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Posts Tagged ‘Crisis’

This is a guest post from Anna Crowe, Research Officer on the Privacy in the Developing World Project, and  Carly Nyst, Head of International Advocacy at Privacy International, a London-based NGO working on issues related to technology and human rights, with a focus on privacy and data protection. Privacy International’s new report, Aiding Surveillance, which covers this topic in greater depth was released this week.

by Anna Crowe and Carly Nyst

NOV 21 CANON 040

New technologies hold great potential for the developing world, and countless development scholars and practitioners have sung the praises of technology in accelerating development, reducing poverty, spurring innovation and improving accountability and transparency.

Worryingly, however, privacy is presented as a luxury that creates barriers to development, rather than a key aspect to sustainable development. This perspective needs to change.

Privacy is not a luxury, but a fundamental human right

New technologies are being incorporated into development initiatives and programmes relating to everything from education to health and elections, and in humanitarian initiatives, including crisis response, food delivery and refugee management. But many of the same technologies being deployed in the developing world with lofty claims and high price tags have been extremely controversial in the developed world. Expansive registration systems, identity schemes and databases that collect biometric information including fingerprints, facial scans, iris information and even DNA, have been proposed, resisted, and sometimes rejected in various countries.

The deployment of surveillance technologies by development actors, foreign aid donors and humanitarian organisations, however, is often conducted in the complete absence of the type of public debate or deliberation that has occurred in developed countries. Development actors rarely consider target populations’ opinions when approving aid programmes. Important strategy documents such as the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs’ Humanitarianism in a Networked Age and the UN High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda’s A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transfer Economies through Sustainable Development give little space to the possible impact adopting new technologies or data analysis techniques could have on individuals’ privacy.

Some of this trend can be attributed to development actors’ systematic failure to recognise the risks to privacy that development initiatives present. However, it also reflects an often unspoken view that the right to privacy must necessarily be sacrificed at the altar of development – that privacy and development are conflicting, mutually exclusive goals.

The assumptions underpinning this view are as follows:

  • that privacy is not important to people in developing countries;
  • that the privacy implications of new technologies are not significant enough to warrant special attention;
  • and that respecting privacy comes at a high cost, endangering the success of development initiatives and creating unnecessary work for development actors.

These assumptions are deeply flawed. While it should go without saying, privacy is a universal right, enshrined in numerous international human rights treaties, and matters to all individuals, including those living in the developing world. The vast majority of developing countries have explicit constitutional requirements to ensure that their policies and practices do not unnecessarily interfere with privacy. The right to privacy guarantees individuals a personal sphere, free from state interference, and the ability to determine who has information about them and how it is used. Privacy is also an “essential requirement for the realization of the right to freedom of expression”. It is not an “optional” right that only those living in the developed world deserve to see protected. To presume otherwise ignores the humanity of individuals living in various parts of the world.

Technologies undoubtedly have the potential to dramatically improve the provision of development and humanitarian aid and to empower populations. However, the privacy implications of many new technologies are significant and are not well understood by many development actors. The expectations that are placed on technologies to solve problems need to be significantly circumscribed, and the potential negative implications of technologies must be assessed before their deployment. Biometric identification systems, for example, may assist in aid disbursement, but if they also wrongly exclude whole categories of people, then the objectives of the original development intervention have not been achieved. Similarly, border surveillance and communications surveillance systems may help a government improve national security, but may also enable the surveillance of human rights defenders, political activists, immigrants and other groups.

Asking for humanitarian actors to protect and respect privacy rights must not be distorted as requiring inflexible and impossibly high standards that would derail development initiatives if put into practice. Privacy is not an absolute right and may be limited, but only where limitation is necessary, proportionate and in accordance with law. The crucial aspect is to actually undertake an analysis of the technology and its privacy implications and to do so in a thoughtful and considered manner. For example, if an intervention requires collecting personal data from those receiving aid, the first step should be to ask what information is necessary to collect, rather than just applying a standard approach to each programme. In some cases, this may mean additional work. But this work should be considered in light of the contribution upholding human rights and the rule of law make to development and to producing sustainable outcomes. And in some cases, respecting privacy can also mean saving lives, as information falling into the wrong hands could spell tragedy.

A new framing

While there is an increasing recognition among development actors that more attention needs to be paid to privacy, it is not enough to merely ensure that a programme or initiative does not actively harm the right to privacy; instead, development actors should aim to promote rights, including the right to privacy, as an integral part of achieving sustainable development outcomes. Development is not just, or even mostly, about accelerating economic growth. The core of development is building capacity and infrastructure, advancing equality, and supporting democratic societies that protect, respect and fulfill human rights.

The benefits of development and humanitarian assistance can be delivered without unnecessary and disproportionate limitations on the right to privacy. The challenge is to improve access to and understanding of technologies, ensure that policymakers and the laws they adopt respond to the challenges and possibilities of technology, and generate greater public debate to ensure that rights and freedoms are negotiated at a societal level.

Technologies can be built to satisfy both development and privacy.

Download the Aiding Surveillance report.

