• Blog
  • 13 May 2015

Public calls for better data and traceability in response to Nepal earthquake

To date, a total of US$156 million in international humanitarian funding has been allocated to the Nepal earthquake crisis according to the UN Office for t

To date, a total of US$156 million in international humanitarian funding has been allocated to the Nepal earthquake crisis according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)’s Financial Tracking Service (FTS). See our recent humanitarian funding analysis for the Nepal earthquake crisis. Development Initiative’s partner in Nepal through the Open Nepal initiative, Young Innovations, has set up a tool for tracking national and international funding to the crisis and report that an additional US$50 million in funding has also been committed/pledged from national sources to date.

Over the past couple of weeks since the first major earthquake struck, there has been mounting public demand, particularly in affected districts, for information on how funding – from both international and national sources – has been allocated, where it has be channelled and who has received it. See a recent blog from Open Nepal’s Pavitra Rana regarding public demand for better data on funding. The heightened level of accountability resulting from better information on funding would help to ensure that available humanitarian resources are allocated effectively, appropriately and in response to people’s needs.

Public calls for transparency of international and national funding to the crisis are particularly pertinent in the context of Nepal, given the ongoing recovery from a decade long insurgency. In this context, it is important that humanitarian aid reaches all those in need and in particular the most marginalised groups who are also likely to be most affected by the earthquake.

Meeting the demand for better data and traceability of funding to the Nepal crisis

The public desire for greater accountability through better data on funding highlights a need for improved local and international mechanisms to trace how and where funding has been allocated, from source to recipient. The current humanitarian situation in Nepal may also provide lessons for the improvement of traceability systems more generally.

Currently, mechanisms for the traceability of humanitarian assistance are lacking at both national and international levels, representing a critical gap in data on humanitarian financing. UN OCHA’s FTS is the most comprehensive source of available data on humanitarian funding and plays a critical role in tracking international spending in response to individual crises. However, the FTS was designed to track the progress of funding to specific appeals and is not intended to enable funds to be traced through the system once committed – it shows just the first-level funding recipients rather than the full spectrum of donor to recipient. This makes it impossible to measure what has reached communities and when.

So how can this data gap be filled?

  • The multi-stakeholder International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) is one way in which better data and information on humanitarian assistance could be made publically available. Originally designed for development aid, IATI is currently being modified to capture humanitarian assistance. A humanitarian marker added to the IATI standard will pave the way for longer term traceability of humanitarian funds at national and international levels. With greater availability, accessibility and use of information such as this, humanitarian actors could coordinate more effectively and enable accountability over the days, weeks, months and years following a disaster. However, although initial discussions around this are in place, the uptake of an IATI humanitarian marker into donor reporting systems will take time.
  • Local efforts to trace money are a very important contribution to transparency. The portal developed by Young Innovations to track funding could be expanded to report on the amount of pledged funds actually committed and information crowd-sourced on how the funds have been spent. Other important local traceability efforts from those within Nepal’s growing open development community include plans to work with clusters of donors in affected districts, plans to track government disbursements through right-to-information procedures, and plans to gather citizen-generated feedback from local volunteers to ensure accountability of relief expenditure.
  • The Government of Nepal is reportedly coordinating the response through the Nepal Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC). The traceability of funding through the recently established Prime Minister’s Relief Fund is going to be equally important in terms of accountability and meeting the information demands of affected communities. The government has stated that the details of receipts and expenditures of the Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund will be circulated on a daily basis, and that the fund will be audited annually by the Office of the Auditor General of Nepal. While this is important, and a positive step, annual efforts to audit accounts may not be enough to ensure effective traceability of humanitarian assistance. This raises a challenge for local and international actors to collaborate in joining up reporting systems in appropriate formats to ensure all stakeholders have access to information on how much has been given, where it has gone, how it got there, what it was spent on, and how quickly it was spent.
  • Given that some development funds are likely to be channelled to address the longer-term effects of the earthquake – for example through reconstruction, rehabilitation, and disaster prevention and preparedness efforts – it is critical that all development actors involved in the response (both funders and recipient organisations) report to IATI. At present, the lack of real-time reporting of these funds (e.g. through the OECD creditor reporting system) prevents useful analysis of such funding, but reporting of development assistance through the IATI standard allows some potential.

Lessons for global discussions on the need for greater transparency and data on financing in crisis-affected countries

Lessons drawn from the experience of Nepal following the earthquakes on the need for better traceability of funds are relevant to broader global policy discussions currently taking place on effective financing and reporting in crisis-affected countries. These include discussions through the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), Financing for Development (FfD), the UN High Level Panel on humanitarian financing, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Task Team on humanitarian financing and the Future Humanitarian Financing Initiative (FHF). It is important that in these fora, further commitments are made to improve the traceability of humanitarian and development financing.