A new UN aid strategy for Somalia

At the start of October, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, World Food Program and UNICEF conducted a planning mission in Dolow, in Somalia’s southern Gedo region. The mission, which included meeting implementing partners and communities, is one of the many steps toward implementing the three UN agencies’ joint strategy to build resilience in Somalia, explains Elena Pasquini

One of the main objectives of this joint strategy is to change the way FAO, WFP and UNICEF work in the field. Still in its early stages, the strategy will likely have an impact on the UN agencies’ relationships with partners as well as its human and financial resources management, fundraising, monitoring and evaluation.

Only time and scrutiny by the international community can tell whether the joint strategy will be revolutionary or not. Its goal is to achieve “new forms of accountability, new forms of analysis, new ways of working,” David Nabarro, special representative of the UN secretary-general for food security and nutrition, said at a recent event on efforts to build resilience in Somalia.

This new strategy to Promote and Enhance Resilience in Somalia is defined by the FAO  as “the ability to withstand threats and the ability to adapt to new options if necessary,” and it is at the core of the joint strategy. The strategy links humanitarian with development interventions and was designed “to strengthen asset bases, improve access to services … and ensure basic needs are met for the seasonally-at-risk.”

“It is too easy to wait for the crisis, [then] to collect a quantity of humanitarian resources, to throw them in more or less in a slapdash way and to wait for another crisis,” said Luca Alinovi, officer in charge of FAO in Somalia. “After 22 years we cannot we respond in such a way. We need to start from the knowledge of what the people really need.”

The strategy aims to build resilience in communities across Somalia, starting with these four districts: Dolow, Burao, Odeweyne and Ishkushkuban. It has three “building blocks.”
1.Provide diverse livelihood opportunities, and better access to markets and information to boost household income to pastoralist, agropastoralist, riverine and coastal, and urban and periurban populations.
2.Improve access to and the “quality, reliability and responsiveness” of basic social services.
3.Offer reliable and predictable levels of support for chronically and seasonally at-risk populations.

The strategy also proposes to tailor these building blocks to achieve four suggested innovations.
1.A “preventive, long-term, developmental approach” to building resilience by offering predictable and diverse opportunities to boost household income, and capacity-building or vocational training.
2.Enable Somali communities to mitigate crises on their own, without international assistance, by providing early warning, market monitoring and contingency planning systems.
3.Focus on meeting the demands and needs of households first before providing assistance to service facilities. This includes developing services, skills and technical capacities that even mobile populations can gain access to.
4.Develop an improved cross-sectoral approach to provide a “locally relevant” resilience-building package.

Devised in late 2011, the strategy’s final draft was presented to the donor community in July 2012. The three UN agencies are now finalizing a common results framework and aligning their programs according to criteria specified in a paper.

Local communities are involved in each phase of the strategy, from programming to evaluation to impact assessment, as solutions will be tailored to their specific needs.
“We are proceeding community by community, talking and identifying [the problems] with them,” Alinovi said. “We believe that is the way to change our work. We must be close to the beneficiaries.”

The three agencies have agreed to develop a common system to collect information, monitor and evaluate the outcomes of their programs.

The new partnership approach, based on building resilience — whether in fragile states or countries with a protracted crisis — is nothing new in the development community. The way FAO, WFP and UNICEF intend to coordinate programs to build more resilient communities in Somalia, however, just may be.

Although the strategy was developed jointly, it was not designed to create a joint program. Instead, programs of the three UN agencies will be aligned around the same objectives. So instead of just UNICEF investing in efforts to save children’s lives, the strategy will tap funds and resources from FAO and WFP to support the UN children’s agency’s work and help not just the children but their families as well, Sikander Khan, UNICEF’s representative to Somalia, explained.

But how will the three UN agencies ensure coordination will continue in an effective and timely manner? By drastically changing the way they work and making sure all teams on the ground are “doing everything together from programming to implementation,” Alinovi said.

The teams in the pilot districts stay with client communities to enable them to understand problems better and decide on a common plan that indicates which agency is responsible for which course of action. A redistribution of tasks is possible, depending on what the beneficiaries need. “We decide which one of the agencies has an added value to bring, how and in that specific place,” Alinovi explained.

In areas where FAO has an experienced livestock team and WFP has a strong agriculture program, for example, the two agencies could use their strengths and work together. Coordinating everything to minimize bureaucracy is a complex process, Khan conceded. But the joint strategy represents a change of direction and is not an easy task for the three U.N. bodies, Alinovi noted.

“Imagine what is happening in our three agencies. In some cases we will lose staff. Some of the things we were used to [doing] will not be relevant anymore. It is complex to say to an entire agency that it has to turn left or turn right, lose some capacities and look for others,” Alinovi explained.

Even if the three agencies have the required technical expertise, a new set of competencies may be needed to address specific needs, Khan noted. to this end the three agencies are still re-orienting their multi-annual programs to see what funding resources they can focus on resilience building, Alinovi said. After that, they will identify the gaps between what they have and what they need.

“There is a lot of interest, a lot of commitment to [fund] it, but the actual goal figures will only be [known] probably toward the end of the year,” Khan said. But, he stressed, the strategy emphasizes the predictability of funds rather than the amount that could be raised.

Further, the agencies plan to hold fundraising campaigns not just for their own programs but even for others — including the UN Population Fund, which will help gather data. The three groups are also looking for “ambitious” partners to join the cause, Alinovi said. They have already started a dialogue with a group of investors and non-governmental organizations that support resilience programs in Somalia, and are working on partnerships with the private sector in areas such as water and health. Outreach to the Somali diaspora is being considered as well.

“The engagement will become even stronger once we move to the next phases of our work,” Khan said. “I suspect that you will have more private sector engagement perhaps in the middle of next year, in a more systematic manner.”

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