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This is a guest post by Roland Berehoudougou, disaster risk manager for Plan International’s West Africa Region. He explains the numerous factors that came together and conspired against the people of the Sahel, transforming the lean season into an emergency. 

Photo: Roland Berehoudougou.

When Plan International and other aid agencies sounded the alarm bells and appealed for public assistance to finance an emergency response to the Sahel Food Crisis, there were those sceptics who saw this crisis as an annual chronic food shortage which was being exploited by aid agencies to raise money.

Those skeptics were wrong.

So what is an emergency? What is a food crisis? What is involved in declaring an emergency or pronouncing a situation to be a “food crisis”? A number of issues are taken into consideration including forecast about the availability, cost of food, environmental factors and other internal and external factors which are discussed below.

The Sahel Food Crisis is the result of a complex emergency in which these factors have come together to create this food and nutritional crisis. In fact, had these not occurred then there would be no food crisis, no emergency, and no fundraising appeals.

Captured from Plan International’s Pinterest. http://pinterest.com/pin/64809682107912974/

Drought causes conflict
In the last three to five years, the people in the Sahel have been confronted with either lower than average rain, normal rainfall or excessive rainfall causing floods. As a result harvest levels have been good in some places and poor in others.

In countries of poor harvests, farmers and their families have been coping using straightforward approaches of cutting back on their expenses. In the Sahel, families sold their livestock; others sold their furniture and other possessions. After three consecutive years, their assets have been depleted and men, women and children have been looking for work to supplement household incomes.

The conflicts in Cote d’Ivoire, the Maghreb, and Libya meant that more than 200,000 migrant workers from the Sahel had to flee those countries and return home. Given the average size of families in the Sahel, about 7-12 members per family, two million people suddenly became affected and had reduced incomes.

In addition, the Malian refugees which poured over the borders into neighbouring countries are an additional stress on food insecure areas. For every one refugee, there are five animals. So if you consider 375,000 animals coming over with 75,000 refugees, for example, those animals can dry up a water-scarce irrigation dam in just few days. Yet, cattle are a lifeline and in a food crisis, they cannot be forgotten.

In addition to depriving people of a considerable source of income, the drought in the Sahel is a source of conflict. Shepherds, for example, who are forced to take their animals southward in search of pasture, come into conflict with farmers.

Cultural differences
People in the Sahel eat a different staple to what is grown outside the region and this has implications during a food crisis. Let’s take a scenario where countries on the west coast, such as Liberia or Cote d’Ivoire, may have enough food to export. However, it is not the type of food that people in the Sahel eat and they therefore won’t import it. Instead they import from one another at prevailing market rates which has a knock-on effect on availability and cost.

Market forces – influenced by global factors – dictate price. There is a common market across West Africa where traders move and sell freely. When Nigeria is buying, WFP is buying, other NGOs are buying the price increases. If you look at food prices you will see that prices this year compared to the same period last year is more than 100% in Mali, more than 70% in Burkina 42% in Niger.

So, as an NGO, Plan International had to change its strategy and approach our donors for permission to do cash-for-work or food-for-work programmes rather than waiting to do food distribution programmes after the food stock is totally depleted.

A food crisis may, therefore, not necessarily mean a shortage of food but rather the inability of a people to afford to buy the food.

Arab Spring
In addition to the complications of prolonged inconsistent harvest levels, market forces, and inflow of refugees and their livestock, the situation has become complicated by the rise of desert locusts this year.

The breeding grounds of locusts are in the border areas of Libya and Algeria. When the Gadaffi government was in office, they provided a lot of money for insect control in locust breeding grounds but since the Arab Spring and events following it the finance for the pest control has dried up. The continuing insecurity on these borders also prevents pest control activities. We are now seeing a different impact of the Arab Spring spilling into the Sahel in the form of locust swarms.

The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) which monitors locust movement say that swarms have been sighted in northern Niger. If these swarms come southward through the agricultural belt farmers will experience yet another problem. When these clouds of locusts descend on newly planted fields, they can devour acres of crops and trees in just 30 minutes. The locust swarms have also been sighted in northern Mali but because of the insecurity, no one can go there to control the pests.

NGOs do not do pest control as it is a very costly exercise involving planes and other equipment which we do not have. This role falls to specialised agencies such as FAO and governments. This is a looming disaster.

Road to hell
To cope with the food crisis, children have left school and have taken to the road to find work to help their parents. Some girls are working as domestic help in homes, other are begging on the streets, and boys are finding work in traditional gold mining in Burkina and Niger. A number of serious hazards face these children including respiratory problems from inhalation of dust and exposure to mercury, arsenic and other chemicals used in the process.

Many children who go to work on plantations, in cotton fields and other types of farming also face risks of exploitation and potential trafficking.

Finding solutions
At Plan we are trying to address the food insecurity, in the areas we work, in a holistic way.

We are providing drought-resistant seeds, supporting the government to train farmers in drought-season activities and supporting the 3N programme (“Niger Nourish Nigeriens”). One of its principal objectives is reducing dependence on climate through irrigation and rain water collection projects.

