patiently, taking one step at a time, one gets there.  This popular adage describes quite accurately how the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has come to work in Haiti.  After the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country, more that 120 national societies from all over the world were deployed in Haiti, resulting in enormous challenges in logistics and coordination, not only among Movement partners but also between the Movement and the many other humanitarian actors on the ground trying to help Haitians cope with the tragedy.  Fortunately, gone are those days of bureaucratic gridlock and operational mayhem, and the Movement’s emergency response operation following Hurricane Matthew is a showcase of how progressively some valuable lessons from the past have not been forgotten.


“At the beginning it was not easy, but it was clear for all of us, the Partner National Societies, the ICRC and of course the International Federation, that we were here not only to assist the victims of Matthew, but to support the Haitian Red Cross respond to this emergency,” says Florent Del Pinto, IFRC Head of Operations.  “Everything we do involves Haitian Red Cross volunteers, so building their capacity is an integral part of all our operational plans.”


One of the most evident examples of this emerging collaboration and coordination among Movement partners in Haiti is the Dashboard:  the Hurricane Matthew response is the first time this tool is dedicated to a single operation.  Created in early 2016 by the International Federation’s Disaster and Crisis department at their regional office in Panama, the Dashboard aims to make available to anyone using it, in one platform and with just a few clicks, all the information he or she could need to make informed decisions about the operation, report to donors or coordinate with other humanitarian actors the activities of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement in Haiti, either cumulatively or by individual member.  And there is a lot to share:  the American, Canadian, Dominican Republic, French, German, Italian, Netherlands and Spanish Red Cross national societies all have an active presence in Haiti since before Matthew struck in October, as does the ICRC and the International Federation, which is currently supported by Emergency Response Units (ERUs), Regional Intervention Teams (RITs), Field Assessment and Coordination Teams (FACTs) and a Head of Operations from at least half a dozen national societies.  It has not gone unnoticed that sister national societies from faraway places such as Sweden, Japan and Qatar are also contributing to this operation, whether with in-kind donations, financial resources or personnel.


“When we consolidate in one platform all the activities that the Movement partners are doing on a daily basis, whether it is a distribution of relief items or the rehabilitation of a water point or the launching of a hygiene promotion campaign with Haitian Red Cross volunteers in a remote community, can we coordinate better among ourselves and avoid duplications.  We can also show donors and other humanitarian actors the impact that the Movement is having in Haiti,” says Daniela Vergara, the International Federation’s Information Management resource who is tasked with training the Movement partners on how to use the Dashboard, as well as advocating for its use and designing new ways of streamlining it. “The Dashboard has improved our internal coordination and transparency.  And the Participating National Societies have seen the added value it has when interacting with other agencies, such as the UN for example, when our activities systematically appear in the 4W (Who, What, Where, When) maps.”


The Dashboard is not the only innovation happening in Haiti. The Hurricane Matthew response operation is breaking new ground in fulfilling the spirit of the 2013 Council of Delegates resolution on strengthening the Movement coordination and cooperation.  The Emergency Appeal, which seeks around 28 million CHF to reach about 150,000 people with main interventions in Health; Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH); Livelihoods and Shelter, is a combined appeal that all Movement partners have pledged to support in a unified and collaborative way.  Unlike previous operations where the IFRC and the host national society implemented most of the work described in the appeal, this time only about half of the activities are to be done this way.  For the first time also recipients of the appeal funds, the eight Participating National Societies and the ICRC, in conjunction with the Haitian Red Cross, will conduct about the other half of the activities proposed in the appeal.  Following a rigorous integrated planning strategy that ensures against duplication and wastage, as well increases the impact of the consolidated Red Cross intervention, special care has been taken to carefully and transparently work through the details of how resource allocation and sector responsibility will be done among the Movement partners, to ensure buy in and accountability.  In fact, Haiti is seen as a case study on how the 2013 Council of Delegates resolution is being put into practice, and a report on the Matthew operation will be presented at its next meeting in 2017.  All these advances bode well for the future of the International Movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, not only in Haiti but elsewhere.


While those working in Haiti celebrate the consolidated Emergency Appeal, and Dashboard users now understand the dividends of sharing information and having a coordinated approach, there is still a long road ahead before this kind of modus operandi and technology become standard operating procedure in the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.  For starters, there is the issue of the technological divide that most national societies still face, as the digitalization of the humanitarian sector is evolving slowly and unevenly.  Then there is the ever-present constraint of having limited resources, which further limits them in building technological capacity, whether it is in equipment or training of human resources.  And, of course, competing priorities will always exist and not always reason and common sense will prevail.  But as the Haitian saying implies, going one step a time, there is hope that the Movement will get there.