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Albania: Final Evaluation of the 2019 Albania Earthquake Emergency Appeal (January – February 2021)

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1. Executive Summary

This evaluation was commissioned by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC – Regional Office for Europe (ROE), and this Final Report:

• elaborates on ARC structures, systems and planning processes, focusing on efficiency, effectiveness, relevance, appropriateness of the operation, and on accountability;

• assesses key programmatic areas with regard to efficiency and effectiveness, relevance and appropriateness of intervention, and possible sustainability;

• explores the support provided by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Regional Office for Europe (ROE), and other Movement partners with a view to efficiency and effectiveness as well as actual impact;

• draws conclusions from the above and provides recommendations to move forward, either to address shortcomings or to further support and enhance achievements and positive developments.

Two major earthquakes of 6.4 and 5.4 Richter magnitude occurred on November 26th, 2019 early in the morning (shortly before 04:00 hrs and at 07:10 hrs local time respectively). The epicentre was located appr. 30 kms west of the country’s capital Tirana at a depth of 10 kms. Although it appears that precise damage assessment figures by the Government of Albania (GoA) were at first not entirely conclusive, consolidated reports indicated a total of 11,490 housing units that were categorized as either fully destroyed, demolished or in need of complete rebuilt. Further 83,745 housing units were partially or slightly damaged. 17,000 people were said to have been displaced and were living in temporary accommodation, and most of the displaced households were staying first in camps, then in tents (a particularly precarious situation considering the approaching winter) or in rented accommodation. Most affected administrative regions were Durrës, Lezhë and Tiranë.

Following the instant release of CHF 229,375 from the DREF, the immediate issue of an initial Emergency Appeal (EA) on November 29th, 2019, only three days after the earthquakes, said appeal was revised on February 14th, 2020. The revised Plan of Action (PoA) focused on meeting immediate needs as well as early and mid-term recovery of officially identified and properly verified most vulnerable sections of the population. Targeted groups to be assisted included those whose homes had been damaged (collapsed, severely or lightly damaged), and who are vulnerable due to having lost a family member, low level income, or particular household vulnerabilities (e.g., disability, single female households, old people, pregnant women). The EPoA was in line with the overall PoA of Albanian Red Cross (ARC) and various reports indicate that more than 20,000 people were assisted with health services, PSS, WASH (through hygiene kits), livelihood and basic needs support (mostly cash grants) and shelter activities (household items). By the end of the intervention, it was assumed that up to 50,000 people will have been reached through community-based activities (DRR, PSS, health activities through awareness programming, which will ensure that the assistance has taken an integrated approach, particularly in the sectors of WASH, Health/PSS, Shelter, PGI, RFL, and DRR through multifunctional mobile teams. Cash assistance was increased from initially 700 to 1,100 households. The response programme also planned to re-stock and replenish ARC contingency stocks and to support ARC organizational development and strengthening in the areas of cash preparedness, volunteer management, IT, finance and logistic systems.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic that occurred shortly after the disaster response had gathered momentum, and due to the restrictions imposed worldwide and in Albania, the timeframe of the EA operation was extended by three months to be able to complete activities that had been adversely impacted by COVD-19.

The evaluation criteria are based on OECD/DAC for evaluations in complex emergencies (OECD/DAC, 2006), the IFRC criteria for evaluations, and the criteria and questions mentioned in the evaluation matrix. Apart from a thorough review of all available documentation, the evaluation succeeded to conduct faceto-face interviews under strict COVID-19 restrictions with 14 present and former staff of IFRC-ROE, 18 staff of Albanian Red Cross (ARC), 36 ARC volunteers in four key locations, and a total of 105 assisted people (69 female / 36 male). House-to-house field visits were undertaken wherever possible to obtain a realistic view on current needs and to act as cross-checking mechanism. The evaluation had only limited success in interviewing government or diplomatic representatives which, in hindsight, posed a certain bias to the evaluation (see 3.1.). It should be noted, that all findings and analyses refer only to the 2019 Earthquake Appeal Operation and do not reflect any other previous or current operations and activities of ARC, except where meaningful cross-cutting effects were identified.

Already prior to this operation, ARC enjoyed an excellent collaboration with the IFRC-ROE. Although ARC possessed already sound operational experience in disaster relief and social community projects, the leadership of the NS requested technical support from IFRC given the anticipated magnitude of the operation, and this early close collaboration resulted in the very timely preparation of the Emergency Appeal and Emergency Plan of Action. Initial systems of ARC appear to have been fully adequate to respond to more commonly occurring of lesser magnitude and the NS was well experienced in the distribution of relief items. Strong social programmes had created a good public image of the NS. During the operation, ARC not only succeeded in expanding, consolidating and further developing this experience, but also to significantly increase its operational capacities and develop new skills, such as large-scale registrations and verification, psychological support, provision of unconditional cash assistance, etc. (see 4.1.1.). The most impressive asset of ARC is the NS’s highly motivated, energetic and dedicated volunteers who have been pivotal to the success of this operation. With the support of IFRCROE and technical delegates and an intensive, still ongoing, training of all ARC volunteers on new data collection and analysis technologies (KoBo), the NS has built up a powerful capacity for future emergency operations and for addressing community-based disaster reduction activities.