Plan, whose core work is Child Centred Community Development (CCCD), is also empowering communities to get involved in the cereal market and beat speculators at their own game by creating community-managed cereal banks. After a harvest the price of cereal drops and farmers are forced to sell their crops at low prices to meet the schooling cost for their children and other social costs. Speculators buy the cereal and store it until food shortages kick-in around mid-year and then release the cereal at high market prices.

Plan-supported communities are doing the same thing – except that they sell at a lower price to members of their village. The income generated is used to increase the storage capacity of the cereal bank and support social infrastructures in the village such as building facilities like medical centres and schools.

We are also implementing micro-finance project for women and youth using the VSLA strategy (www.vsla.net). We have discovered that if we provide economic empowerment for women then there is a trickle down effecting benefiting children who will receive balance meals, medical care and an education. We are seeing improvements in the quality of life for families in our programme areas.

Using this approach, many villages are now being lifted out of poverty and Plan is replicating this in other areas in which we are working.

No handouts
When Plan appealed to developing nations for assistance for the Sahel Food Crisis, it was not to address an annual chronic food shortage. It was to address a complex emergency that has stretched an already stressed situation to its breaking point which in turn has put four million children at risk of malnutrition.

No one is ever happy about being in a situation to ask for help to feed their families.

Plan is using aid money in such a way so as to prevent dependency on long-term aid. The United Nations agencies of OCHA and UNDP have demonstrated that for a dollar of foreign aid spent on preventing disasters saves an average of seven dollars in humanitarian disaster response.

At Plan we are seeking to empower and support the people living the Sahel to get out of the situation themselves. We are in it for the long haul. We are working hard to make ourselves and our work redundant and build resilience in the Sahel and hope. None of this is possible without the support of governments and people from the rest of the world.

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On a flight home from Kenya last summer, I sat next to a young man from Burundi. His country was just holding elections, and we got to talking about them. I’d heard people calling the elections a sham because the opposition boycotted them, and there was only one candidate (from the ruling party) to even vote for. I asked what he thought about that situation and the current president. He said ‘Well, you know, we Africans…. sometimes these guys have their own style of doing things which others may not understand.’ We got to talking about politics in countries near Burundi and African big men who don’t want to step down. He kept joking, with each subsequent leader: ‘Hey… well, you know, I guess he has his own style too.’  Seems there is a lot of personal style to be reckoned with.

Consider Laurent Gbagbo in Cote d’Ivoire who’s refused to step down as president and whose conflict with internationally recognized president-elect Ouattara is bringing (has brought?) the country to civil war. I’m about as far from a Cote d’Ivoire expert as you can get, never having visited the country and not having a great handle on the history or much knowledge about the current situation. So I went digging for some news articles and opinion pieces so I could understand things better.

Alex Thurston gives a good round-up on Sahel Blog and John James describes the day-to-day in his article Ivory Coast’s Descent into Madness (heard through @scarlettlion). This sobering article, West Africa lurches towards war, from March 11, explains how the Cote d’Ivoire conflict could impact the whole region. The International Crisis Group sums up the situation like this:

‘The election was part of a peace process that began after the September 2002 rebellion and was endorsed by several accords, the latest the 2007 Ouagadougou Political Agreement that all candidates, including Gbagbo, accepted and that set out compromises on organisation and security for the balloting. Ouattara won the run-off with a margin of more than 350,000 votes over Gbagbo.

The UN certified that result, but Gbagbo used the country’s highest court to throw out votes arbitrarily so he could stage a constitutional coup. Since then, he has relied on violence and ultra-nationalist rhetoric to cling to power. Over 300 people have been killed, dozens raped and many more abducted and disappeared by security forces. ECOWAS and the African Union (AU) have recognised Ouattara as president-elect and asked Gbagbo to step down, but he is apparently prepared to resist to the end, even if it means throwing Côte d’Ivoire into anarchy, war and economic disaster with terrible consequences for the entire region.’

Aaron Bady of ZunguZungu goes deeper and analyzes the historical roots of the conflict in his post Our deafening silence on the Coast of Africa: Cote d’Ivoire and our Myth of Continents, which I’d encourage you to read in full.

‘This is, in other words, about the political power structure working to limit who gets to politically represent and be represented in this “African” nation, precisely by drawing a line to separating “North Africa” from “West Africa,” in politically interested ways, to maintain political control for the ‘real’ Ivoirians in the south. Without denying that there might be other bad guys in this story, the fact remains — virtually unspoken — that ten years ago, Ouattara’s ethnic origin as Burkinabé — his parents were from Burkina Faso — was used by politicians from the predominantly Christian southern part of the country to disqualify him from running for the presidency; a political campaign of “Ivorité” worked to distinguish between “indigenous Ivorians” and “Ivorians of immigrant ancestry,” as a thoroughly programmatic effort to dis-enfranchise the (largely Muslim) north by lumping them all together with the (many) immigrants in the north who originated Burkina Faso. The current violence started with a disturbingly analogous move: after Ouattara was declared to have won the presidential election — by the UN, ECOWAS, the AU, and all international observers — the Gbagbo controlled Constitutional Council threw out 660,000 votes from the north and gave the election to Gbagbo.

