Evaluation of WFP's Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
This corporate emergency evaluation assessed WFP’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic from February 2020 – June 2021. The evaluation was conducted under the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, including WFP in emergency mode; travel and movement restrictions; and the need to avoid unduly burdening country offices. Accordingly, it adopted a “retrospective developmental” design, which focuses on providing evidence to support adaptation in dynamic environments.
The objective of the evaluation was to assess WFP’s adaptive capacity in its response to the pandemic. An emphasis was placed on how the response developed rather than a traditional theory-based evaluation. Stakeholder engagement and feedback was central to this approach.
The evaluation concluded that:
Despite numerous challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, WFP adapted to meet the needs created by the pandemic and made valued contributions to the global response. Programming continued and support to national social protection systems was expanded to meet new and emerging needs. Technical advice and support were supplied, along with supply chain and logistics support.
WFP stayed to deliver. Its global profile changed as WFP’s role was seen as a critical and fundamental ‘systems enabler’ in the global response. However, this commitment shown came at a high human cost and WFP owes an immense debt to its workforce at all levels.
Adaptation of the enabling environment and organizational assets of WFP
Overall, the evaluation found that WFP’s response to the pandemic during the timeframe was agile and adaptive but came with a high human cost. Although unprepared for a global pandemic, WFP adapted swiftly to face new
demands. Corporate strategic frameworks were quickly developed, although differing conditions from region to region placed a strain on decision making. Fundraising was novel and responsive to needs. A managed balance was achieved between the “no-regrets” ethos of humanitarian delivery and external accountability. Human resource and staff well-being systems were adapted but employees at all levels endured very considerable strain. Knowledge management was unsystematic, and managing information flows between headquarters and country offices placed a considerable burden on the regional bureaux.
Country strategic plans were adapted but the process for revising them and country portfolio budgets was cumbersome. Key revisions included increased emergency focus; adaptation of targeting, including in urban areas; greater use of cash transfers; scale-up of social protection activities; expansion of capacity strengthening and advisory support; and provision of supply chain and logistics services. WFP swiftly implemented biosecurity measures for activities. Timeliness was mixed, although the in-kind supply chain was largely sustained. WFP did not scale up or re-prioritize its corporate commitment to gender equality. However, efforts were made to maintain communication with affected populations.
Fulfilment of partner role in the collective humanitarian response
Despite a steep learning curve, the WFP common services response was agile, capable and time-efficient. Some earlystage tensions arose in partnerships with other United Nations entities but were overcome by willingness and commitment on all sides. WFP aligned itself with government responses, responding flexibly to new requests, while cooperating partners reported greater openness and flexibility. Advocacy expanded, both at the
global and country levels, for example on the movement of humanitarian workers.
Achievements and learning
The response served a record number of 115.6 million beneficiaries in 2020, or 93 percent of those targeted, and had served 90 million by October 2021. WFP assistance prevented any significant deterioration in beneficiaries’ food security and nutrition status. Common services provision successfully underpinned the international humanitarian response. Internally, existing systems and capacities mostly expanded or pivoted to meet needs.