Issue 56 - Article 12

Partnering in emergencies: lessons from ACF-USA's experience in Pakistan and Kenya

January 10, 2013
Paola Valdettaro, Daniel Nyabera, Huyen Tran, Joanna Friedman and Muriel Calo
A CBHA beneficiary thumb-stamping a form before receiving payment

Action Against Hunger (ACF-USA) has successfully worked through partnerships in responding to recent large-scale emergencies in Kenya and Pakistan. In addition to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the humanitarian response, working in partnership facilitated a harmonised approach, with agreed programmatic responses, common needs assessments and tailored response analyses. Evaluations have shown that this approach improved coordination and information-sharing among agencies, catalysed debates around different approaches and how to harmonise them and enabled the exchange of technical expertise and lessons learned, not only among partnership members but across the wider humanitarian community. The partnership approach also enabled individual partners to leverage their expertise to influence host governments, donors and other key decision-makers. See Andy Featherstone, CBHA Mid-Term Review, February 2011; Henri Leturque, Raphael Beaujeu, Yasir Majeed and Saleema Saleem, Evaluation of the CBHA Early Recovery Programme in Pakistan. February 2012; and Pakistan Emergency Food Security Alliance Lessons Learned, May 2011.

Contexts: Pakistan and Kenya

Pakistan is prone to frequent humanitarian emergencies, from population displacements caused by military operations to drought, floods and earthquakes. Poor Pakistanis derive their income mainly from seasonal and irregular labour, which reduces their capacity to cope with shocks and renders them food insecure. Before the 2010 floods, which affected 14 million Pakistanis, the World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that 36% of the country’s population of 180m was food insecure. That figure has since risen to 42%, and is likely to be higher still in the wake of further floods in 2011.

Some 28% of Kenya’s 40m people are permanently food insecure, 14% are dependent on food aid and in half of the country’s districts malnutrition rates have been alarmingly high (more than 15% global acute malnutrition (GAM)) for decades. Pastoral communities in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) that make up 80% of the country have become increasingly vulnerable as traditional coping mechanisms have weakened in the face of increasingly frequent and severe droughts. The 2008–2009 drought was particularly severe, destroying much of the livestock base and leading to acute food insecurity as food prices rose.

ACF’s recent programmes in Pakistan and Kenya

ACF provided emergency food security, nutrition and water and sanitation responses following the floods of 2010 and 2011 in Pakistan. Six multi-sector interventions reached over 41,000 flood-affected households in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Sindh provinces. ACF carried out food security interventions in collaboration with other NGOs through two major partnerships, the Consortium of British Humanitarian Agencies (CBHA) and the Pakistan Emergency Food Security Alliance (PEFSA). Market-based approaches to food security interventions meant that coordination was required not only for assessments of needs and coverage, but also to ensure consistency in the values and intended uses of cash grants and vouchers.

ACF responded to the 2008 food price crisis and the 2008–2009 drought in Kenya through both standalone and integrated emergency and recovery-phase programmes in Northeastern and Rift Valley provinces, reaching 76,056 beneficiary households. ACF’s response to the food crisis involves a drought and livelihood resilience programme known as the Arid and Marginal Lands Recovery Consortium (ARC). ACF also ran emergency water and sanitation and nutrition programmes in 2011 in drought-affected regions of the ASAL.

New approaches to coordinating emergency response


In 2010, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) funded the CBHA, a consortium of 15 UK-based humanitarian organisations, to ‘pioneer new approaches to funding and resourcing’ coordinated humanitarian responses. Six of these agencies – ACF, Save the Children, Oxfam GB, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), CARE and Concern – formed the ‘CBHA ad hoc consortium for early recovery’ in the wake of the 2010 floods in Pakistan, delivering a coordinated response to the crisis. The European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) was similarly interested in demonstrating the effectiveness of joint approaches to emergency response in the wake of the 2010 floods, and to that end encouraged partner agencies (ACF, Save the Children, Oxfam GB, the IRC, CARE and ACTED) to establish the PEFSA. While funding for the CBHA ad hoc consortium was not renewed due to the official end of the 2010 Pakistan emergency flood response period, PEFSA was extended into PEFSA II and the current PEFSA III, which will end in 2013. In order to capitalise on each NGO’s strengths, PEFSA members were designated as cross-cutting focal points based on their areas of expertise: Save the Children for monitoring and evaluation, the IRC for gender mainstreaming, Oxfam for cash-based interventions and ACF for nutrition.

Over 60% of ACF’s recent emergency response resources for Pakistan were channelled through partnerships. More than $70m in assistance reached 259,750 households, 117,500 through the CBHA and 142,250 through PEFSA. ACF’s budget represented 12% of the global budgets of the two alliances.


The ARC, comprising ACF, Food for the Hungry Kenya, World Vision, CARE and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), was awarded a three-year USAID/OFDA grant in 2008 to address the food crisis in Kenya. The programme covered a large geographic area including the ASAL (Turkana, Marsabit, Moyale, Mandera, Wajir and Garissa districts), and Tharaka, Makueni and Malindi districts. The original 36-month ARC programme was extended until September 2012; it served 11,856 households (71,140 people), approximately 10% of the targeted vulnerable households. The total ARC budget was $15.7m, of which 18% was managed by ACF. The programme strategy included both short-term actions to mitigate the effects of the food crisis and longer-term, more sustainable activities to strengthen and diversify livelihoods, primarily targeting pastoralists and farmers.

