The eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has suffered years of chronic insecurity and fighting between armed groups and the national Congolese army. As a result, locals have been forced to flee from the violence and looting and take refuge in more stable areas; in camps or with host families.
There are many challenges facing the humanitarian community with regards to assisting such internally displaced people (IDPs). Alongside insecurity and a lack of roads, humanitarian agencies often have little or no information at all about the people they are trying to help.
The importance of personal data
The last census in the Democratic Republic of Congo was held in 1984, and almost 20 years of civil unrest has left the country without a civil registry to record births, marriages and deaths. As a result, many IDPs have no birth certificate and no form of identification. This poses particular challenges when monitoring their movements, resolving asset disputes and determining eligibility for aid.
To address this need, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) funded the establishment of a Data Center for IDP (DC4IDP) in the capital city of Goma, North Kivu Province in 2009. The project is implemented by UNOPS and aims to provide regular and reliable statistics and analysis to the humanitarian community. This helps UNHCR and its partners provide appropriate assistance and protection. By also monitoring the return rate of IDPs and the current situation in the areas of displacement, the Data Centre is able to help anticipate future returnee movements and improve humanitarian preparedness and assistance in these areas.
The DC4IDP project covers all camp sites under the Camp Coordination and Camp Management strategy in North Kivu in collaboration with local authorities and other humanitarian partners.
Gathering accurate information in IDP camps
The project employs around 30 staff, mostly Congolese nationals who work amongst the IDP population to gather information and complete surveys and interviews. Speaking the local language and understanding local customs helps the team to record these complex and personal stories, particularly as many of the IDPs are traumatised from the violence they have experienced. Data centre staff gather information on household numbers, ages and gender, reasons for fleeing, plans for the future and any specific vulnerabilities of the family (for example if a single woman or a child is the head of the household). The project is currently divided into two areas: registration and profiling and a geographical information system (GIS) to create maps.
These departments work together to collect, centralize, analyze and disseminate useful and accurate information through reports, maps, statistics, and graphics to the partners and the humanitarian community. Non-confidential information is also shared with the public through the project’s website.
The IDPs are also photographed, providing all individuals with a vital means of identification, assisting with the distribution of relevant benefits and allowing for continued monitoring when they return home.
Mapping the movements of IDPs
The GIS mapping capacity enables the team to trace the origin, flow and present location of the IDPs and helps local authorities clarify administrative boundaries. It also helps standardize geographical names as the same location might have different names depending on the language used – causing potential data discrepancies.
In 2010, the Google Corporation donated android phones to the project, which were configured by the project technical team to register data more efficiently, including noting GPS coordinates for mapping use.
During the data collection stage, the DC4IDP team faces significant challenges. Many camp locations require more than six hours of driving on unpaved and damaged roads. Upon arrival at the camps, the team works around the clock, living for weeks in tents with limited access to sanitation. The constant risk of violence means that security escorts are frequently required, adding to the logistical challenges already faced.
Improving the lives of IDPs
Despite these difficulties the Data Center team has gathered information on 207,000 internally displaced people in the area, many of whom (more than 116,000) have now voluntarily returned to their homes since 2009.
DC4IDP Project Coordinator Dimby Randrianaina said: "Data is the basis of efficient coordination because it not only gives us a clear picture of what is happening in a specific area but it also helps us understand the key characteristics of the people involved, to better target assistance and protection."
Knowledge of the vulnerability of specific individuals and groups allows agencies to deliver targeted assistance to people living in exceptionally challenging circumstances. It provides protection to those displaced as a result of violence. Now the majority of IDPs have identification, there is also a reduction in the occurrence of fraud and misuse of aid.
The maps produced are regularly distributed among the humanitarian community of Eastern Congo, creating a collaborative approach to aid delivery.
Supporting returning families
The team has been asked to conduct other activities related to the collection, analysis and dissemination of data, such as the profiling of non-documented people or minorities at risk and or the mapping of community infrastructure in areas of potential returns.
UNOPS is now working in collaboration with UNHCR, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme and the World Food Programme to pilot a joint data collection mechanism with local authorities. This will assess the condition of social infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, and their ability to absorb an increase in population growth as displaced families return home.
The former Head of the UNHCR Goma office, Masti Notz said: "The development of the community mapping method has helped us beyond the work with IDPs in camps, for instance by allowing us to foresee potential areas of return, which will support not only humanitarian work but also stabilization efforts."
UNOPS in focus