It’s all very complicated. But for now, my point is simply to note that these geographical categories are not only part of the problem in Côte d’Ivoire itself. In this case, they are part of the reason why we find it so difficult to even talk coherently about the problem.’

*****

The organization where I work operates in Liberia, and so I’ve been getting updates about the situation on the Cote d’Ivoire-Liberia border, where we’re providing some support to the large number of refugees streaming into Liberia. These updates describe a deteriorating situation. Ghana, Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso haven’t received as many refugees but are still starting to feel the effects of the conflict heating up. The past week saw a spill-over of violence onto the Liberian side of the border as armed Ivorians entered the Liberian territory and attacked Liberian and Ivorian nationals who were found along the North Eastern Liberia-Cote d’Ivoire border.  UN security troops were deployed to put an end to the fighting and gain control. Serious shooting has also been reported along the South East Liberia-Cote d’Ivoire border, accelerating the influx of refugees into the counties of Maryland and Grand Gedeh. One report says that in Cote d’Ivoire, rapes, abductions and killings are being committed by people supporting both sides and influential leaders appear to be deliberately stimulating attacks against political opponents, other ethnic groups, nationals from other West African countries, as well as UN staff and operations.

I was Skyping Wednesday with my boss, who lives in Burkina. She oversees our programs in the West Africa region, including emergency and humanitarian crises. She said there are over 80,000 refugees who’ve come into Liberia already, ‘and it’s only going to get worse.’

On top of those who have fled into Liberia, there are at least 300,000 internally displaced. ‘The area where the refugees are in Liberia is totally undeveloped,’ she said. ‘It’s 26 villages with no infrastructure which now have to cope with the influx of people. People don’t want to go to a camp. They prefer to stay in the villages. There are security worries as there is fighting very close to the border and armed men from Cote d’Ivoire are crossing the border to Liberia and started firing on the Liberian side of the border. They were shut down by UN troops, but it’s worrying.’

Since she and I talked the situation has gotten worse still. Foreign Policy Blog reports:

‘This is the real thing. In a message on state television last night, Gbagbo — who has refused to step down after losing an internationally certified election in November — asked civilians to get involved in the fight to “neutralize” his opponents. That’s about as close as you get to saying pick up your machetes and join me. Or forget machetes; Ivory Coast is still heavily armed from its civil war last decade. Gbagbo certainly hasn’t been shy about using military force lately; his forces are thought to have been behind a mortar attack on a market yesterday that left 40 people injured. Earlier this week there were reports of his using helicopters and tanks to mow down suspected opposition supporters.’

My boss also worries there will be a cholera outbreak. The rains started early and the hygiene conditions are bad. Ghana has a cholera outbreak right now, and it’s likely that with much people movement, rains and inadequate sanitary conditions, there will be an epidemic. ‘And people from Cote d’Ivoire are hungry,’ she said. They haven’t had access to cash for weeks as all the banks are closed and food stocks are used up. We are feeling this even here in Burkina as food coming from Cote d’Ivoire starts to get short and prices increase…. And many of the refugees are adolescents. We are worried about them being hired into armed forces, so we are looking into options to try to organize the youth to simply give them something to do.’

On March 3, the International Crisis Group issued the steps that they see as necessary to avoid a civil war and conflict that will shake the whole region:

‘The requirements to avoid a disastrous new conflict include Gbagbo stepping down; Ouattara offering to negotiate, with civil society help, an agreement for unity, national reconciliation and an interim transitional government with him at its head (but without the irreconcilable former president); the UN peace-keeping mission standing firm to carry out its civilian protection mandate; and the international community unequivocally supporting any decisions of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), including deployment of a military mission.’

I wonder if these actions will actually be taken, or if the escalating situation will allow for them to be taken, as each passing day seems to throw the country further towards a seemingly impossible-to-resolve situation.  It’s tempting to think that people are not paying attention to this crisis because of other crises happening right now in Japan, Egypt and Libya. I’m not convinced. Aaron Bady’s post, referred to above, spells out other possible reasons for the lack of attention to the situation, including the common narratives about Africa, ‘the dark continent’, that color our perceptions and reactions. Again, I’d really encourage you to read the whole piece, but here’s a bit of it:

‘It isn’t that “we” don’t want to understand; it’s that we don’t know how to see beyond the initial same-old-story-ness of this story, when we hear it. Which is why, I would suggest, we end up where we started: a sense that, because there is violence, we should pay attention to what is happening, followed by the discovery that there is no news there; just the same “turmoil in Africa” narratives we sort of quietly presume to be going on across the continent all the time, and nothing we can think anything new about.’

I’m someone who rants quite a bit about the negative images we associate so often with Africa and Africans. But looking at the information available about the current situation, I’m having a hard time finding any hope there. I wonder what solutions there really are, where they come from, and if and when these cycles will end. Is it because I haven’t visited Cote d’Ivoire myself that it’s hard to see beyond the negative narratives? Is it because I don’t personally know the day-to-day ‘place of friendly people, amazing fresh fruit, long and unspoilt tropical beaches ‘ that John James describes? In my mind, I keep coming back to the narrative about Africa’s ‘big men’ and their ‘personal styles’.

