|Counting and Identification of Beneficiary Populations in Emergency Operations (ODI, 1997, 110 p.)|
|2. Basic principles|
Good communication with and among all those involved in an assistance programme is a sine qua non for the reliable collection, analysis, and processing of information on individuals, groups, or populations. In turn, trust, based on an absence of real or perceived threat to interests, is essential for good communication. Good practice in the enumeration and identification of beneficiary populations requires the capacity to distinguish between conditions which are conducive to good communication and trust within an assistance programme, and those that are not. Experience shows that secrecy severely impedes good communication when carrying out such an exercise.
Increasingly in humanitarian operations a mutually trusting environment does not seem to exist. This may reflect as much the politics into which humanitarian assistance delivery is becoming drawn, as the poor management of some of its programmes.
A lack of trust and communication creates a vicious circle: it is generally assumed that beneficiaries lie to make unfair gain from the assistance operation. Increased and exponentially more expensive technology used in registration systems in humanitarian operations does and will continue to elicit an ever more sophisticated response from those who want to subvert those systems. In the words of an experienced emergency aid worker5: if someone wants to beat a registration system, she has 24 hours a day to think of ways around whatever system is put in place, no matter how technical and sophisticated that system may be. Highly resourced and sophisticated national border control systems are seemingly circumvented with ease. Currency and document falsification seems to be possible in virtually any context, if the stakes are sufficiently high.6
Beating the system
A number of ingenious methods of beating the registration system have been noted: the use of animal urine to remove indelible ink in Kenya; cutting and re-sticking wrist bands in Tanzania; sophisticated forgery of cards and passbooks in Pakistan etc. Even snow was recently reported as being used in Croatia for the removal of indelible ink.
Nonetheless, with the notable exception of mandated international protection functions, e.g. for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) whose protection activities may demand confidentiality and discretion), successful information gathering in emergencies should be an open process with key actors (beneficiaries, authorities, implementing partners, and donors) participating fully. In most countries, for example, there is a legal requirement for the authorities to be involved in quantifying and registering displaced populations within their territories. The relevant communities should also be an integral part of the process from the beginning. Ideally, beneficiary groups should plan and conduct the process themselves, in close coordination with other actors, especially national/local authorities. Transparency throughout the process is necessary to dispel misunderstandings, or misapprehensions, particularly where conflicting interests may be involved.
If participation of the authorities is seen to be either inadvisable, or in some cases, even to pose a risk to the beneficiaries of the programme, then fundamental issues of protection, responsibilities under international and national law, authority, and sovereignty must be addressed before an adequate information gathering process and capacity can be established. Similarly, if a significant degree of secrecy is deemed to be necessary, it is likely to indicate fundamental inadequacies within the operation. Tensions, distrust and a basic lack of communication probably exist; at worst, enumerators or beneficiaries may even be exposed to serious risk.
It must be remembered, however, that in emergencies, available resources are, by definition, less than needs. By multiple registration, or registering fictitious dependents for example, a head of household may increase the chances of the households survival.