This report is compiled following a request by the Principals of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC)2 at a meeting on 6 May 2010. The report is written 6 months after the 12 January earthquake in Haiti and is concerned primarily with
the response by IASC members to the disaster, but necessarily refers to the role of other key actors, including the Haitian population and Government, international militaries, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), and regional entities. The report describes the response of the humanitarian community 3 to the earthquake,
outlining the main achievements and challenges encountered, proposes lessons which can be learned from the initial phase of the humanitarian response, and summarizes some aspects of the way forward.
The humanitarian community’s response to the massive earthquake which struck Haiti on 12 January 2010 was a considerable achievement in the face of a multitude of challenges. The earthquake, which is estimated to have killed over 222,000 people and directly or indirectly affected almost one third of the Haitian population, was the
most significant disaster requiring a large-scale multi-sectoral international response since the Pakistan earthquake in 2005. It represents a major test of the capacity, resources, response readiness, and modus operandi of the global humanitarian
community. Critical lessons can been learned from the first 6 months of the humanitarian operation, which are essential to ensure the response in Haiti becomes more efficient, effective, accountable, and responsive to the needs of the most vulnerable. These lessons will also inform wider analysis of how the humanitarian community can improve the way it operates, to contribute to saving more lives,
reducing vulnerabilities, and restoring dignity to disaster-affected populations.
The devastation caused by the earthquake itself was compounded by underlying vulnerabilities in 2 The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) is a unique inter-agency forum for coordination, policy development and decision-making involving key
United Nations (UN) and non-UN humanitarian partners. The IASC was established in June 1992 in response to United Nations General Assembly Resolution 46/182.
3 For ease of reference, this term will henceforth be used as a generic term to refer to all humanitarian actors involved in the response, including
international and national entities and without distinguishing between UN agencies,
(International)Non-Governmental Organisations, and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, but predominantly focusing on IASC organizations – as per the focus of the report. Haiti, including systemic poverty, structural challenges, weak governance, and an almost annual exposure to floods, hurricanes and related disasters. In addition, the earthquake occurred in an urban setting, a context unfamiliar to many humanitarian actors and which presented significant logistics and
access hurdles. It is worth recalling that those who would normally have been at the frontline of the response in Haiti - the Government, civil society, MINUSTAH, and humanitarian organizations with a presence in Haiti prior to the earthquake - were
themselves severely affected in terms of loss of capacities, resources and staff, which seriously undermined their ability to respond effectively and swiftly.
Despite the challenging operating environment, the humanitarian operation to a large extent achieved its immediate objectives, and responded effectively to the critical needs identified. Approximately 4 million people have received food assistance, emergency shelter materials have been distributed to 1.5 million people, safe water has been made available to 1.2 million people, and 1 million people have benefited from Cash-for-Work programmes. In camps and spontaneous settlements housing approximately 1.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), basic services
such as health clinics, educational support, and water and sanitation facilities have been provided, while joint patrolling by MINUSTAH and Haitian police is helping to protect the most vulnerable. In rural areas, over 142,000 farming families have
been supported with critical inputs for the spring planting season, while targeted nutritional programmes have aimed to reduce severe acute malnutrition amongst those affected by the earthquake. Common logistics services have been
essential to the efficiency of the response, with over 90 humanitarian organizations supported in the delivery of a total of 9,300 Metric Tonnes (MTs) of life-saving relief supplies from the Dominican Republic to Haiti.
In an operation of the size and complexity of the earthquake response in Haiti, coherent and commonly-agreed humanitarian coordination mechanisms were critical from the outset, to help to channel and coordinate the wide-ranging resources and capacities available. The influx of thousands of humanitarian actors, many of whom,
while well-meaning, were not necessarily professional and well-informed in their approach, posed a challenge to the coordination dynamics of the response. The presence and assets of well-resourced and potent military entities, particularly the United States (US) Military but also MINUSTAH, presented both opportunities and
challenges for the humanitarian community. Humanitarians required the support of the military in facilitating the transport and distribution of Inter-Agency Standing Committee: Haiti Earthquake Response, 6-Month Report assistance, but were reluctant to risk undermining the humanitarian principles so central to their
modus operandi by engaging too closely. The swift establishment of clusters to ensure effective sectoral coordination, and the later convening of the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) to provide overall strategic guidance, were positive steps
towards a strengthened coordination of the response. Meanwhile, the establishment of
coordination structures engaging both military and humanitarian actors in a joint decision-making and resource-tasking enterprise was critical to the absorption of extensive military assets into the humanitarian response operation.
