Imagine living in a community that faces poverty and vulnerability and has limited resilience to shocks. Your livelihood is dependent on subsistence farming in a region that is vulnerable to climate change and crop disease outbreaks. Only 26.7 percent of households in your region have enough food to last until the next harvest. 50 percent of the population in your district are refugees and you find yourself competing for the little resources that you have at your disposal with people who have fled from prolonged conflict.
It is estimated that 935,000 South Sudanese refugees will arrive in Uganda by the end of 2017, entering through West Nile – a region that already faces poverty, vulnerability and food insecurity and has limited resilience to shocks. With so many refugees arriving there is danger of conflict breaking out between communities in need of assistance from the humanitarian and development sectors as they compete for limited resources.
How does data help to understand the needs of these communities and drive collective development and humanitarian responses that are beneficial to them both?
A clear need for joined-up data
As it stands, the socio-economic indicators for a given region and statistics on host populations in Uganda are collected using household surveys or censuses and are usually published by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics. However, data on refugees – where they are and how they are doing in relation to socio-economic indicators – is gathered by the Office of the Prime Minister, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other actors operating within a region that perform refugee needs assessments. Data is published as a bi-weekly update on the Uganda Refugee Response Portal by the UNHCR and the Office of the Prime Minister. The needs assessments carried out by other actors are not usually publicly accessible.
In practice, data on different communities within a region cannot easily be joined up. For those seeking to address development or humanitarian issues, to help improve outcomes for those living in complex communities, there is no single data story that gives a complete picture of the issues that people face. This means that decisions on how best to address an issue can only ever be a ‘best guess’, without full knowledge of the potential for knock-on effects – positive or negative – on other communities in the area.
It’s not just a question of joining up data – often data for evidence-based decision-making is simply not available. For example, it’s not possible to track how many refugees provided with land choose to settle in a region, move around the country or go back to their country of origin. This is because refugee communities are often missed from household surveys, censuses are few and far between, and if a refugee becomes homeless they may fall off the data radar altogether.
Signs of progress in bridging the divide
There are, however, signs of progress in the humanitarian–development nexus. The Ugandan government recognises that humanitarian and development assistance are intertwined, and this is reflected in the Ugandan National Development Plan under the Settlement Transformative Agenda, which develops programmes for the benefit of both refugees and refugee-hosting areas. Recent efforts by the Government of Uganda, UN agencies and the World Bank to develop a ‘Refugee and Host Population Empowerment’ strategy is testament to an understanding that the development of both local and refugee communities is linked and that priorities for long-term sustainable outcomes must benefit both. However, such frameworks should be supported by principles of joined-up data, such as FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable) to inform new policies and recommendations.
In the past, as observed by Oliver Walton in a research report on preventing conflict between refugees and host communities, the barrier to effective initiatives in the humanitarian–development nexus “has been a tendency for donors to keep humanitarian assistance for refugees separate from broader development assistance”. We now seem to be moving towards a common political will to overcome the barriers highlighted by Walton. The missing piece is the joined-up data to make it happen.