Logistic arrangements that were initially rather limited and overloaded were improved by a temporary storage facility made available locally, and by the complete refurbishment of the Tirana warehouse through IFRC support. This included a rearrangement of warehouse space and the successful introduction of the standard IFRC warehouse management and stock control system. Although the IFRC procured three new vehicles, the fleet management of ARC is still in need of further investment. While the trucking capacity was increased by commercial means, a significant number of defunct vehicles still exist. With proper repair or scrappage, these could alleviate the lack of transportation in some of the more remote branches (see recommendations). The NS still uses the rather traditional though less efficient procurement mechanism by purchasing primarily individual items and repacking them with the help of volunteers rather than tendering and purchasing by complete package. (see recommendations).

One still contentious issue is the perceived lack of full- or at least part-time staff and the obvious high demand on volunteers. While volunteers are particularly essential in an emergency (as seen in this earthquake), there is a very real possibility of burnout, and the evaluator concludes that the volunteer management of ARC could possibly benefit from a review or repositioning (see recommendations). The general process of identification and verification appears to be highly appropriate and thorough (see 4.1.2.), ensuring the Fundamental Principles of impartiality and independence. ARC assessments were usually undertaken separately from the municipality assessments. The relevance and appropriateness of ARC activities in response to the earthquakes were unanimously confirmed by the interviewed individuals.

Of particular importance was the appropriate type of assistance at the appropriate time of need, e.g. related to accommodation in camps, tents, and later in rented accommodation. In terms of accountability, ARC had established a Hotline (Green Line), however, it appears that the most effective way of dealing with requests from people, comments and the very few complaints were the repeated door-to-door visits by ARC volunteers.

The listed table under 4.2.1. provides a detailed overview of the various programmatic components, initial and revised plans, and their level of achievements. In some programme areas (for instance cash assistance) target were raised, in others exceeded (for instance shelter outputs), and in some, mostly community-related activities, these had to be either cancelled or temporarily halted due to the interfering COVID-19 pandemic and resulting restrictions.

Close to 50% of all interviewed assisted people confirmed that all assistance was most relevant, while almost a quarter stated that CVA and the distribution of hygiene articles was the most helpful. 10% regarded PSS as most helpful support after the earthquake. This cash support was not only due to the successful Emergency Appeal but also due to the fact that ARC contributed substantial amounts from own fundraising sources.

This positive feedback from people assisted by the appeal is of particular interest as ARC succeeded to develop strong operational capacities in the two areas of CVA and PSS. Although, for a variety of reasons (see 4.2.2.) the process that led to CVA and the eventual disbursement was slow and protracted, ARC was in the position to build onto an earlier similar experience with World Food Programme during an operation where cash vouchers had been distributed. The reasons for this delay are explained in detail under the respective section 4.2.2. (CVA) and range from slow decision-making on the side of ARC, IFRC tendering packages and tendering procedures that are not fully applicable in times of an emergency, to a lack of responsiveness and interest among Financial Service Providers (FSP). The eventual joint decision between ARC and IFRC to go for cheque distribution resulted in SOPs being finalised in April 2020 and the appointing of Raiffeisenbank in May 2020, with the first payment having been disbursed in June 2020.

The four most common uses of this cash support were (1) rent payment, (2) food purchase, (3) medical expenses, and (4) debt repayment.

The second major operational capacity developed was in the area of Psychological Support (PSS / PFA). Again, with the support from technical delegates through the IFRC-ROE, staff and volunteers were given in-depth training and even before such training, based on their social work experience, provided PSS in the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes. This was the more praiseworthy as many of the volunteers were themselves affected by the trauma of the disaster.

In terms of sustainability, it was very encouraging to see that ARC clearly expressed a desire to make these two activities (CVA and PSS/PFA) part of their future priorities and strategy. Any such plans, however, clearly depend on maintaining and ideally slightly expanding human resources in some key operational areas, and on the future proper management of these motivated and by now very skilled volunteers (see 4.2.3.)

Of particular mention should the considerable and immediate support provided by IFRC, both in terms of the DREF release of CHF 229,375 and the timely and immediate availability of technical delegates, e.g., operations manager, PMER, health delegates and later additional support delegates for logistics, PSS, etc.

This immediate response and the excellent collaboration with ARC at all levels were pivotal to the fact that only three days after the earthquake a full Emergency Appeal could be launched.

As detailed under 4.3. some delay occurred in the area of CVA, as it was found that existing regulation do not cater for appropriate actions necessary in disasters of this magnitude, and certain steps appear to be necessary to address this shortcoming as part of future operational readiness (see recommendations).