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Tents and Tech: Iraqis Using Data to Address a Displacement Crisis

Arbat Refugee Camp. Source: ABC News

Arbat Refugee Camp. Source: ABC News

 

The conflict with the Islamic State has created numerous crises in Iraq, not the least of which is an astronomical number of people left homeless.  As of June 2015 more than 4 million Iraqis have been forced to leave their homes and cities, accounting for one tenth of the global displaced population. While many Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Iraq have been absorbed by cities and are renting homes or living with host families, a significant portion have ended up in camps - large tent communities struggling to gain access to economic and humanitarian resources. In Iraqi Kurdistan, governments and civil society organizations (CSOs) struggle to address the needs of the displaced communities, many of whom come from Anbar, Ninewah, and Diyala.

The conflict with the Islamic State has created numerous crises in Iraq, not the least of which is an astronomical number of people left homeless.  As of June 2015 more than 4 million Iraqis have been forced to leave their homes and cities, accounting for one tenth of the global displaced population. While many Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Iraq have been absorbed by cities and are renting homes or living with host families, a significant portion have ended up in camps - large tent communities struggling to gain access to economic and humanitarian resources. In Iraqi Kurdistan, governments and civil society organizations (CSOs) struggle to address the needs of the displaced communities, many of whom come from Anbar, Ninewah, and Diyala.

People supporting the camps express frustration over the lack of information about the IDPs in their region. While some high-level data is collected on IDP camps, both civil society and government groups in Iraq routinely lack information about the demographic, health, and economic  status of displaced people to help them determine their priorities and plan their engagements. Fortunately, civil society organizations and governments can capture and share this data if they have access to the proper tools.

 

IOM's Displacement Tracking Matrx in Iraq
I
OM's Displacement Tracking Matrx in Iraq

PeaceTech Exchanges in Iraq

PeaceTech Exchanges in Iraq (PTXs) are workshops designed to connect CSOs and government reps with technologies that enable data capture and analysis as well as communication for better, more effective governance. Since September 2013, PeaceTech Exchanges have trained nearly 300 civil society organizations (CSOs) and 70 government employees  from across Iraq on low-cost, easy-to-use media and data tools.

In May of 2015, the PeaceTech Exchanges hosted a workshop in Sleimani, Iraq. Addressing the needs of IDPs emerged as a central issue to both civil society and government participants. These groups quickly identified low-cost, easy-to-use technologies to service their work with IDPs. Among the most popular tools that CSOs selected were KoBo Toolbox and Storymaker.

New Tools for New Projects

Developed by the Harvard Humanitarian Society, KoBo Toolbox allows people to easily create survey forms for to collect  information. Once a KoBo survey page has been loaded on a laptop or smartphone, it can be used to collect information in areas without access to the Internet. Data is stored locally on the device until a connection is available, then uploaded to an online service with analytical tools. The tool has changed the way many PTX CSOs collect information. “We're able to re-use the technology KoBoToolbox in multiple projects,” said the KWA, “because it is low cost and reduces the amount of time required to collect and save necessary data… Regarding our use of this technology it is the most important lesson that we learned from and can use it in future projects to facilitate our work.”

The Guardian Project's StoryMaker is a tool for citizen journalists and organizations that want to tell a story using video but lack expensive video capture and editing tools. StoryMaker allows the user to create, edit, and publish movies from a single Android or iOS device. In addition to documenting challenges faced by IDPs (explained in more detail below) PTX participants also used the app to document pollution of local lakes and rivers, using video to tell new stories in the Kurdistan region. In 2013, a video about the plight of Farmers in Diyala province won the United Press Unlimited award for the Best Story of 2013 “which would have remained untold without mobile storytelling.”

The Kurdish Women Association conducts an interview using a KoBo Toolbox survey on a smartphone.
The Kurdish Women Association conducts an interview using a KoBo Toolbox survey on a smartphone.

Gathering IDP Data

The PeaceTech Lab funded three IDP-focused data projects conceived at the PTX workshops. The Kurdistan Women Association (KWA) visited the Arbat and Tasluja IDP camps in Iraqi Kurdistan and conducted 85 interviews with displaced Yezidi women. Using KoBo Toolbox to record responses,  KWA gathered various data about women in the camps, including their age, marital status, living conditions, literacy levels, sources of income, skills, psychological condition, and whether they had been sexually harassed. The data will now be used to connect Yezidi women to humanitarian and economic resources.

