Assisting in Emergencies

Assessing the Situation

Reliable data – about the size, health, needs, income, housing conditions, age and sex of affected populations – is crucial in planning an effective and efficient response following a humanitarian crisis. However, crises often disrupt the information systems that collect and archive such data.

Housing and population censuses, which provide essential information for planning, are often disrupted by humanitarian crises, and the absence of data can exacerbate efforts for rebuilding communities. In a number of countries – including Afghanistan, Cambodia, Chad, Haiti, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Timor-Leste – UNFPA has taken a prominent role in supporting the first census in post-emergency situations. The Fund has pioneered the use of GPS (Global Positioning Systems) to deal with unmapped terrain.

In Angola, millions of people have been displaced as a result of three decades of armed conflict, which also prevented three rounds of census-taking. UNFPA collaborated with the Government to conduct quantitative and qualitative research that has served as a foundation for health policy measures and strategic reproductive health interventions. UNFPA helped carry out a census of the population in Peru affected by the August 2007 earthquake. The headcount identified the number of people and registered the losses suffered by each household. It will also provide information regarding damage to commercial, industrial and institutional services and help determine access to basic services.

Rapid assessments

In emergency situations, when time or costs constrain conventional data collection methods, UNFPA often undertakes rapid assessments that allow the Fund and its partners to evaluate the needs and prioritize responses. It is also spearheading efforts to assess the impact of sexual violence in humanitarian settings.

In May 2007, UNFPA provided immediate support for the Uruguay flood crisis, which caused more than 12,000 people to evacuate from their homes.  After assessing the needs of the displaced, UNFPA provided food, clothes, mattresses, blankets and psychosocial support.  The assessment reviews interventions and challenges and provides recommendations.

In post-conflict Kosovo, an acute lack of data (the vital statistics bureau had not functioned for 10 years) made it difficult to deal with the multiple problems faced by the UNMIK, the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, which was trying to restore the city’s services. UNFPA helped to carry out a sample survey, based on the data requirements of the different agencies working under UNMIK. The results formed the basis for humanitarian and development policy strategies.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo and neighbouring Burundi, UNFPA designed and conducted enumerations of tens of thousands of people displaced by years of violence. Without accurate knowledge about them, the UN could not hope to implement a coordinated response. The information UNFPA collected about their numbers, family situations, and health and nutritional needs provided the basis for its programmes in HIV prevention and other aspects of reproductive health care. It also enabled other humanitarian organizations to design their programmes for distributing food, vaccinations, sanitation and other services.

Assessing the extent of sexual violence

A major challenge to addressing sexual violence in emergencies is the absence of data on the nature and extent of the problem. Sexual violence is usually underreported even in well-resourced and stable situations. During emergencies, it is unlikely that there will be any reliable data about sexual violence. In most situations planning for prevention and response to sexual violence will be based on anecdotal evidence obtained through a variety of sources.

UNFPA is spearheading projects at both the global and national levels to increase the availability of reliable qualitative and quantitative data to identify trends and guide good programming efforts.

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