Predicting where humanitarian crises will happen and understanding why they are likely to occur is fundamental in knowing where to allocate resources for risk and response. There are a number of different tools and indices which seek to do this, but this week INFORM – an important new risk-management initiative – appeared on the humanitarian landscape. INFORM (Index for Risk Management) is the first global, open-source tool for measuring the risk of humanitarian crises, bringing together a mix of existing indices. It is the result of many months of development by a coalition of partners, led by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee and the European Commission.
INFORM covers 191 countries and consolidates data from 50 indicators to measure risk across three dimensions: hazards, vulnerability and lack of coping capacity. Users can compare risks across different countries, or focus on a particular region or country to build up an individual risk profile, covering both natural and human hazards. INFORM results are available for between three and five years, making it possible to analyse risk trends over time.
Of course the platform is only as good as the data it consolidates. There will always be crises that defy prediction – for example, the current Ebola emergency may not have shown up in previous risk indices. And as we highlighted in this year’s GHA report, the poorest, most vulnerable and crisis-affected countries are also often those for which the data on vulnerability and government expenditure is lacking. For example, levels of extreme poverty are not known for 8 of the 30 long-term recipient countries of humanitarian assistance, including Somalia, Afghanistan and Myanmar. In sub-Saharan Africa, 43 of 49 countries conduct poverty surveys but only 28 of these have been conducted in the past 7 years.
The sub-national risks, incidences and impacts of crisis also vary significantly – not just in large countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo, but also smaller ones such as Myanmar or Sri Lanka. Data on this is also often hard to come by, but INFORM is working to develop regional and country-specific versions of the index that will eventually be used to measure risk at the sub-national level. This is essential. If this is in place, together with regularly updated data, it would allow humanitarian actors to plan ahead and more precisely target their support to people at risk before crises occur.
INFORM is an exciting addition to the repertoire of tools that help humanitarians predict and respond to crises at the right time and with the right resources. Other resources include the ACAPS Global Emergency Overview (GEO), which provides a weekly analysis of current humanitarian needs and priorities based on data from a wide range of sources, as well as our own work at GHA to map resource flows to crises.
Yet despite all of the tools that now enable us to track a complex series of indicators on risks, needs and available resources, there are still questions about the effectiveness of the humanitarian system in acting on the information that they generate.
Next steps include finding ways to improve and combine the data more effectively – making it easier for decision-makers to see at a glance where the risks of future crises are greatest, where the needs in current emergencies are most acute, and where the resources are going (and perhaps more crucially, where they are not). This requires collaboration from those designing and implementing different models and platforms such as INFORM. It also implies working with the decision-makers themselves – both national and international – to increase their understanding and use of the tools to ensure that they inform the right decisions at the right times both within and across institutions.
INFORM was launched on 19 November 2014. INFORM’s results and further information about using the index can be found at www.inform-index.org. A short animation on INFORM can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVcOiuDQIFs&feature=youtu.be.