Does Post-Disaster Aid Reach the Neediest Populations?Apr 23rd, 2012 | By Louise McLarnan
World Bank Policy Research Working Paper. 2011.
When a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, private donations and foreign aid poured in to support relief and rebuilding efforts. Now, two years after the earthquake, the development community is assessing whether post-disaster assistance programs reached those most in need.
The answer is no, according to Damien Echevin, author of the World Bank working paper “Livelihoods and the Allocation of Emergency Assistance after the Haiti Earthquake.” Echevin examines several types of assistance programs and finds that Haiti’s poorest people are not the primary recipients of aid.
Analyzing data from two random household surveys conducted in February and June of 2010 by several development organizations, Echevin compares the intended and actual results of food and non-food assistance programs, such as Cash-for-Work and Food-for-Work initiatives.
Echevin praises the programs’ intentions, emphasizing that “the most food-insecure should be allocated food aid first” and suggesting that “cash and food-for-work programs allow people living in directly affected areas to keep their dignity and self-esteem.”
Although 231 Cash-for-Work and Food-for-Work projects were in effect at the time of the surveys, they do not appear to have provided sufficient support for their participants, particularly the poorest members of the population. Echevin finds that while Cash-for-Work programs sound quite promising, less than one percent of all Haitian households report Cash-for-Work as their main source of income, and only 0.4 percent of the poorest households surveyed report Cash-for-Work as their main source of income.
Echevin’s analysis shows that general assistance programs have not successfully targeted the most vulnerable groups, such as “female headed households…and families with disabled people.” He further determines that access to aid is positively correlated with an individual’s membership in associations, such as school committees and agricultural organizations.
The data do not, however, offer a robust explanation of why the programs failed to reach Haiti’s most vulnerable populations. Echevin suggests that “assistance programs may have faced difficulties when it came to efficiently targeting households, or they may simply have chosen not to.” Further, he does not offer a prescription for improving the allocation of aid to the poor after a natural disaster, and admits that “good allocation” of aid is difficult to define.
Nonetheless, Echevin’s findings are particularly relevant for humanitarian aid organizations and the developing world as a whole, where nations with vulnerable communities and poor infrastructure require prompt, efficient, and well-designed aid programs in the aftermath of natural disasters. Echevin reminds readers that:
In order for humanitarian aid to benefit affected populations in an optimized way, donations have to be well planned with national authorities and the humanitarian community coordinating the assistance effort.
An influx of financial support is certainly valuable after a natural disaster, but without effective planning, targeting, and implementation, the most vulnerable people in the poorest nations may not benefit from such support.