Emerging Trends
April 5, 2020

How technology is mapping informal refugees in Lebanon

It is estimated there are nearly 25.9 million refugees around the world – but only 2.6 million live in camps. The rest live in urban areas and informal camps, which can offer a more normal life for people forced to flee.
In 2013, the Switzerland-based NGO Medair launched the Inter-Agency Mapping Platform (IAMP) Project to identify and map refugees living in informal camps across Lebanon, and help NGOs coordinate and deliver aid and assistance where necessary.
ITU News spoke to Paola Barioli from Medair to learn about their project — and how it is helping them with their Covid-19 response preparation.

What is the Inter-Agency Mapping Platform (IAMP) Project and why is it important to map informal refugee camps?

Medair established the Inter-Agency Mapping Platform (IAMP) Project in 2013 after it became clear that refugees were not receiving assistance because their locations and existence were not known.

The Inter-Agency Mapping Platform (IAMP) Project is critical to identifying and monitoring the locations and trends of Syrian refugees living in Informal Settlements (IS) throughout Lebanon. The IAMP is used as a basis for humanitarian coordination, activity planning, gap identification, assessments, monitoring, responses to emergencies in ISs. Moreover, the IAMP also enables refugees to communicate their location, ask for assistance and follow up on what could or should have been provided.

In collaboration with UNHCR and supported by ECHO, we introduced a Place-code (PCode) system that provides a unique identifier – somewhat like an “address” – to each IS based on Governorate, District and Cadastre. This means that every single refugee living inside an informal structure is visible and reachable.

This has proved to be invaluable in coordination and referrals between agencies – PCodes provide a quick and accurate reference that all agencies and people living in ISs understand, and allows each IS to be counted, referenced, located and therefore served with humanitarian aid.

Can you tell me a bit about the technology behind the project?
We use different Esri products in this project. Esri is an international supplier of geographic information system software, web GIS and geodatabase management applications.

ArcMap is used to develop and maintain the maps and Geodatabase. ArcGIS Online is used to share the data and manage users as well as develop story maps to better understand the situation. ArcGIS Collector application is used on smartphones and tablets and enables us to share data publicly or with specific users to ensure data protection. The application can be accessed both online and offline.

Medair manages the online maps and facilitates access for mapping partners and other stakeholders. The team develops visual, GIS and analytical products to showcase trends, population movement, and changes in the profile of ISs. The IAMP data supports beneficiary databases (e.g. RAIS: Refugee Assistance Information System) and standard reporting tools, such as Activity Info. Medair has won 4 international awards for innovation for this project with its partnership with QLIK, a data analytics software provider. Qlik software helps develop dashboards to visualize the data.

Why do you go door-to-door to find people?

Medair conducts GIS mapping assessments in ISs in the Bekaa Valley, Beirut Mount Lebanon (BML) and Saida, and works in partnership with Solidarities International (SI) which conducts mapping assessments in Akkar and North Lebanon, and Comitato Internazionale Per Lo Sviluppo Dei Popoli (CISP) which conducts GIS mapping assessments in Nabatieyh, Sour, and Jezzine.

Each informal settlement is visited to record essential observations, like the number of individuals in each settlement, number of shelters and their different structures, number of latrines, water source and capacity and much more. We also collect information on people with specific needs, and record referrals; the thing that empowers and better connects the people most in need with the aid providers. Visiting every single settlement makes all those who are in need visible rather than remaining hidden.

What happens after you collect the data?
Medair manages, cleans and collates the data collected through the assessment sweeps, and issues the IAMP to UNHCR each month. Medair manages the online maps and facilitates access for mapping partners and other stakeholders, and develops visual, GIS and analytical products to highlight trends, population movement, and changes in the profile of ISs at the end of each sweep.

How do you keep the information secure?
The data is stored and hosted by ArcGIS Online which has various layers of security. UNHCR provides the data based on the requests from the different NGOs.

How is the technology helping you respond to the Covid-19 pandemic?
There are no cases of Covid-19 among Syrian refugees inside informal settlements to date, but we have taken proactive steps in order to prepare ourselves.

The Medair team (including GIS/IM) is joining the inter-sector meetings in order to help coordinate the corona response. In collaboration with UNHCR, and through the data of the IAMP (inter-agency mapping platform), Medair is supporting the ‘Capacity Mapping’ of all the NGOs: their resources in terms of skills, money, preparedness, staff, etc. This will lead to mapping the who, what and where of the response; who is doing what and where? Referring to the IAMP (mapping data) and in collaboration with UNHCR, Medair IM team will coordinate the Corona Response, serving all needs, filling need gaps and avoiding potential duplicated services inside settlements. Thus, increasing efficiency and effectiveness of the response. Moreover, recording the response’s events and reporting the data will help monitor the situation and make better decisions/actions.

The Medair team is supporting Lebanon Red Cross in data entry and creation of maps.

DHIS2, the District Health Information Software 2, is the web-based open-source software platform that the Medair Lebanon IM team is customising in-house, in order to centralise, report, analyse and disseminated data for all projects (health, shelter, and mapping). Recently, the DHIS2 community has released a digital data package to accelerate case detection, situation reporting, active surveillance and response for COVID-19. In case Medair/NGO community will start a COVID-19 response in the future, this tool will accelerate and organise our response. It has a basic assessment questions that we can use in order to identify infected/prone cases.

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How technology is mapping informal refugees in Lebanon

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