DfID's response to Typhoon Haiyan: Opportunities for future humanitarian crises

A beneficiary of U.K.-funded humanitarian supplies, which was distributed by a consortium of NGOs in Leyte, one of the hardest hit areas of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Photo by: Jess Seldon / DfID / CC BY

In 2011, the U.K. Department for International Development launched the Rapid Response Facility, designed for swift mobilization of resources in disasters or humanitarian emergencies.

Some two years later, that move proved to be quite useful in the Philippines.

A day after Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the central Visayas region, British Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening activated the facility and approved an initial funding request of 5 million pounds. Within 72 hours, a chartered flight from Dubai — where it has prepositioned stocks — arrived in Cebu, where the closest airport was located. That same day, funding proposals from the agency's pre-qualified implementing partners were approved.

This swift and decisive action by DfID made the agency among the first responders to Haiyan, and one of the points that garnered the agency a "green" rating from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. A green rating means DfID could introduce some improvements to a program, but overall it has performed well against the aid watchdog's criteria for effectiveness and value for money.

Early, vital contribution to post-typhoon efforts

So far, there’s been only two out of 32 reports that received the same rating in the past: DfID's health programs in Myanmar and its livelihoods work in Western Odisha, India. ICAI noted, though, that the latest report veers from its usual structure as it focuses on the agency's preparedness, mobilization, impact and transition — as opposed to examining a program's objectives, delivery, impact and learning.

"DfID’s preparedness to respond, combined with the effective use of military assets and pace of decision-making meant that the UK was able to make an early and vital contribution to this international response," said Mark Foster, the report's lead commissioner.

This is however not the only factor that garnered the agency praises from its Haiyan response, which according to the watchdog could be useful as DfID develops a strategy for intervention in future crises in countries where it also does not have a permanent presence.

We highlight below five points that made the British humanitarian response to Haiyan noteworthy — including the establishment of the RRF — and from which other donors could derive lessons from, based on the report:

1. Pre-qualified implementing partners — Apart from the rapid commitment of funding, the facility also allowed DfID to have a ready set of implementing partners that have had a history of performing well in handling U.K. aid money. At present, the facility has 36 pre-qualified partners, which include some of the biggest international organizations like Oxfam, Plan International, Save the Children and World Vision. This proved useful as DfID no longer had to screen organizations that will receive U.K. aid. Although that may not be favorable to new and small organizations, it cuts the "lengthy contracting process" and helped the agency to meet one of the important elements in emergencies: provide immediate, life-saving assistance.

2. Holistic approach — DfID's Haiyan response underscored the effectiveness of cross-department collaboration. In this case, DfID has pre-existing Memoranda of Understanding with various U.K. government departments, including the Ministry of Defense, the National Health Service and the Chief Fire Officers Association. These different departments each played significant roles in the agency's Haiyan response. For instance, the military deployed naval ships and helicopters to help with logistics and search and rescue efforts, while the National Health Service provided health specialists to assist in medical and surgical operations.

3. Fast decision-making — The first batch of U.K. aid goods arrived in the Philippines on November 12. This was a chartered flight from Dubai that cost the agency 640 pounds per ton. This quick action by the agency's logistics team helped them save money, as a few days later flight prices went up to as much as 3,000 pounds per ton. It also allowed the agency to get essential nonfood items on the ground in the Philippines as soon as possible. "DFID’s procurement was so effective that it brought substantially more essential NFIs into the Philippines in the first six weeks (when they were most needed) than the U.N.’s Humanitarian Response Depot network," ICAI said in the report.

4. Inclusive trainings — A few weeks before Haiyan happened, DfID's Conflict, Humanitarian and Security Department, which is composed of a network of specialists that can respond to three simultaneous major emergencies, underwent training exercises in Denmark. This helped prepare them better in their response to Haiyan. But that's not all. In that training, DfID also involved members of its press team, who were able to raise the crisis' profile in the United Kingdom and led to a huge public donation of 85 million pounds to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal, which would go to 14 U.K.-based humanitarian NGOs that were responding to the Haiyan crisis. The inclusion of DfID's press team also helped the agency's humanitarian team to focus on their work, rather than deal with the media, according to ICAI, which noted that Greening also took part in several DfID exercises on emergency response.

5. 'Clear' leadership — As among the first responders, DfID was able to help shape the aid response in Haiyan's aftermath. The agency provided 1 million pounds to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Response to help it setup and coordinate the response, and therefore was able to push for the incorporation of women and girls in the response, although how far that went in terms of actual work on the ground remains to be seen. The United Kingdom's decision however to put its armed forces under DfID made a difference. ICAI said: "DfID had a clearly-defined leadership role for planning and coordination, including of military assets. This contrasted with some of the other military groups involved and helped to maintain central control and to ensure that the right resources were deployed."

Challenges and opportunities

While DfID's response has been commended, the involvement of too many actors left oversight challenges that ICAI said should be addressed in the future. For instance, the watchdog found some procurement delays on the part of some NGOs.

The impact of DfID’s intervention also remains hard to evaluate, despite positive feedback from more than 200 intended beneficiaries in Tacloban and Guian, over 150 stakeholders. This may become even more difficult in the coming days as the intervention on the ground shifts to early recovery and reconstruction and DfID's presence is reduced. The agency has only allocated 15 million pounds for early recovery efforts, although there are plans for the Philippines to be part of resilience programs under DfID's Asia, Caribbean and Overseas Territories team.

The Philippines is not a priority country for DfID, and the agency has no plans of establishing a permanent office in the country.

ICAI however recommend the agency help participate in the recovery efforts. It could engage the British embassy and Foreign Commonwealth Office, which both have offices in the country, and make use of its expertise to provide technical advice in the areas of climate change adaptation, coordination among different stakeholders involved in the response, and protection of women and girls, the latter being an important issue for DfID and one that will soon be a requirement for all U.K. aid efforts once the much-talked about gender equality bill receives Royal Assent and becomes law.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.