Beneficiary satisfaction, the nucleus of effective Humanitarian Response

Timeliness and appropriateness are crucial factors in humanitarian response, and so is the need to be transparent and accountable to the beneficiaries. Post Distribution Monitoring (PDM), a mandatory process for Caritas India is purely an organisational requirement, an additional requirement to ensure transparency and accountability, supplementing other humanitarian standards in place. Undertaken by professionals who are not part of relief distribution, PDM aims at deciphering satisfaction levels and concerns of the beneficiaries with the quality of aid in particular, and their feedback on the entire response process, in general. The questionnaire is administered to a sample of randomly selected beneficiaries (10% of the total households), women as main respondents. PDM allows direct interaction with the beneficiaries at a time when they have developed familiarity with the processes. Here is when they articulate their views on everything more freely. After all, emergency relief is a matter of right and dignity of the affected people, for which Caritas India will go extra miles. 

Disasters or no disasters, gauging beneficiary satisfaction and impact measurement in the processes including decision making, across levels, is the cornerstone of the people led and empowered development approach. Caritas India draws its relevance from this very approach, where it has over the years, grown into ensuring centrality of people’s agency in deciding for themselves. The spirit of community empowerment assumes the centre stage in Caritas India’s emergency responses, across various processes, starting from needs assessment to quality and accountability to the community by finding out how they felt about the entire response. Caritas India does this through various tools and methods, and most specially, through Post Distribution Satisfaction Monitoring (PDM).

The state of Assam in the North East India has been gripped by unprecedented floods this year. Whist an annual occurrence, this year’s monsoon flooding exceeded people’ capacity to manage it. Of the worst affected districts, Lakhimpur was one that was severely affected, leaving scores of people marooned and homeless, particularly those residing in the low-lying areas –engaged in wage labour. By 6 July 2017, flood waters had submerged more than 993 villages under 49 circles in 14 districts (including Lakhimpur) affecting more than 397,583 people; rendering 22,641 homeless; and three dead (Assam State Disaster Management Authority).

It was important to reach out with critical lifesaving assistance, particularly those vulnerable to exclusion and marginalisation even in a disaster scenario, prioritising reproductive health and hygiene needs of women and adolescent girls. This was made possible with START Fund, which enabled immediate assistance to 1600 Households within 45 days. Caritas India with CAFOD responded with Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) kits and unconditional cash support of INR 2000 across 11 villages in Nowboicha block of Lakhimpur district of Assam.

The PDM not just provided insights into beneficiary satisfaction or concerns over quality of aid; timeliness; sufficiency of orientation about the utility of materials provided; decision making and control over cash support and challenges faced by women; but also, helped understand what the beneficiaries’ feedback on the conduct of the aid workers. Behaviour of the aid workers during the emergencies is a vital area of study as heightened expectations and related stress can cause burnout. Aid workers also comprised the trained volunteers of EU supported PEACH programme.

Likewise, PDM was undertaken in all 11 villages covering 160 households during the last leg of relief distribution in Lakhimpur, initiated on 26 July. In some villages, FGDs were also conducted as part of the PDM to gather collective feedback from the beneficiaries who has now started limping back to normalcy. And the findings confirmed the intended utilisation of cash for supplementing food, medical and clothing requirements. The interactions also warranted the need to have WaSH promotional activities around the affected geography in a campaign mode. Whilst sharing of concerns strengthens the pursuit to respond effectively in diverse challenging scenarios, appreciations and rewards in the form of smiles and hospitality of the beneficiaries fuels the commitment and confidence of the team at work. Learning happens in both ways, and Caritas India is committed to it.

Caritas India has a robust safeguarding policy which defines the code of conduct and protects programme participant from abuse and exploitation. However, the responses from the PDM helps Caritas India to make its humanitarian response people centred and driven through such mechanisms of PDM and complaints mechanisms, which inform subsequent strategies for greater responsiveness.