Survey of Relief Recipients Relates Aid Dissatisfaction With Lack of Preparedness and Logistical Failures; Lessons From Developing World are Relevant to Katrina and Rita

Sept. 1, 2005
Even with a massive relief effort, just 60% of families reported receiving timely and adequate aid in the first 60 days after last year's Tsunami, according

Even with a massive relief effort, just 60% of families reported receiving timely and adequate aid in the first 60 days after last year's Tsunami, according to the post-disaster survey of affected families and frontline aid workers. Aid recipients also expressed concerns about the dignity and cultural sensitivity of the relief supplies and the distribution process.

Undertaken by Fritz Institute (San Francisco), this first-ever aid recipient survey included interviews with 1,406 affected people in 197 villages in India and Sri Lanka and 376 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from the two countries. The survey powerfully confirmed that the unprecedented global relief effort succeeded in delivering aid to millions of people. But the frontline reports from recipients and aid workers also gave emphasis to the need for improved preparedness, coordination, and supply chain management by NGOs, governments and the private sector. The survey report, Lessons from the Tsunami: Top Line Findings, provides lessons learned and insights on how to improve on future relief.

"Whether in New Orleans or in Nagapattinam, India, Colombo, Sri Lanka or Beaumont, Texas, disaster preparedness and response were critical to saving lives and alleviating suffering. But in these places, it could have been and must be better," said Fritz Institute director general Lynn Fritz. "It is time to challenge old models and establish standards and identify best practices."

"Without benchmarks in place to determine what constitutes an effective relief operation, the voice of those affected becomes an important source to gauge the success of relief providers," said Anisya Thomas, Ph.D., managing director of Fritz Institute. "Communicating directly with aid recipients and community leaders in the immediate aftermath of a disaster is necessary to ensure that the help is targeted and appropriate."

In India, 90%, 80% and 75% of aid recipients respectively ranked clothing provisions, food aid, and medical care as timely. Despite the timely delivery, 55% of respondents found the clothing delivery to lack in respect for their dignity and 40% felt that way about food distribution. In Sri Lanka, while medical care also received high marks, the provision of bedding and shelter was seen as satisfactory by 58% and half found the aid to be disrespectful to their dignity.

Families in both countries reported that a lot of used clothes were dumped in heaps, which made them feel disrespected and that the clothes were often for the wrong climate or inappropriate based on cultural affiliation or other social norms. Another recipient remarked on the fragmented nature of the aid, commenting that "They were giving rice, but no vessels to cook."

A lack of logistical capacity created critical bottlenecks and the perception of 'dumping.'

In both India and Sri Lanka, aid agencies reported low capacity in warehousing and transportation. In India, 60% of organizations did not have adequate warehouse facilities and although adequate relief supplies were received, 40% of organizations lacked transport to carry relief supplies to the affected. In Sri Lanka the numbers were very similar with 58% of those surveyed reporting inadequate warehouse facilities and 52% inadequate transportation.

In both countries, satisfaction about the timeliness, adequacy and appropriateness of aid varied widely by district and village, and it was clear that in some areas, people had been significantly underserved. The study also uncovered instances where the most vulnerable in a community, such as the elderly, widowed and disabled were marginalized by their exclusion from the distribution of relief supplies.

A significant difference between India and Sri Lanka in the Tsunami relief efforts was the role of the government. In India where the government was ranked as the number #1 provider of aid by affected people, the affected families reported satisfaction with the visible role of the district level administrators in providing and coordinating relief. Among the NGOs, more than 85% in India stated that the role of the government in coordinating the relief had been helpful. In Sri Lanka, aid recipients and workers noted the absence of the government, especially in the first 48 hours. Overall, only 48% of the NGOs said that the role of the government was helpful and 27% reported that it was not helpful at all. Institutions, including the military, medical organizations and religious groups were seen as the top three for providing relief in Sri Lanka.

"The survey results tell us that logistics gaps not only affect operations timing, but directly affect the relief experience for those traumatized by a disaster. Logistics gaps continue to be central to relief. It has been a global wakeup call to witness the ongoing relief efforts for the US Gulf Coast and realize how universal the lack of investment in planning and infrastructure is, especially in areas that are prone to recurring natural disasters," Fritz added.

While this survey asked recipients their impressions of the aid process both two and sixty days after the disaster, a ten-month follow-up survey of recipients is currently in the field and will be finalized before the one-year anniversary of the disaster in late December.

Source: Fritz Institute

The survey report,

is available at