Critical observations on ALNAP NNGO report on Lebanon

Recently, ALNAP[1] has published a report titled: “We know our wounds: National and local organizations involved in humanitarian response in Lebanon”. As part of ALNAP’s national NGO research, the report aims to better understand the work of national non-governmental organizations (NNGOs) involved in disaster and emergency response in Lebanon through exploring their perceptions, their conceptual frameworks, and what priorities and commitments motivate and guide their decisions and activities.

ALNAP research is conducted in Colombia and Lebanon and claims to produce an in-depth qualitative study of the national and local NGO landscape. Clearly, the narrative captured in the report reflects the perspective of national and local NGOs working in the humanitarian and the broader development field. It resonates well with the development practitioners calling the donors and international agencies to consider (1) listening to local realities through the “ears of NNGOs”; (2) more context-sensitive and responsive interventions; (3) building partnerships with local NNGOs characterized by a two-way complementary relationship that ensure that programs are contextually effective, efficient and impactful, rather than the “one size fits all” top-down approaches; (4) collective integrative programming and action that engage local NNGOs in the design not only implementation of the interventions; and (5) integrating humanitarian support within a wider longer-term developmental approach since the NNGOs are local actors rooted within their communities to drive and gear future development once the reasons for humanitarian interventions cease to exist. The report, however, was a bit shallow in covering some critical elements raised by the NNGOs.

With an evaluative eye, I would like to share my preliminary observations/ review of the report and highlight some crucial elements and issues that should have been better addressed in the report/ research with the aim of improving the report and contributing to enhancing the quality of the humanitarian-related research in general.

  • Methodology, The report does not dig deeper or seek other resources to confirm and validate some of the critical findings and concepts (such as “fragmentation” and “state”) and historical perspectives (such as the historical and political views describing the so-called “fragmentation”). It is quite noticeable that the term “state” is used to mean “government”, for the latter constitutes the different entities that provide services to the population. In addition, selecting 11 NNGOs for the research from a pool of thousands NNGOs (hundreds of which are active in the humanitarian sector) is not only challenging. It becomes risky when the researcher’ selection criteria seem generic and the NNGO interviewees’ understanding – reflected in their narrative – of the sector is light.
  • The analysis framework is loose, which impacts the scope of the report and its credibility and hence usefulness. When addressing the socio-political dimension, the report sidesteps highlighting the state’s legislative framework. Ironically, this same “fragmented state” allows – given its legislations – for the emergence of one of the most a vivid and dynamic national civil society and organizations in the region.
  • Themes, it is unfortunate that the report did not cover crucial elements that relate to the strength and success of the national NGO community in general and inn the humanitarian sector in particular. The report does not account for (a) the wealth of experiences and learnings accumulated within the sector over decades of political and social instability; and (b) critical dimensions within the humanitarian sector – that are heavily highlighted in the relevant literature – namely monitoring and evaluation as well as the sustainability. It would be critical for a humanitarian-related research to capture them among others and reflect on the maturity of the sector and its key players nationally and internationally.
  • Emerging trends, though it was referred to briefly, the role of social media in the humanitarian sector deserves to be boldly addressed for it is driving the humanitarian efforts (and development efforts) in various part of the world.
  • Translation of the interviewees’ quotes seems not to be plausible.

The observations above raise serious questions on the awareness of those involved in the research of the dynamism and of the sector (humanitarian in specific), the quality of the research and its usefulness. It remains unclear how this report contributes to understand what humanitarian action in Lebanon looks like from a national NGO perspective. In short, the two research questions[2] are yet to be addressed!


[1] ALNAP is a unique system-wide network dedicated to improving humanitarian performance through increased learning and accountability (

[2] What are the NNGOs priorities and commitments? What motivates and guides their decisions and activities?

Why People Underprepare for Natural Hazard? (2)


Behavioral economics provides some clues. 

In fact, behavioral science has contributed much to the understanding of decision-making in the last few decades. It has revealed that our perceptions, preferences, choices and behaviors are often influenced by heuristics and cognitive biases. Research on the psychology of natural hazards and decision biases influencing hazard mitigation has been driven by Howard Kunreuther, Robert Meyer, Erwann Michel-Kerjan at the Wharton Center for Risk Management and Decision Processes at the University of Pennsylvania. Their analysis of the decision-making during natural disasters – mostly in the US context – has found that key behavioral biases and heuristics, play a great role in people’ reluctance to invest in mitigation measures. In their chapter (Kunreuther, et al., 2013) identify eight psychological biases and situational barriers that shape such decisions and hence limit people’s willingness to invest in hazard mitigation measures.

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To better understand why residents often act against their own interest and underprepare for natural disaster, let’s attempt to address the following questions: (1) Do residents in hazard-prone areas feel at risk? (2) Are they good forecasters? (3) Will they procrastinate?

(1) Do residents in hazard-prone areas feel at risk?

Well, the residents’ perception and response to future disasters is greatly influenced by the way they construe those events over time. Residents’ safety (and hence their need for risk prevention) is often recognized as a desirable goal (Higher-level construal). However, is safety worthy of investment?  Crudely, yes it is. Nonetheless, such investment becomes unfeasible as soon as hazard mitigation is framed as a near-future (lower-level construal) undertaking (Liberman, 2003). In fact, for many residents (landlords and tenants), installing mitigation measures might not be affordable in the short-run. They tend to overweight upfront mitigation costs and value their outcomes differently over time.

Are they good forecasters? (3) Will they procrastinate? (To be continued)

Kunreuther, H., Meyer, R., & Michel-Kerjan. E. (2013). Overcoming Decision Biases to Reduce Losses from Natural Catastrophes. In E. Shafir (Ed.), The Behavioral Foundations of Public Policy (pp. 399-413). New Jersey, NJ. Princeton University Press.
Trope, Y. & Liberman, N. (2003). Temporal Construal. Psychological Review, 110 (3), 403- 421.

Why People Underprepare for Natural Hazard?

Natural hazards are major adverse events resulting from natural processes. Natural disaster can cause loss of life or property damage, the severity of which depends on the affected population’s resilience and their ability to recover. They are fundamentally unpredictable and low probability events.

It has been widely recognized that the human and economic losses from natural disasters have been increasing drastically over the last three decades. These catastrophic losses are mostly driven by the population density and concentration of economic assets in disaster-prone areas (tropical coasts and river deltas, near forests and along earthquake fault lines). The US coast represents a microcosm of the world urbanization exposed to natural hazards.

In fact, its East Coast, from New York to Texas through Florida, hosted more than 36% of the total population in (US Census, 2010), and nearly $8.3 trillion of insured and hurricane-prone assets (Kunreuther and Michel-Kerjan, 2009). Along with Robert Meyer, they were intrigued by the mismatch between the increasing investment in hazard prone areas such as the waterfront development on the coasts and the under-investment in risk-reduction and mitigation measures (Kunreuther, 2013). They related people’s failure to mitigate against natural hazards to some fundamental decision biases that can’t be explained by the mainstream micro-economics theory, mostly accounting for maximizing utilities with no attention to people’s perception and behavior toward risks. In addition, they associated these behavioral biases, along with the government’s post-disaster relief, to what they called a “natural disaster syndrome”.

What are the features of the “natural disaster syndrome”? What are these cognitive decision biases? What drivers hinder residents’ investment in hazard’s way? (To be continued)

NOTE: The photos are drawn from