Issue 48 - Article 10

Emergency food assistance in Haiti: lessons learnt from a post-earthquake GTZ operation in Leogane

September 1, 2010
Manfred Metz, independent consultant
Joint Caritas and GTZ food distribution in Haiti

In its immediate response to the Haiti earthquake, the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation (BMZ) provided €1 million for emergency food aid. GTZ organised procurement and transport through its country office in the neighbouring Dominican Republic, using an ongoing development-oriented Emergency and Transitional Aid (DETA) project to deploy staff and facilities to organise on-site distribution. Leogane, a badly hit town 35km west of Port-au-Prince, was chosen for the intervention, and food distribution began on 22 January. In selecting distribution points and carrying out the distribution, GTZ cooperated closely with the local administration, local emergency committees and UN and Canadian security forces based in Leogane. By the time the operation ended, on 23 February, 135,860 boxes had been distributed containing ten-day rations of wheat flour, rice, beans, oil and sugar (a total of roughly 1,000 tonnes of food in all). The operation was rapidly and efficiently implemented, and helped mitigate acute food shortages in Leogane and surrounding areas. Implementing partners included Deutsche Welthungerhilfe, Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund, Kindernothilfe, CARE Haiti and Help.


Lessons learnt

Rapid response

Because a DETA project was already running in another region of the country, GTZ was able to react promptly and effectively in the wake of the earthquake. Indeed, GTZ was operational just two days after the earthquake hit. The support of the GTZ office in the Dominican Republic also allowed for very fast procurement, packing and transport of the food assistance.


Aid agencies were unable to reach areas outside of Port Leogane immediately after the earthquake. According to the OCHA SitRep of 21 January 2010 ‘The Government has asked humanitarian partners for the rapid provision of humanitarian assistance to affected regions outside of Port-au-Prince, such as Leogane, Petit Goave and Grand Goave. Humanitarian assistance including food, water, shelter and medical assistance is reaching these areas but a more detailed overview of the presence of humanitarian partners and their activities is required’. Identifying and allocating the intervention area to GTZ was efficiently handled by the WFP-led Food Aid Cluster. Coordination between GTZ and WFP was efficient, and the operation began the day after the decision was taken to allocate the Leogane area to GTZ. Coordination with local food committees was also successful.

Food rations: composition and packaging

The food rations GTZ distributed provided 2,890 kcal of nutritional value per day, exceeding by a third the minimum requirement of 2,100 kcal a day. The rations were packaged in cardboard boxes. Although this type of packaging was slightly more expensive, the decision to use cardboard boxes was crucial to the success of the operation. The boxes were easier to handle, distribute and transport, and they were also effectively reused, rather than discarded, by the affected population.


GTZ worked in close cooperation with the UN and Canadian security forces to ensure the secure transport, storage and distribution of the food rations. Cooperation with the military proved very successful in terms of preventing looting and identifying secure and appropriate distribution points. In addition, the military was able to reach and provide assistance to affected populations in otherwise inaccessible areas.

Organising the distribution

Emergency committees were established to facilitate the organisation of distributions. In cooperation with the committees it was decided that food distributions would be targeted exclusively to women and children. Military forces were present during distributions, preventing any clashes. In addition, targeting effectively ensured that the needs of all household members (including men) were met, and that the distributed goods were consumed rather than sold.

Phasing out and handing over

From its conception, it was decided that the GTZ emergency response project would be time-limited, and should ensure the provision of foodstuffs to those in need until other humanitarian organisations could take over in the area. Coordination with the regional Food Aid Cluster proved positive right from the start, and the handover was planned and worked out in cooperation with WFP throughout the month-long intervention. As a result, WFP was fully prepared to take over once GTZ’s four-week intervention came to an end, and the handover was smooth and effective.


Factors contributing to a successful operation

The GTZ operation was widely appreciated by local and international partners, who particularly emphasised the well-organised and structured approach to planning and organising the food distributions. The success of the emergency operation was the result of specific conditions (external factors), combined with GTZ’s own capacities (internal factors).

Important conditions facilitating an efficient and effective execution of the GTZ emergency food assistance operation were:

  • The fact that the neighbouring country, the Dominican Republic, was not affected by the earthquake, was economically relatively well developed and could be used as a source of procurement for food items.
  • The fact that GTZ had a country office in the Dominican Republic, which could immediately initiate and organise procurement, packing and transport.
  • The presence of a GTZ-DETA project in Haiti provided an organisational basis for the emergency operation and facilitated the immediate mobilisation of staff and transport capacities. Staff were familiar with local conditions and had established contacts for organising and implementing the operation in coordination and cooperation with other organisations.
  • There was a relatively fast and clear assignment of the geographical area of intervention.
  • The presence of UN and Canadian forces ensured security during the operation.
  • Reliable and well-established civil society organisations were present, with which GTZ could cooperate.

These external factors combined well with GTZ’s particular capacities:

  • Staff had experience of emergency operations, were familiar with local conditions and had good management skills and a talent for improvisation.
  • There was good communication, coordination and cooperation among the team and with partners.
  • Processes (logistics, distribution) were structured well.
  • There was awareness of and responsiveness to priorities, and staff were flexible and adjusted well to adverse and unforeseen conditions.
  • all staff involved were prepared to go beyond their daily work routines.

The above conditions, combined with these capacities, were responsible for the overall good performance achieved and can be considered as critical comparative advantages of GTZ in launching the emergency food aid operation in Haiti.


Manfred Metz is an independent consultant.


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