Nepal earthquake: One year on, what has the response been?

by Chloe Parrish


A year ago yesterday a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal’s Gorkha region and surrounding districts, killing almost 9,000 people, injuring 22,000 and leaving 3.5 million homeless. What steps have been taken to ensure the funding pledged and contributed in response is transparent and traceable?

Immediately after the Nepal earthquake the world reacted generously, with international governments, multilateral agencies and private donors pledging support of over US$4 billion. But Nepali citizens and agencies acting on their behalf needed to know more than how much had been offered; they needed to know how money was being spent – where, when, on what and for whom – to coordinate and deliver an effective response, and for that response to be accountable to the people it was aiming to help. Yet this information was not widely available, making it impossible to ‘follow the money’, from when it leaves donors’ bank accounts, to where it is spent on the ground.

Figure 1: Top ten donors to the Nepal earthquake response

nepal data blog one-year on

The Earthquake Response Transparency Portal

National and international media highlighted the lack of information on how and where funds were being used, and the potential impact of this on the overall response. In reaction to local demand for information, our partner in Kathmandu, the technology organisation Young Innovations, established the Earthquake Response Transparency Portal. The portal aims to provide accessible and usable data and information on the availability of resources for the earthquake response, and how they are being used. It was populated with openly available data from sources such as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Financial Tracking Service (FTS), Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund, media announcements and data published to the International Aid transparency Initiative (IATI) Standard.

However, these sources capture substantial information on only the resources being put into the system. This is a vital first step but not the full picture.

Traceability: The cornerstone of an efficient, effective and accountable response

The UN Flash appeal launched to coordinate and fund the international response to the Nepal earthquake is still only 67% funded, meaning one-third of needs identified in this appeal remain unmet a year after the disaster. This is not uncommon; in 2015, only 55% of all UN-coordinated humanitarian appeals’ needs were met by the end of the year. We also know that significant funds flowed outside the appeal, but we don’t know the full scale of these, nor how the appeals’ financing shortfall translated into a material shortfall of people’s needs being met. As well as contributing to improved accountability, traceable reporting on how resources are used would help improve the planning, coordination and delivery of assistance – knowing what is being delivered, where, when and by whom can help avoid duplication and ensure resources are appropriately targeted to areas of highest need.

Current widespread humanitarian reporting practices by international donors and agencies provide information on only the ‘first level’ recipient – the first link in the transaction chain. In reality, funds pass through various intermediaries before ultimately being used to provide assistance by organisations active locally (see figures 5.1 and 5.2 of the 2015 Global Humanitarian Assistance Report for further information on channels of delivery). In partnership with Young Innovations, Development Initiatives is conducting a traceability study to gather better information on the assistance delivered in response to the earthquake. A number of donors and agencies have voluntarily provided IATI-Standard data on their humanitarian activities and those of their local implementing partners, including critical fields that enable funds to be traced from donor through to the point of delivery. Their data answers many of the questions raised concerning how assistance was delivered.

Global relevance

While first and foremost this work is intended to support local transparency and accountability efforts in Nepal, the traceability study provides an opportunity to test the potential of IATI to meet an identified global need for improved reporting and traceable resource data in humanitarian crises.

The findings of the study will be presented at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul on 23 May, at a side event co-hosted by Development Initiatives entitled ‘Transparent financing and integrity measures for effective and accountable humanitarian action’. It will also be detailed in our forthcoming report, ‘Better data for a better response’. These will offer a real-life demonstration of how traceable data can be used to inform and improve the efficiency, effectiveness, coordination and accountability of humanitarian response, and provide a blueprint for the more systematic publishing of traceable data by a wider group of actors in other crisis situations.

The Earthquake Response Transparency Portal is just the first step in efforts by Development Initiatives and our partner organisation to ensure the transparency of assistance in Nepal following the earthquake. Young Innovations plans to develop this work by supporting government agencies to build on their efforts by establishing a transparent and accountable institutional regime for Nepal’s long-term rebuilding and reconstruction.

Traceability is dependent on a critical mass of good reporters. If you’ve been involved in the response and would like to contribute data, you can do so through the Get Involved page. By contributing, you will help us move closer to answering the question of what the world’s response to the Nepal earthquake has been. Working together, we can also move towards ensuring that answers on available resources – where, when, on what and for whom – are more readily available to the people who need them in future crises.

The data currently available in the earthquake portal can be explored here.

Photo: Tom van Cakenberghe/DEC, March 2016