Promoting Community Resilience: Impact Evaluation of the US Disaster Relief Program
In 2020, the United States suffered large damages from weather and climate disasters, totaling over $95 billion dollars in losses (NOAA 2021). Scientific evidence has shown how climate change is affecting hydro-meteorological disasters (floods, droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes) by making them stronger and causing them to intensify more rapidly (IPCC 2012). These types of disasters pose increased physical risk to those in their path, particularly those living in low-income communities and communities of color throughout the Atlantic coasts, Gulf coasts, and the Caribbean. There are relief programs available for individuals and families who find themselves dealing with major loss after such catastrophic weather events. Effective immediate and long-term relief interventions are essential for reducing and mitigating disaster risks, enhancing community resilience, and achieving sustainable development goals, but only if these programs address the needs of the communities who most utilize these services.
On March 10, 2022, the Pulte Institute for Global Development in the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame was contracted by Global Ministries and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to perform an impact evaluation for its U.S. Disaster Relief (USDR) Program. The overall purpose of the impact evaluation is to assess and capture the outcomes of USDR Program strategies and interventions, as well as to identify best practices. Over the past four years during 2017-2020, the USDR program conducted extensive disaster relief and recovery efforts through five United Methodist Church Annual Conferences (Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina, North Carolina and Alabama-West Florida) and the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico. From 2017-2020, The USDR program benefited over 8,000 households in the United States and Puerto Rico, amounting to approximately $56 million dollars in funding.
By using a mixed-methods approach, this evaluation will assess the USDR program’s overall success from the years of 2017-2020 by focusing on OECD’s six evaluation criteria: impact, relevance, coherence, effectiveness, sustainability, and efficiency. Disaster resilience is a broad concept, making measurement and evaluation efforts challenging. Most studies focus on measuring the factors underpinning resilience such as institutional capacity and government effectiveness, however, development of better strategies in disaster recovery and resilience requires a more systematic evaluation of the program or issue at hand. This evaluation of USDR’s efforts will be systemic in its approach: this includes engaging all stakeholders including program staff, partners, and beneficiaries in activities like survey, focus group discussions and key informant interviews, as well as analyzing the quantifiable data from disaster recovery and relief efforts. Co-principal investigator, Dr. Paul Perrin of the Pulte Institute, emphasizes the importance of defining evaluation as a learning tool to open transparency and accountability into a project, not a reporting or justifying tool. The research team will eventually present learnings and best practices on which to continue to build a robust disaster relief response, positively influencing this area of development for years to come.