Seems I’m also caught in the thinking trap that Aaron laid out.

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There are a lot of great ideas floating around about how Information and Communications Technology (ICTs) and technology in general can help to rebuild Haiti.  I hope these ideas keep coming.  I would love to see international development organizations, aid agencies and non-profits in general open up more to ideas on how technology can improve the lives of the people they are trying to support as well as facilitate coordination and program implementation.

But I also hope that the technology folks who haven’t worked in a crisis context such as that in Haiti will lend an ear to those who have experience working in past disasters and on-going development programs, human rights work, volunteer initiatives and advocacy. Those experiences shouldn’t be tossed out as old-school.  Good programs and experiences exist that can be examined, processed and built on.

I work globally, with one foot in community development and the other in ICTs, and I notice a gap between these 2 sectors, though they could really learn a lot from each other and work nicely together.

Cool technology ideas, just like cool program ideas can flop on the ground if the local culture and context are not taken into consideration, users were not involved or consulted during design and testing, the supposed ‘problem’ really wasn’t a problem at all, the proposed idea is not sustainable, a better/preferred local solution already exists, etc., etc.

Sometimes when I hear enthusiastic people sharing ideas for new applications, innovations or program ideas that they want to implement in ‘developing’ countries, I find myself thinking:  “Wow.  They have no idea what it’s like on the ground.”  I don’t want to shoot down someone’s excitement.  But I do wish that those who are not intimately familiar with their end users would slow down, think for a minute, and realize that local context is king. I wish they would remember that ultimately this is not about them and their ideas for other people. I wish they would stop being mad that abc organization won’t take that shipment of xyz technology that they want to send over, or that no one wants to implement such and such program that was so successful in such and such place.  Solutions looking for problems are not the best way to go about things, even when you have the very best of intentions.

However, non-profit organizations (large and small)  can be totally resistant to trying new tools, technologies and programs that could make a huge difference in their effectiveness, impact and quality of programming. They can be bureaucratic and slow to put new ideas to work.  They can be risk averse, afraid of failure, and resistant to innovation and new ideas.  The seemingly limitless relationships that need to be negotiated around can really slow things down.

Sometimes I see non-profits doing things they way they’ve always been done and I find myself thinking “Wow.  I wish they’d be open to trying ________.” I wish organizations would be more willing to test out new technologies and new ideas that don’t come from within their sector. I wish it were easier to make change happen.

When it comes to the Haiti earthquake response, the technology and non-profit sectors are 2 of the key players.  I’m worried that the outpouring of interest in helping will lead to a lot of wheel re-inventing.  I’m worried about local relevance and executability (if that’s even a word) of some of the ideas I am seeing.  I have concerns about the amount of projects being conceived and designed from afar.  I also see that there are new program and technology ideas out there that have the potential to make people’s lives easier if they were well integrated into the local reality, yet there are many factors that prohibit and inhibit organizations from exploring them or using them.

The technology and non-profit sectors benefit quite a lot from each other when they work together and understand each other.  It would be great to see a bigger effort to bridge the gap between these sectors.  Regardless of whether people believe NGOs and/or private enterprises and/or technologists or the Haitian government or the UN are good or bad, there are a lot of experiences that can be learned from and/or improved on from all sides.

The links below might be helpful for thinking about designing technology, ICT and programs in ‘developing’ country contexts and to help avoid known pitfalls and overcome obstacles. They can help reduce the amount of time and other resources wasted on projects that are not sustainable or impactful, or at worst are actually harmful in the short or long term to the very people that we all want to support and help.  There are certainly many more resources out there… please add ones that you find helpful in the comments section.

ICT Works and The 4 C’s of ICT Deployment

Mobiles for Development Guide by Hannah Beardon

IDEO Human Centered Design Toolkit

Changemakers and Kiwanja collaboration: SMS How To Guide

Mobile Active‘s case studies

ML4D:  Mobile learning for development’s design narratives

Ushahidi Blog: February Archives have a lot of information on the Haiti response

iRevolution: thought provoking posts on technology and crisis situations

Educational Technology Debate:  Sustaining, rather than sustainable ICT4E and Designing and sustaining a sustainable ICT4E initiative

Posts on Wait… What? that might be useful:

7 (or more) questions to ask before adding ICTs

Finding some ICT answers in Benin

Meeting in the Middle: A good local process

It’s all part of the ICT jigsaw

I and C and then T

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There is a lot of talk about “Child Protection” these days and an increased awareness of the vulnerability of children who are separated from their parents or who have lost them due to the Haiti earthquake   But what exactly does “Child Protection” mean?  What does a child protection system look like on the ground?  How can child protection mechanisms be set up during an emergency phase, and how can they be turned into a sustainable mechanism post-crisis?

Jose Francisco de Sousa (“Quico”), a co-worker of mine at Plan Timor-Leste, sent me written information on Plan’s child protection work in the 2006 crisis response there and talked me through some of details below. Photo:  Quico.

Plan was active in the broader emergency response in Timor-Leste following the political crisis of April 2006 through work in over 40 camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). (For some deeper insight into Timor-Leste, check out this post by my twitter pal @giantpandinha).

