Beyond the technology

The Syrian Refugee Crisis in Lebanon and how KoboToolbox is aiding humanitarian efforts

Despite shifting global attention toward the COVID-19 pandemic throughout 2020 and 2021, the war devastating Syria and its people drags on. The lives of millions of Syrians fleeing for safety continues to be precarious and their futures uncertain.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, is leading humanitarian efforts for refugees within Lebanon — Syria’s neighbour who the continued crisis has particularly hard hit. The Government of Lebanon estimates that they are hosting roughly 1.5 million Syrian refugees who have fled since the war outbreak in 2011, putting significant strain on the country, its people and its resources. Only about 870,000 refugees of the total estimated amount are registered with the UNHCR.

© UNHCR Shawn Baldwin

To better understand Lebanon’s refugee crisis, a collaborative effort by the UNHCR, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) developed VASyR, the Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees. The report aims to reveal a cross-section of the refugee population in annual snapshots — allowing for invaluable insights into the lives of thousands of families over time as the crisis continues. VASyR uses the KoboToolbox suite of tools for all its data collection efforts across Lebanon.

The 2020 report’s most recent findings show a devastating picture of life as a refugee in Lebanon, made even more challenging throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Financial insecurity is on the rise as 92% of refugee families are in debt, and 9 out of every ten households live in extreme poverty conditions — a 34% increase from 2019. There is a significant gender disparity as woman-headed households have significantly lower income than men-headed ones — 86% of women were outside the labour force and 25% of men were unemployed. Children are scarcely able to attend school due to the high costs of transportation and learning materials — or not at all due to the current pandemic. Often they are drawn out of school into oppressive child labour conditions, and young girls married off. Only 20% of those aged 15 and older are legal residents. Most live in conditions below basic humanitarian standards, and access to clean water and sanitation is scarce.

Infographic from 2020 VASyR report

The report’s annual findings allow humanitarian organizations and local governments to focus their efforts, funding, and resources to where it’s most needed.

The data collection is from a sample of some 5,000 refugee families in 26 districts across Lebanon, and each survey consists of around 580 questions with translations in both English and Arabic. The surveys are constructed using the XLSForm open standards and contain complex logic that asks a range of contextually appropriate questions and guides enumerators through the interview.

In total, 70 enumerators from various organizations who have partnered with the UNHCR move from family to family in teams of two for several weeks. Each registered household has a unique case number and a barcode that is scanned into the form to identify and monitor the family’s case over time.

Once the collection process is complete, data validation, cleaning and preliminary analysis take place over three months using a range of external tools, after which the report can be compiled.

© UNHCR Ivor Prickett

With few teams on the ground, limited time and harsh conditions, efficient and robust means of collecting and managing data are critical.

“The operation decided to use KoboToolbox mainly since it is a free open-source tool for data collection, works offline, easy to create forms and users on the server, and is used by most of the humanitarian actors. Hence, data collectors require minimum training to configure and use the forms. In addition to that, forms are easily integrated into other systems for monitoring and for creating dashboards.” — Raffi Kouzoudjian, UNHCR

The UNHCR has been working with KoboToolbox since 2016 to ensure that their humanitarian efforts on the ground are more streamlined and impactful.

Learn more about the UNHCR’s ongoing efforts in Lebanon and Syria’s neighbours here and how you can be part of the solution.

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