The most extensive impact evaluation ever commissioned by Swiss Solidarity – and carried out by the renowned independent consultancy Channel Research – shows that 10 years after the devastating tsunami of 26 December 2004, almost 90% of the aid beneficiaries are now again able to cover their basic needs. Just over 10% are still facing considerable hardship. The construction of 23,000 homes has had a notably positive influence on the material, social and economic situation of the affected families. The poorest, however, are still finding it difficult to secure a long-term livelihood independent of aid.
The impact evaluation was carried out in India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka between April and November 2014, based on a desk review, previous assessments, a quantitative survey of 729 beneficiaries and a qualitative analysis with 374 interviews. It yielded different results depending on country and region. According to Channel Research project leader Adriaan Ferf: “What impact – positive or negative – the aid projects run by Swiss Solidarity’s partner relief organizations have had is extremely difficult to identify. This is because a wide range of other factors, such as new ground-breaking decisions by governments, changing economic parameters and social influences need to be taken into account.” The peace process in Indonesia (which after the disaster replaced decades of civil war) and the situation in Sri Lanka (where civil war flared up again) have left positive and negative impacts. “But the fact that 87% of the population overall are again able to cover their basic needs and just 13% are still struggling with major difficulties clearly confirms an improvement in living conditions. This in turn affects the beneficiaries’ levels of satisfaction,” Ferf adds.
In three of the 29 evaluated aid projects, no beneficial impact was in evidence. This was for varying reasons that the partner aid organizations were able to influence only to a certain degree – for example, poor building structure, lack of protective structures on the coast or poorer job opportunities in the hinterland.
Housing – a mainstay of support
Around one half of the respondents saw reconstruction of their homes as the main starting point for improvement of their living situation. The families not only regained a roof over their heads, but could also devote their time and energy to generating an income, securing schooling for their children or getting involved in the local community. The majority rate the quality, comfort and safety of their home higher than that of their former household. But the construction of communal infrastructure projects – such as village squares, market halls, evacuation centres or children’s playgrounds – has in most cases not proven to be a long-term solution. Experience shows that after a few years no one continues to assume responsibility for these buildings and facilities, even if they were of use initially.
Swiss Solidarity has used around 178 million Swiss francs for reconstruction, of which some 15% went to aid projects in the area of livelihood support. The distribution of work equipment and tools for previous activities such as agriculture and fishing certainly has had a short-term impact. However, further support proved successful only when based on existing structures, skills and opportunities. Aid was successful where existing pre-tsunami structures for tradespeople and small business could be built upon, not only preserving jobs but also creating new employment. One third of these beneficiaries are on an equal footing, and one third on an even better footing in the labour force than before the catastrophe. But opening up new fields of work for unskilled people with no previous experience in these areas was less successful.
Swiss Solidarity’s conclusion
The results of the impact evaluation provide important insights for Swiss Solidarity. The professional and independent assessment shows that donations do make a difference, that the work carried out by partner relief organizations in the impacted regions is effective yet extremely complex and that errors of judgement may occur. Further important findings such as the significance of house building far beyond the structural measures, targeted support for the already trained workforce and the long-term lack of maintenance of public buildings will be discussed with partner aid organizations in the coming year and reflected in a new Swiss Solidarity strategy paper. “Following this analysis, we need to adapt to the changed circumstances,” says Swiss Solidarity Managing Director Tony Burgener.