Ensuring everyone counts when disaster strikes

Sharing early learning from UK aid funded project on disability data in humanitarian contexts

From July 2016 to March 2019, Handicap International is running a DFID funded project in partnership with the Washington Group on Disability Statistics and the International Disability Alliance (IDA) to improve data collection on people with disabilities in humanitarian action. The project will test and assess the use of Washington Group questions in humanitarian response contexts by carrying out a one year action-research. Learning generated by the research will be used to develop guidance on the use of the Washington Group questions, specifically designed for humanitarian actors, and advocate for the systematic collection of data on people with disabilities in humanitarian action. The project is now half-way through the action-research and the project team is supporting a wide range of humanitarian organisations working in different sectors and different contexts to integrate the Washington Group questions in their existing practices.

Handicap International will pilot the use of the Washington Group questions in three humanitarians contexts selected for their geographical and thematic diversities. Jordan currently hosts over 650,000 men, women and children — approximately 80% of them live outside camps, while more than 130,000 are in the camps of Za’atari and Azraq.

The government is leading on the overall strategic humanitarian coordination, and the United Nations (UN) humanitarian agencies and large international Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) actively engage in the coordination and delivery of humanitarian assistance and protection services at sector and inter-sector levels. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) more than one million people have been displaced since a violent anti-Government revolt erupted last year in Kasai, leading to food insecurity and about 400,000 children are at risk of malnutrition. And finally, the Philippines is one of the most disaster prone countries in the world with an average of 22 tropical cyclones a year (which around six to seven cause significant damage). Recent conflicts in Mindanao also cause intermittent cycles of forced displacement.

Collection of data in partnership with humanitarian actors

The target groups for this action research project are humanitarian actors working in DRC, Jordan and the Philippines. As such, Handicap International has reached out to a wide range of humanitarian actors in these countries including UN agencies, International NGOs, local NGOs, Disabled Person Organisations (DPOs) and government services. As of today, Handicap International is supporting over 30 partners in collecting data on persons with disabilities and over 430 people have been trained.

The number of partners participating in the research has exceeded our expectations; there is a real demand in-country for capacity-building and technical advice on how to collect data on persons with disabilities in humanitarian action. As Jordan is also the hub for humanitarian actors operating in Syria and Yemen, Handicap International also extended its support to actors operating in these countries.

If agreeing on the modalities of the collaboration was straight forward, things were a bit more complicated when it comes to sharing data. Collaboration with partners is formalised with the signing of a data sharing agreement or Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). Each organisation has different data protection and confidentiality processes that the project team had to comply with. In addition, discussions had to involve a wide range of stakeholders at different levels of the organisations. In most instances, an agreement was reached but it delayed significantly the start of the data collection process.

Adapting tools and management information systems

The project team is supporting humanitarian actors to adapt existing tools and integrate the Washington Group questions. For example, after a successful small scale pilot this year, the pre-crisis mapping survey carried out by UNOCHA in the Philippines will now include the Washington Group short set of questions and will be used later this year by the Municipality of Baras. In Jordan, the Vulnerability Assessment Framework carried out by UNHCR and its partners also includes the Washington Group short set of questions. The project team is also collaborating with UNHCR to review their registration system — called Profile Global Registration (ProGres).

Successful integration of the questions has also taken place with a number of INGOs (International Rescue Committee, Danish Refugee Council, International Medical Corps, Action Contre la Faim, IMMAP and OXFAM) and one DPO in selected projects implemented in the three pilot countries. However adapting centralised data management information systems used by an organisation across different projects and countries is more complicated. It is for example the case of the data management systems used by International Committee of the Red Cross / Red Crescent and UNHCR ProGres database. Changing the way disability is inputted in these databases to ensure global coherence and data reliability, is an investment that is likely to take time.

Collection and analysis of the data

In-country project officers are carrying out field visits with humanitarian actors when they are collecting data using the Washington Group questions to understand:

  • how the questions perform in different humanitarian settings / sectors of intervention and
  • the necessary process for humanitarian actors to collect useful and quality data.

Various quantitative and qualitative data collection activities are undertaken to gather evidence on the use of the Washington Group questions in humanitarian contexts such as follow-up survey with the affected population, observation of the data collection process, focus group discussions with enumerators to assess their perceptions, etc. To date, six field visits have been undertaken by the project team, many more will follow in the coming months. Learning will be made available at the end of the action-research.

Use of the data

Early findings show that organisations are not always clear about how they are going to use the data collected. The use of the Washington Group questions tends to return a higher percentage of people with disabilities than existing data and / or government data. For example, when piloting the Washington Group short set of questions on 98 people during registration, UNHCR Jordan found that 27.55% of refugees had a disability (when according to ProGres 2.36% of refugees registered have a disability). This increase comes as a shock to some organisations who think they have to drastically change their project implementation and that inclusion is not achievable within the scope of existing interventions. There seems to be some confusion between the intended use of the Washington Group questions to monitor the level of access to services and participation of persons with disabilities and its use to determine eligibility criteria for services. Aware of this issue, the Washington Group has recently published a blog on this matter.

The project team is also starting to receive datasets with data on persons with disabilities (four so far) and the analysis will start in the coming months. The use of the data for inclusion purposes will then be discussed with organisations and recommendations and technical support will be provided by the project team. These recommendations will also inform a lessons learnt and guidance package, to be developed in the second phase of the project. In addition, it is important to keep in mind that there are existing guidelines on inclusive programming (e.g. UNICEF booklets Including children with disabilities in humanitarian action, Minimum Standards for Age and Disability Inclusion in Humanitarian Action, and the upcoming Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) guidelines on inclusion of persons with disabilities in humanitarian) that can support organisations to be more inclusive.

Next steps

The action-research will be completed by March 2018 and a research report with findings will be available and widely disseminated. Watch this space!

Humanitarian Innovation and Evidence Programme

This work on disability is funded by the Department for International Development under the Humanitarian Innovation and Evidence Programme (HIEP). This wider programme is designed to impact on humanitarian actors’ capacity to deliver improved response and resilience programmes that are effective at supporting vulnerable people.

Handicap International

Handicap International (Handicap International) is an independent and impartial aid organisation working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster. Handicap International works alongside people with disabilities and vulnerable populations, taking action and bearing witness in order to respond to their essential needs, improve their living conditions and promote respect for their dignity and fundamental rights. Projects are implemented in over 60 countries in the following areas: rehabilitation, emergencies, explosive weapons, health & prevention and inclusion & rights.