Results from the interviews indicate that the camps are safe and provide satisfactory services, but that multiple challenges exist to finding employment. Sixty-eight percent of the women interviewed were illiterate, and that those with education had only progressed to the secondary level. Only eight percent  of women interviewed currently held employment (this was universally in farming) and most believed that they had no skills that they could use in a job. No women reported sexual harassment or instances of violence while living in the camps, but many reported health problems.

Visualizations of sampled KWA data.
Visualizations of sampled KWA data

“After spending a month collecting information about a number of women this has made it easier for us to find job opportunities for them and contact them for other humanitarian purposes,” the KWA project report concludes.

Two other organizations, the Youth Activity Organization (YAO) and the People's Development Organization (PDO) also organized projects to gather data on IDPs in Sleimani, this time focusing on medical data.

IDPs in Iraq often lack access to sufficient medical resources. This is particularly dangerous as diseases can spread throughout camps, compounding the challenges faced by local governments and civil society organizations to keep displaced Iraqis healthy.

The Youth Activity Organization tackled the issue of disease in Arbat. Like the Kurdish Womens Association, YAO gathered medical data on the spread of disease in the camps. In the Arbat IDP camp, they diagnosed 278 cases of leishmaniasis, a disease caused by single-celled parasites that causes skin ulcers and impacts blood cells, the spleen, and the liver. Documenting these cases with KoBo Toolbox, YAO presented their findings to the emergency hospital inside the camp. Within a month, hospital had treated 72% of the documented cases of leishmaniasis, as well as several other diseases.

 


The Youth Activity Organization presenting its findings

"Due to its ease of using these techniques and the speed of transfer and dissemination of information", said YAO project manager Nabil Abdulsalam, the tools KoBo Toolbox and Story maker were "effective, good and easy, with a high possibility of access to the public and decision-makers."

Youth Activity Organization incorporated StoryMaker into their project by documenting the medical cases of displaced Iraqis and their collaboration with local medical officials to secure medical aid.

Another group to partner with local government was the People's Development Organization (PDO). Focusing on Qoratu camp and the neighboring Salih Agha area in the Kalar region, PDO conducted a systematic survey of 530 families, totaling to 2,779 people.

 “116 of [IDPs interviewed] are infected with epidemiological diseases, 48 of them are males and 68 are females. The number of people infected with measles are 2, the number of people infected with pemphigus are 6 and number of people infected with pox are 10. 19 people are infected with typhoid, another 60 are infected with skin diseases such as Alopecia and Baghdad boil and other unknown skin diseases spread among IDPs and specially children. The number of children infected are 43.”

PDO found very difficult circumstances, both for the IDPs and the medical centers struggling to treat them. The camp medical centers lack the medicines and equipment needed to treat the IDPs in their area, and because of the cost of traveling to the nearby hospital in Kalar, many IDPs failed to get access to the medication they need.
 

A PDOteam member conducting interviews in Qoratu.
A PDO team member conducting interviews in Qoratu

Data capture technologies like KoBo Toolbox allowed the PTX participant People Development Organization to capture vast amounts of previously uncollected data on the status of IDPs in Qoratu camp and throw a spotlight on the difficulties faced by IDPs in Iraqi Kurdistan. After the story has earned coverage in local press Kurdish parliamentarian Meryam Samad contacted PDO director Bahar Osman and promised a health committee hearing on the subject of displaced Iraqis in camps. $12,000 dollars of medical supplies were delivered to Qoratu, and a relationship was established between government and civil society.


"The best thing about the project is that it attracted the attention of the local authorities ​... that we built a good relationship with the health directory there and the local government. They promised us help with what we want to do in terms of new projects, new activities. They said that they appreciate the things that you did as an NGO, they are ready for any kind of contribution."


The flow of information and aid from data collection teams

 

The Power of Peacetech

One fundamental belief motivating the PeaceTech Lab is that low-cost, easy to use technology can empower peacebuilders in conflict zones to generate meaningful impact. Data collection and media tools can turn general realities (that there is a health crisis in IDP camps) into specific realities (there are specific numbers of people with specific diseases) that can be effectively communicated. They can help make the stories and needs of people displaced by violence known to their communities and to the world. As the PeaceTech Exchange series expands globally, we will continue to support organizations that address violence and create a more peaceful world.
 

 

 

 

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