In Timor-Leste, Plan was one of the first agencies to respond as Site Liaison Support (SLS), responsible for the coordination, operation and management of camp activities within days of the crisis. Plan’s specific focus was on addressing the needs of children in the camps, covering service provision such as the delivery of potable water to 15,000 IDPs, addressing hygiene and sanitation issues to improve health, and training youth in conflict resolution skills to aid the nation’s peace building process, and child protection.

Plan’s child protection approach included identifying, monitoring and protecting children at risk, setting up referral systems, training communities in child rights and child protection strategies and mechanisms, and ‘seconding’ Quico as an advisor to the government to strengthen its child protection systems.

Quico was “loaned out” to the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MSS) to build upon existing capacities in the Ministry of Social Solidarity (Child Protection Department) and to ensure a strongly coordinated sectoral, systems-building approach to the child protection response. Through this process, the government came to see child protection as a priority in the long term and eventually established a Child Protection Department under the MSS. So, in other words, the emergency child protection mechanisms established during the crisis were successfully built into a sustainable child protection system in the long term, and services are now available in the district and sub-district levels across the country.

“When the crisis began in Timor Leste, it was very difficult for us to get any resources on how best we could assist internally displaced people. During the emergency, there were many NGOs and other organizations trying to support the internally displaced through different approaches. The focus was mainly to provide the basic needs. There was no proper coordination strategy/mechanism that included broader child protection issues.

I would say that if we look at the nature of the disasters in Timor-Leste and what is happening in Haiti right now, It’s different,  but I imagine (correct me if I’m wrong) that the impact of the disasters might be same, where instability is created in different sectors leading to broader child protection issues.

Plan responded to the emergency in Dili (the Capital of Timor-Leste) with immediate practical child protection measures focusing on the prevention of family separation, and the promotion of safety, and health and hygiene in camps. We also prioritised co-ordination of child protection actors by initiating a Child Protection Working Group. This filled a leadership vacuum whilst building the capacity of the Government  to gradually take over leadership responsibility.”

Keep reading for an overview of the Toolkit…..or download it here.

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Plan Timor-Leste’s Child Protection Emergency Toolkit is divided into 7 parts:

1. Overview of Framework & Standards Related to an Emergency Response in Timor-Leste
This section aims to give an overview of the international, national and organizational laws, policies, standards and approaches to child protection in emergencies in order have clear guidance on how to create an appropriate framework for a potential response that is in line with global, national and internal organizational laws and policies on Child Protection in Emergencies. (If replicating the toolkit, these documents would need to be adapted to the country context).  Users of the toolkit should read this section before they go on to use the other sections in the toolkit.   These overviews are important to integrate into Child Protection in Emergency trainings and orientation for new staff recruited in the event of an emergency.

Some of the legal instruments and Humanitarian Principles Applicable to Child Protection in Emergencies in Timor-Leste included:
  • Overview of Approaches and Guidelines in Child Protection in Emergency
  • Timor-Leste Structural Framework of the Current System for Child Protection
  • Timor-Leste Legal Framework for Child Protection
  • Plan’s Approach to Emergency
  • Summary of Learning and Recommendations from 2006 Emergency Child Protection Response

2. Emergency preparedness
The section includes an overview of steps that should be taken to ensure that Plan offices are prepared for an emergency. It’s divided into two areas – programmatic preparedness and administrative preparedness.  It also includes the practical internal financial codes for general emergency preparedness activities so that these are compiled and readily available to support and inform activities and rapid proposal writing in the event of an emergency. These are also useful for Country Offices to be prepared for emergency in the long term.

Programmatically, the tools include government and Child Protection Working Group contingency planning, risk analysis and scenario planning, child protection activity mapping and definition of roles and responsibilities.  They also include tools developed specifically for the geographical areas where a child protection response might potentially be needed, such as contact lists for child protection actors at the municipal level, and community-based hazard, risk and capacity maps developed by children and their communities as part of Plan’s on-going mitigation activities.

The administrative tools cover generic job responsibilities, a general child protection in emergencies orientation session for newly recruited staff or those who are new to emergency response.  The human resource structure of a response is defined and responsibilities are allocated within the current staff organigram.  Advocacy and media standards and a stock list of necessary items for the first phase of an emergency response are also included.

3. Initial emergency response
This section contains the basic tools relevant to an initial emergency response.  The emergency planning tools included in the previous section are also relevant to ensuring the most efficient response possible, in line with Plan’s community-based approach.  The shape of the response will depend largely on the type, scale and location of the emergency, and any tools need to be adapted according to this context.

“One of the tools here is a child protection message to Camp Managers.  During the emergency period, Plan was assigned to be responsible for a certain number of IDPs. One of our focuses was to establish and ensure that the structure in the IDP was functioning to assist the IDP’s and that we established the camp. But we also wanted to make sure that child protection was understood and prioritized in displaced persons camps. This meant that we discussed children and child centered programming with camp managers, and they worked to ensure that there would be no discrimination towards children and their families during the emergency.”

