Humanitarian aid is often delivered in difficult circumstances, at a rapid pace and is expected to serve various and competing needs. When done well, humanitarian relief operations have the capacity to save thousands of lives. In almost all humanitarian crises, the needs of affected populations far exceed resources available. It is crucial, therefore, that humanitarian assistance focuses on providing as many people as possible with the help they need.

Evaluations can ask important questions about operations, outcomes and the broader humanitarian system. These studies are vital to capture learning and improve future responses. This is the first ODE evaluation that has examined humanitarian assistance and I found that more came out of the evaluation than I expected.

Overall this is a very strong evaluation report which, although focused on a slow-onset crisis, makes recommendations that are widely applicable and should change Australia's humanitarian programming for the better. This report identifies many strengths of the Australian response to the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa in 2011. At the time, humanitarian operations in severely affected areas were fraught with danger and were extremely difficult. Australia was a new player compared to other donors with years of experience in the region and a much larger presence on the ground. The Australian aid program responded quickly with a sound program, despite limited capacity and experience in the region. This should be commended.

The speed and flexibility of operations were notable strengths of the Australian response. Australian funds clearly saved lives; however, the results depended on more than funds alone. Effective coordination of response efforts is a persistent challenge for the global humanitarian system. Australia's role in influencing implementing partners and coordinating important aspects of the overall system increased the effectiveness of Australian assistance, and the overall international response. The report shows that among the small numbers of staff at post, there were obviously some heroes, and they did a great job.

Another clear finding is the need for funded agencies to improve reporting on activities and results. The reporting is essential for learning and to ensure informed decisions are made. The evaluation recommendations in areas such as these are designed to improve the effectiveness of Australian humanitarian assistance in the future.

Finally, the evaluation rightly highlights the complexity of disaster situations, which are growing in number and severity and will continue to pose a challenge for Australia in their commitment to supporting humanitarian work in the Indo-Pacific.

Jim Adams

Chair, Independent Evaluation Committee

Last Updated: 9 December 2014