Despite these significant achievements, there was a perception of a coordination deficit in the initial phase of the response operation, and a sense in which others (e.g. the military actors) felt they had to step in to supplement humanitarian leadership
on the ground, which was not providing sufficient strategic vision or overall visible coherence. Critical strategic decisions impacting on the efficacy and appropriateness of the humanitarian response, including, for example, strategies to deal with
immediate assistance to, and longer-term resettlement of, those displaced, and a more strategic targeting of assistance to prevent significant population movements, seemed to be slow in coming. Whatever the validity of this criticism in the initial weeks following the earthquake, huge strides were made over the subsequent months to strengthen the coordination of the response. Humanitarian leadership was
strengthened over time and clusters became increasingly operational, deploying senior and experienced coordinators, and providing effective coordination in a potentially chaotic operating environment. The initial coordination and leadership challenges do not bring into question individual performance, but rather emphasize the
need to reinforce endorsed systems and structures and to make sure individuals who are required to lead are provided with the means to do so. In a highly complex context such as Haiti, the humanitarian community is faced with challenging dilemmas in the provision of assistance, not least in identifying the most vulnerable and in
distinguishing between those affected by the earthquake and those – the majority of the population in this instance – suffering from more systemic forms of deprivation. An equally challenging question relates to identifying and strengthening the linkages between the relief operation and the longer-term reconstruction and development agenda. The humanitarian community in Haiti has a critical role to play in
supporting a Government which was itself severely affected by the earthquake to lead the reconstruction efforts. One element of the response which could have been improved in the initial phase was the international humanitarian community’s engagement with Haitian civil society and local authorities, and their inclusion in
common coordination mechanisms. Had this been achieved in a more systematic manner, it would have significantly improved the humanitarian community’s understanding of the operating context, and contributed to a more sustainable
provision of assistance, as well as local and national capacity-building.
With a cross-sectoral funding appeal revised in June to request almost $1.5 billion - and this for relief operations alone - it is clear that the needs are still immense, and the challenges facing the response operation potentially daunting. Foremost
amongst these challenges is shelter – working with the Government to identify durable solutions for the secure settlement of the displaced population. Implementing the Safer Shelter Strategy will require significant financial resources, complex
legal arrangements, and the mobilization of all actors around a commonly-held vision. These shelter questions are brought more sharply into focus during the hurricane season, and the related increase in vulnerabilities this will inevitably bring,
which is why contingency planning and preparedness activities have been a major focus in recent months.
The challenging and complex nature of the humanitarian response to the Haiti earthquake has presented the humanitarian community with some key lessons which it is in the process of learning and which will serve to strengthen future response
operations. Foremost among them is the need to understand better – and to work more proactively with - various actors from outside the humanitarian context, not least military entities, but also the private sector. Linked to this is a pressing imperative to identify ways to engage better with affected Governments and civil society
partners. The global humanitarian architecture must be critically reviewed to ensure that it is not implemented in such a way as to preclude such partnerships which are critical to the most effective response.
Another key lesson learned is the need for the humanitarian community to review how it should adapt to urban responses and to identify the necessary expertise, tools, knowledge, and partnerships to be able to operate effectively in such environments. Ensuring a better understanding of vulnerability – and what this means for humanitarian assistance strategies - is a priority for humanitarian actors. One way this can be strengthened is through learning how to communicate better with disaster-affected populations, which would lead to an improved Inter-Agency Standing Committee: Haiti Earthquake Response, 6-Month Report understanding of the operating context. Finally, it is clear that strong, decisive and empowered
humanitarian leadership on the ground at all levels is essential to the effective functioning of a response operation. With strong and experienced leadership, including within the clusters, providing the required strategic vision, the operational
response becomes more efficient, effective, and coherent.
Ultimately, while it is critical that the humanitarian community learn lessons derived from the Haiti response operation, it is imperative that it does not lose sight of the overall objective of humanitarian response: to save lives, reduce vulnerabilities, and