This was difficult for us to introduce in the beginning of the crisis, as people tended to have different thoughts and priorities, and it gave additional works to the IDPs.  In addition to that, some organizations did not have a mandate for “child centeredness.” So we started facilitating child protection focused workshops for camp managers and other NGOs, and getting their commitment to be involved in process.  Aside from that we also guided the camp manager on using the checklists as well as we assigned Plan, government and other NGO staff  (who were also in IDPs) to support throughout the process, and it worked.

One of the problems that we encountered was related to volunteers.  Since we were establishing a new system, we needed people to take responsibility at different levels. Camp managers already had additional child protection tasks for the whole camp, so they were supported by child protection focal points and child protection teams in each block of IDPs.  I wouldn’t say it all worked perfectly.  There were issues among volunteers that were brought to the Child Protection Working Group to discuss. Some NGOs who were also assigned in the IDP camps had a policy of paying camp managers and teams, which created jealously and conflict between them and the volunteers. But in the end, we developed guidelines for volunteers, establishing from the start that we would not give them cash but rather give them recognition and reward such as:

· identification cards recognizing them as volunteers
· training and continuing refresher courses
· certificates for every completed training course
· promotional t-shirts, hats, umbrellas & bags, whenever available
· public acknowledgment
· certificate of community service for every 3 months of services rendered
· access to information about suitable job vacancies in NGOs”

4. Child protection assessment
This section contains tools for use in assessing child protection-related needs.  It draws heavily from the Inter Agency First Phase Child Protection Resource Kit developed by the IASC Child Protection Working Group. The assessment contains generic questions relevant to a range of child protection issues common to emergencies.  They are adapted and modified according to the context of the emergency and the child protection issues that are identified as emerging. Training on ethical considerations and assessment methodologies should be conducted as necessary.

“There are 8 main focus questions in the Questionnaire for Children, for example.  To find out about children’s psycho-social well being, we ask the questions:

· What are the things/activities that you like the most?
· What kind of things makes you happy or comfortable?
· What are the things/activities that you dislike?
· What kind of things makes you angry or sad?
· What kind of activities would you like to have here?
· What are the main problems that you face now?
· What would help you solve these problems?
· What are your biggest concerns or worries about the future? What do you think would help?
· Which people make you happy in the community?  Why?
· Which people make you unhappy in the community?  Why?”

5.      Building a Child Protection System in an Emergency
The section looks first at developing child protection systems in the context of displacement.  It then looks at supporting district, sub-district and village child protection systems to respond to the needs of displaced people living in host communities and other disaster-affected communities.   It goes on to look at the implementation of the Child Protection Policy and ensuring the effective management of individual child protection cases.  This sub-section contains guidelines on monitoring and reporting grave violations of children’s rights.

6. Key issues for children in emergency
This section looks at some of the issues that children commonly face in emergencies and appropriate child protection responses in line with international standards and according to Plan’s mandate and experience.  The three key issues covered in detail are: Family Separation, Sexual Violence against Children, Psychosocial Support for Children. Each of these three issues has a sub-section containing a summary of standards and guidelines, process for prevention and response, necessary tools, and a training module for staff.

7. Monitoring and Evaluation
This section contains the tools used to monitor and evaluate child protection in emergencies interventions.   These are based on tools already used by the Plan Timor-Leste Office.  They are adjusted according to the needs of an emergency context and are supplemented with additional tools in line with good practice.

“In Haiti, I would say that children separated from their parents will need to be especially considered, while people will also need to be alert for the effects that the crisis may have, for example, increased violence.  This will be a special concern if there were any political issues before the crisis. Psychosocial activities are very, very important too, the other key areas are likely to be water and sanitation, heath problems and education.  Coordination mechanisms between aid organizations must be considered, as each organization will have their own approach but in this situation each organization needs to think about the wellbeing of children and the community.”

More resources:
The Child Protection Working Group in Haiti has created the following Guiding Principles for Unaccompanied and Separated Children Following the Haiti Earthquake, 2010.

These principles represent the views of the following agencies: the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Save the Children, Terre des Hommes (TdH), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Vision International (WVI), Plan International, War Child UK.  Organizations wishing to work on behalf of separated children are strongly encouraged to endorse these principles.


Plan International: Children and the Tsunami


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Related posts on Wait… What?:

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My main experience with disasters comes from working at an international development organization in El Salvador and happening to be the only senior manager who wasn’t on annual vacation when a huge earthquake struck almost exactly 9 years ago, on January 13, 2001. The rush to act was immediate, and it was a lot of learning by doing.  I got handed the responsibility by fate I suppose and didn’t do such a bad job of it, if I do say so.  At that time we were pretty unprepared; something that has certainly changed since then in the organization where I work.  We now have country level disaster plans at hand and support a lot of disaster risk reduction and preparedness work with local communities and governments.

One of the main challenges for us in responding to the Salvadoran earthquakes in 2001 was information:  lack of information, wrong information, too much information to sort through, outdated information, etc.  We spent way too much time in staff meetings and meetings with other organizations/government sharing what we had done and what we were planning to do, only to find out that everything had changed while we were sitting there, and some decisions were no longer valid.  There was no effective way to manage all the information in the constantly moving and changing circumstances.

And in 2010…?

