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close this bookCounting and Identification of Beneficiary Populations in Emergency Operations (ODI, 1997, 110 p.)
close this folder3. Counting and identification: why, by and for whom?
View the document3.1 Introduction
Open this folder and view contents3.2 Distribution
View the document3.3 Identification and legal status

3.1 Introduction

The objective of this Chapter is to examine, briefly, the principal reasons for undertaking a quantification and/or identification exercise, before going on in Chapters 4, 5 and 6 to look at the different methods of carrying out these activities. In particular, the important link between numbers and distribution is considered.


There are two principal reasons to establish accurate numbers of and identify a beneficiary population: i) entitlement to material assistance, and ii) legal identity and protection. This Review contends that the choice of methodology used to count and identify will be a function of a) the objectives sought and b) the conditions pertaining at any given time.

Though quantitative information is only part of the picture, and information provided may be of only limited use in the longer term, without a reasonably accurate estimate of numbers, the delivery of assistance to beneficiaries, particularly in the early stages of an emergency, will be impaired. Global numbers and an ethnic, gender and age breakdown are clearly important for a range of humanitarian assistance activities: including programme planning, protection, fund-raising, and advocacy. Without statistics, effective assistance and protection would ultimately become impossible. Quite probably, major financial or ‘in kind’ donations would not continue to flow either. Beneficiaries have the right to be counted as accurately as possible, if that is a pre-condition for assistance or protection.

By and for whom?

International organisations, the media, host authorities (including the military), beneficiary community leaders, political, military or social groups related to the beneficiaries, and neighbouring communities or their representatives, are all potential sources and consumers of beneficiary population statistics. Sectoral specialists - such as water and sanitation, health and nutrition - while they need to know the number of potential users of the services they are being asked to provide, may also be able to supply information on how many people use their services.

For ease of presentation, unless otherwise stated, it is assumed for this Review that the quantification exercise is undertaken by managers of an international assistance programme. This is frequently so, particularly in the case of large influxes into remote rural areas where resources and overall capacity are very limited. It must be said, however, that the responsibility for counting (and possibly registering) those in need of humanitarian assistance generally should, and often does, lie with the host authorities. Therefore, the advice given in this Review should be assessed within the overall context of local official policy, requirements and capacity.

Box 4

Counting and registration by official authorities

In Armenia, during 1992 and 1993, the government responded to the Nagorno-Karabakh (Azerbaijan) exodus by establishing a refugee ministry to process and assist the estimated quarter of a million refugees. Registration was undertaken through the comprehensive network of municipal social welfare offices (it was obligatory for all new arrivals in any municipality to register). The refugee ministry then compiled consolidated national lists from the municipal lists. The task severely taxed their capacity, and international support in terms of computer equipment and funding of staff was needed. The counting and registration process was, however, managed by the authorities considerably more efficiently, and at considerably less cost, than any international agency could have achieved over the same period of time.