As the refugee crisis in Lebanon enters its 10th year, the challenge facing humanitarian organisations operating in the area continues to grow. Fundraising efforts in the region have struggled to attract donations as the years have worn on since the outset of the Syrian civil war in 2013 while Lebanon itself has been fighting through a debilitating economic downturn.
Then there's the unavoidable shadow of the COVID-19 virus that puts another highly disconcerting variable into the mix. If a virus outbreak occurs in refugee camps, due to the close-knit - by necessity - conditions and the limited medical provisions that are available, the supercharged nature of COVID-19's virility could make containment and treatment a real challenge. Recent reports about the ability of refugee communities to cope with the pandemic have made for distressing reading.
Factors like these have conspired to put increasing pressure on Syria's countless refugee camps, with recent data indicating that more than 75 per cent of Syrians living in Lebanon are now below the poverty line - compared to just 27 per cent among the native Lebanese.
This is just part of the challenging backdrop facing the numerous humanitarian organisations operating in the region. As well as fighting against the spectre of ‘donor fatigue', NGOs must also contend with the challenge of identifying a constantly shifting and growing refugee population - and making sure that aid is proportionately reaching those in need. Current estimates put the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon at 1.5 million, and that figure continues to change every day. The transitory nature of this population means that there are no addresses available that could help to track refugees. This makes aid distribution without the use of geo-technology and analysis very much a moving target.
Mapping for aid dispersal
This is where we fit into the puzzle. We are the primary agency for the collection and management of information and data on informal settlements in the country. These efforts help locate, map and collect basic information about each informal settlement and provide a common language and dataset, helping in the delivery of humanitarian aid to remote, vulnerable communities. In turn, this is then used by all aid organisations in the area, including the UNHCR, which is responsible for coordinating the humanitarian response for Syrian refugees working in the area. The data we collect is now being used to develop COVID-19 response dashboards to aid in the coordination of the COVID-19 response efforts.
Overcoming limited funding pots
Historically there has always been a lack of available data to truly understand the needs of those affected. However, once we carried out mapping, humanitarian organisations would then use these insights to determine aid decisions. But with the crisis going into its tenth year, there is a lower urgency from donors to fund supplies, even as the need remains high for shelter, healthcare and sanitation due to evolving circumstances. The reduced donations require aid disbursement to have the largest possible impact on those with the greatest need.
Our dashboards, which we created in partnership with data company Qlik, helped to address these two purposes. They provide us with the visibility to recognise specific needs and address emerging problems, as well as identify funding gaps. Our response times have also dramatically improved. The sort of tasks that used to take around three weeks now take less than a week, thanks to data and analytics helping to determine key decisions in relief distribution.
Data-enabled approach to humanitarian crises
The importance of quick response times to humanitarian organisations on the frontline of our refugee crises cannot be understated, especially in light of the mounting COVID-19 crisis. Having the ability to deploy aid quickly and accurately in the coming months will be a lifeline to organisations operating in the area, and should become the blueprint for which aid distribution is tackled in the future.
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