Partners formed the consortium on the basis of their comparative advantages and programmatic strengths. Each consortium partner had specific experience working in the ASAL and neighbouring pastoral areas and had particular thematic expertise. Five main thematic areas (animal health, markets and value chains, crop production, natural resource management and cash-based interventions) were covered in the emergency response programme, and the creation of the consortium ensured that there was adequate expertise across partners to address these five areas.

Emerging lessons from ACF’s experience in Pakistan and Kenya

Alliances and consortia favour harmonised approaches and strategies, which can encourage consistency, but they can also limit the scope for flexibility and innovation by individual partners. PEFSA III partners work from a common logical framework and all agencies are expected to implement the same types of activities (e.g. cash grants, vouchers, cash for work) within their geographic areas of intervention, based on the results of the response analysis. This approach meant that some partners ventured outside of their typical methodology or areas of strength, for instance targeting based on nutritional risk rather than loss of livelihood, or implementing voucher-based programmes for the first time.

The harmonisation of approaches was achieved by assigning each member as a focal point for a particular cross-cutting issue, allowing alliance members to learn from each other through workshops, training and dissemination of specialised information. Learning exercises and discussion around cash disbursement methods in PEFSA led to the development of a strong relationship with a local financial partner, Tameer Bank. In Kenya, the creation of technical working groups across ARC partners allowed for higher-quality interventions based on shared learning around best practices.

CBHA and PEFSA also prioritised discussion around cross-cutting issues such as gender, which also had to be addressed and mainstreamed across partner agencies. Following lessons learned in PEFSA II, the IRC developed a document on gender issues and cash transfers in Pakistan, and Oxfam produced a lessons-learnt paper on a pilot to disburse cash through smart cards. ACF created a learning document in mainstreaming nutrition in FSL interventions.

Working in an alliance requires large investments of time and resources in coordination from both the lead agency and partner organisations. Experiences in Pakistan have also shown the need for strong leadership. PEFSA II, for example, had no chief of party. Agencies implemented their own activities independently, as they would have done had they not been working in partnership. Coordination meetings were ad hoc and often based on geographical proximity. Learning documents were created but without significant quality control. Partner agencies decided to hire a chief of party and create a joint monitoring and evaluation unit for PEFSA III, which is intended to standardise learning documents and ensure regular meetings.

The ARC in Kenya had no overarching monitoring framework or defined outcome and impact indicators, leading to difficulties in tracking and attributing long-term change. While output indicators for each sub-sector were clear, there was no agreement on methodology and common approaches for outcome and impact measurement by consortium members, nor was this required by USAID. To address this weakness, ARC engaged a full-time M&E Coordinator in the fourth phase of the programme, with the objective of harmonising data collection and monitoring key indicators, reporting and providing M&E technical support to all consortium members.

Donors in Pakistan have pointed to the efficiency and management capacity of consortia with respect to large grant disbursements. Dealing with one NGO partner instead of several helps donors to leverage resources and minimise administrative costs. Consortia can also add critical value to individual NGOs in terms of learning and advocacy initiatives. The development of a harmonised approach, the production of learning products such as case studies, reviews and lesson-learnt documents derived from the testing of new approaches and a unique monitoring, evaluation and learning framework developed by multiple NGOs working on similar activities within the same context can provide greater breadth and depth of information than internal products from a single NGO.

This harmonised approach also provided the alliances and consortia with collective visibility and negotiation and advocacy capacity, enhancing their influence on decisionmaking processes at the country level. For example, the Kenya ARC consortium was able to provide significant information on the humanitarian situation in its operational areas following the declaration of a national state of disaster in 2011, which was then used to support analysis of drought impacts and inform and influence decision-making by key stakeholders, including the government and donors. Based on its experience the consortium plans to use its presence and reach in future phases in order to advocate around sound rangeland management strategies and pasture plans in the ASAL. Likewise the success of the piloted public–private partnership between the county council of Isiolo and the Kenya Livestock Management Council in the management of livestock markets rehabilitated under the ARC has prompted other agencies involved in pastoralist livelihoods and programming in Northern Kenya to replicate the model. The partnership increased revenues to the country council, resulting in increased effectiveness of operations and maintenance activities and contributing to the sustainable management of livestock markets. In Pakistan, PEFSA became a reference point for cash-based interventions and nutrition mainstreaming in food security and livelihoods interventions. Oxfam and then ACF took on leadership of the Cash Working Group in Pakistan in the first and second phases of the alliance. The Cash Working Group built on the experience of PEFSA to develop policy for cash interventions and train and provide advice to members of the Food Security Cluster. The alliance also advocated for the effective mainstreaming of nutrition indicators in the Cluster. Due to the focus on nutrition mainstreaming in a high-profile partnership programme, the issue was mentioned frequently and given weight in the Food Security Cluster in which most of the partner agencies participated.


Working in partnership facilitated a harmonised approach to emergency response and recovery that contributed to improved coordination, enriched debates around harmonised approaches, improved information-sharing among agencies and generated exchange of each member’s technical expertise and lessons learned, not only among partnership members but also across the wider humanitarian community. The partnership approach also provided a critical platform for influencing decision-making processes among humanitarian stakeholders by leveraging individual partners’ thematic expertise and experience.


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