Opinion

Global data centre poised to improve responses to displacement

Global data centre poised to improve responses to displacement
  • Nearly 90 per cent of the displaced are living in the developing world, many trapped in protracted displacement situations.

  • By June 2019, the Horn of Africa hosted over four million refugees and twice the same number of IDPs.

  • A report of a recent stock-taking Forum of the IGAD Council of Ministers lamented that one out of every five refugees worldwide is in the region.

  • And the numbers are projected to climb to nearly five million by 2020.

“In God we trust. All others must bring data”, quipped statistician William Edwards Deming.

Rightly extolled as the new oil of the digital economy in the 21st century, data underpins a new development-oriented response to displacement. Reliable data is central to the success of the new shift to the development-humanitarian paradigm and the complex partnerships it is spawning.

FIVE MILLION

A new Joint Data Center on Forced Displacement by the World Bank and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) exemplifies the emerging unique partnerships between development and humanitarian actors to use data to stem the spiralling global displacement crisis.

In 2018, the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally-displaced people (IDPs) hit the 70.8 million mark, the highest level since the creation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) after the Second World War.

Nearly 90 per cent of the displaced are living in the developing world, many trapped in protracted displacement situations. By June 2019, the Horn of Africa hosted over four million refugees and twice the same number of IDPs. A report of a recent stock-taking Forum of the IGAD Council of Ministers lamented that one out of every five refugees worldwide is in the region. And the numbers are projected to climb to nearly five million by 2020.

The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants in September 2016 underscored the need for high-quality, timely data to deliver on the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF). Data is needed to underpin the implementation of the Global Compact on Refugees adopted in December 2018.

DISPLACEMENT

Among the drivers of the development response to displacement is the World Bank Group. Since 2017, the Group has dedicated $2 billion to fund low-income countries hosting large numbers of refugees as part of its IDA 18 sub window for refugees and host communities, which has since been constantly replenished. Data is needed to help countries benefiting from the sub window.

The WBG has forged a new partnership with UNHCR on data collection to drive evidence-based response to the forced displaced and communities hosting them. “What gets measured (and clearly defined) does get done”. This mantra, popular in the development sphere, has inspired this partnership.

In April 2018, the WBG and UNHCR signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish a Joint Data Center (the “Center”) on Forced Displacement, based in Copenhagen. Denmark contributed 100 million kroner ($) to support the Center over a four-year period.

The new Data Center is a game-changer in the quest for data to underpin decisions and programmes on displacement. It is envisaged a source of information and data to enhance the ability of stakeholders to make timely and evidence-driven decisions that can improve the lives of those affected by forced displacement.

PARTNERSHIP

“The scale, complexity and speed of today’s refugee crises mean we can no longer afford to respond through humanitarian action alone. It is more important than ever to mobilise resources and plan for the longer term from the beginning. This is why early access to reliable data for development partners like the World Bank is so important,” noted the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi during the launch of the Center.

Data from the Center will help maximise the effective use of shrinking resources for the displaced. “When resources are scarce all efforts should be made to get help to those who need it. Improving data and evidence is critical to ensure that these resources are used efficiently and effectively. We have much to learn from UNHCR’s experience, so that we can do more together working in complementary ways to help both refugees and their hosts,” said former Interim President for World Bank Group, Kristalina Georgieva.

In the Horn, the Special Envoy of the UNHCR Commissioner, Mohamed Affey, avers that “data is needed to enable governments in the Horn of Africa to plan for and to effectively receive refugees returning home”.

The Kenya politician and diplomat was speaking during the recent launch of the Advisory Council of the Joint Data Center on Forced Displacement (JDC), co-hosted by the World Bank and UNHCR in Copenhagen on September 30, 2019.

ASSISTANCE

So far, detailed data has enabled the WBG and UNHCR to prepare landmark reports on the welfare of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan, which in turn have led to a better targeting of humanitarian assistance as well as the preparation of development projects.

Regionally, the two partners have organised joint analytical work in the Horn of Africa, the Lake Chad Basin and the Middle East. They have worked jointly with government institutions to expand the collection of micro-data on displacement. They have also carried out collaborative missions to inform WBG programming of new resources to address refugee situations.

In Kenya, detailed data made possible an assessment of the role of refugees in Kakuma camp in the local economy in northern Kenya.

Today, data is needed to inform decisions by countries like Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Djibouti, currently implementing the World Bank’s Development Response to Displacement Impacts Project (DRDIP), which targets refugee-hosting communities and regions.

INTERVENTIONS

The Center’s data will benefit two of IGAD’s knowledge-based interventions on displacement: its Annual Progress Report on the Nairobi Declaration; and its Refugee Support Platform (RSP), both launched in September 2019.

On the road to the first Global Refugee Forum in Geneva on December 17-18, 2019, the activities of the Center already reveal it as one of the sharpest arrow in World Bank’s quiver in addressing the displacement crisis. Its data will provide the much-needed evidence to inform policy, decision, and programmes.

Professor Kagwanja is former Government Adviser and currently Chief Executive of the Africa Policy Institute. This article benefited from his participation in the First Joint Data Center on Forced Displacement Advisory Council Meeting in Copenhagen, September 30, 2019.