I’m sure things have changed quite a lot in disaster work since 2001, and since 2005 when I spent about 6 weeks in India and Thailand after the Tsunami, but I would bet that information management will still be a major challenge during the relief and recovery efforts in Haiti following the January 12, 2010 earthquake, especially given the scale of the crisis and the number of agencies who are already working there or are just now arriving to set up shop.

Today’s technology should allow us a better way to manage this information.  I hope that organizations working on the ground in Haiti will take advantage of the shared and open digital information systems available to them that can be updated in various ways by various people in various locations.  The convergence of information and communication technologies (ICTs) such as digital mapping, crowd sourcing and crowd feeding of information, GPS, mobile phones and SMS,  geo-visualization for rapid decision making and trend spotting will be put to a massive test as the disaster response in Haiti unfolds.

In comes Ushahidi

The place where these ICT tools are converging right now into one ready to use platform is at www.haiti.ushahidi.com.  (I confess that I’m unaware of other options that offer the same or similar crisis management capacity – feel free to post other examples in the comments section). [update: for regularly updated detailed info on Ushahidi and other digital tools being used in the Haiti Crisis, visit the Ushahidi Situation Room].

According to the Ushahidi blog, work on the Haiti crisis map began about 2 hours after the massive quake struck, thanks to a global effort of people linked to Ushahidi, Frontline SMS/Frontline SMS: Medic, UN OCHA Colombia, the International Network of Crisis Mappers, and the US State Department (and probably others behind the scenes that haven’t been mentioned yet).  The system is now operational.  The in-country short code 4636 went live on January 16th.

What is Ushahidi and how does it work?

Ushahidi could be described as a mapping tool and also as a platform I suppose.  Each Ushahidi ‘instance’ is created based on the information needs of whoever is setting up the instance, and a map of a particular geographical area.  Via email, SMS, Twitter, or by filling in an on-line form, anyone can send in information to populate the map with information.  This information falls into specific topic areas that have been decided beforehand by whoever is setting up the site. (Ushahidi instances have been used to track drug stock outs, to monitor elections and human rights abuses, and in crisis situations, for example.)  In the case of Haiti, it’s deaths, emergencies, threats, responses, missing persons, etc.

The “incident reports” that people send in are uploaded onto the map (using geo-location tags) to give a visual representation of what is happening and where.  They are labeled as “verified” or “unverified”.  As data is triaged, the unverified reports are eventually verified.  Different layers of information can be viewed, and you can see an overview or zoom in for more detail on the map.  [Update:  These reports are being channeled now into Sahana’s system (read about it here) system, developed in Sri Lanka for the Asian Tsunami in 2004.]

To really understand how this works, the best thing is to just visit the site.

Crowdsourcing and Crowdfeeding

Two of the basic concepts behind Ushahidi are “crowd sourcing” and “crowd feeding”. Crowd sourcing means information is obtained from the “crowd”.  Crowd feeding means that the collected information is consolidated and fed back to that same “crowd” so that they are better able to make decisions.  People standing right there on the ground usually know what is happening right there on the ground better than people visiting periodically from centralized headquarters, and via Ushahidi, that information is pulled in from the sources on the ground in almost real-time.  Giving consolidated information back and/or responding to those who provided it completes the circle.

Trust the Public

With a large enough amount of information input, any bogus incident reports can be identified.  I won’t go into all the discussions around the validity of crowd-sourced information as it’s been a large debate, but seems to play out that yes, you can trust the information to the degree necessary to help make quick decisions in times of crisis or emergency — and this information is better than no information or information that comes too late.

In fact, in September, I participated in a meeting about geo-visualization at Google’s offices in Washington, DC (see my before lunch and after lunch posts) and heard presentations by both the American Red Cross (ARC) and the US Federal Environmental Management Association (FEMA). Both organizations talked about the need to trust citizens to report on what is happening right in front of them, and that these reports are every bit as reliable as reports by experts, and a whole lot quicker because people have mobile phones now.  Pulling in information from citizens and mapping out the situation visually can be a huge resource for those making decisions about response.

What’s needed now

What is needed now for Ushahidi in Haiti to work to its fullest potential is for people to share information about what is happening where they are.  The general public in Haiti can text a message into 4636 to submit a report giving their location and telling about their situation: missing persons, need for medical attention, supplies needed, help that has already arrived, changing priorities, etc. [Internationally use 44-76-280-2524, or report using the web form at the Ushahidi Haiti site].

Emergency Aid agencies too

Information sharing is not only something for the public.  In addition to input from the local population, it would be great if local organizations and international agencies would use Ushahidi to share information on what they are seeing as they work in and pass through different communities.  By being open and sharing this kind of information, maybe overall coordination can improve and precious time and resources won’t be wasted because of information challenges.  [Update:  Organizations on the ground can register at Sahana, and receive situation reports so that they can provide assistance.]

One aid agency can’t canvas the whole country alone, and Ushahidi offers a way to get real information from real people on the ground in near real-time. I think it would have much been easier in El Salvador in 2001 if we had the ICTs then that we have now.  I hope people and organizations take the best advantage of them in 2010, now that they are available.


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