Counting and Identification of Beneficiary Populations in Emergencies: Registration and its Alternatives
This review is one in a series from the RRN, which aims to set out good practice in different sectors of emergency programmes based on the extensive experience of the reviewer.
Defining three processes (see box below), the author sets out to describe the most appropriate means of determining how many people may be in need of emergency assistance and identifying who they are.
the method of obtaining total figures of potential beneficiaries
goes beyond just counting - it is essentially a matter of 'knowing' which individuals are affected by the crisis
describes the activity of expressly collecting and formally recording specific qualitative and/or quantitative information about individuals of concern to
Full, formal registration of a beneficiary population has over recent years increasingly been considered to yield the most reliable quantitative and qualitative data on which to base planning and delivery of assistance and protection in emergencies. Food is one of the largest and most expensive components of any humanitarian assistance programme and one of the most common purposes of registration is to provide quantitative information on which to base programme planning particularly with regard to food aid and rations. However, in light of the rapid onset of many of today's emergencies and the size and expense and often controversial nature of registration exercises, total population registration should be seen as only one of the options for obtaining reliable figures for the effective delivery of assistance.
Why is it important to get accurate numbers of emergency affected victims?
1. To find out who and how many people are entitled to material assistance
2. To facilitate legal identity and protection.
The choice of methodology used to count and identify will be a function of the specific objective of the registration and the conditions at the time. The need for counting accuracy generally depends on the type of assistance planned. Food distribution generally requires as accurate figures as possible whereas water and health provision do not require the same degree of accuracy. Nevertheless the author keeps asking the question 'does this have to involve a full registration?'
Is a full registration appropriate for any given situation: Questions to ask?
- Can a registration ensure that some families will not be excluded?,
- Can the information system be updated to include births, deaths and new arrivals, etc.?
- Is a repeat registration exercise possible and/or practical and will resources allow for proper management of vulnerable groups should an overestimation of numbers lead to cuts in allocations?, (the author argues that in most emergencies they do not)
Will setting registration as a pre-requisite for access to distribution reward exaggeration of numbers and dishonesty?. The reviewer gives the example of Hartisheik refugee camp in SE Ethiopia where the black market for ration cards was so well developed that registration did nothing to reduce abuse but rather encouraged it. He questions whether food allocations should have been linked to registration.
Before considering a registration
Why is it wanted?
- To secure legal status
- to determine rights to highly valued sources
if neither, consider
- Is this the only way objectives can be achieved?
- Is a FULL registration a priority NOW?
- For whom is it a priority?
Is it feasible? ... consider:
- population movement
|community||visual habitation centre|
|rapid research techniques||< 5yr screening|
|household surveys||flow monitoring|
So when is registration recommended?
- Despite its limitations as a tool for distribution, registration is strongly recommended when the objective is to strengthen or secure legal status and thereby improve protection.
- Registration may also be needed when the objective is to determine entitlement to resources that are highly valued, e.g. land ownership, freedom of movement.
- If registration results in placating donors or authorities or any actor critical in influencing the future of the population, then it may serve as an end in itself irrespective of the accuracy of the data.
When is registration feasible?Feasibility is dependent on a number of factors:
- access to the whole of the population,
- population movement,
- physical location and facilities - are they suitable for registration and
- resources - enough to carry out registration to an acceptable standard.
- security i.e. will it lead to over-crowding in a location or are there vested interests in sabotaging the process?.
- timing i.e. the closer registration is to the start of an emergency, the less likelihood there is of success.
A clear assessment of all the factors mentioned above should be made and if conditions are clearly not suitable for a registration this should be communicated to those who are considering or proposing a registration. The author then proposes that if such an approach fails then attempts should be made to co-opt those pushing for the registration. "Put them in the hot seat and involve them deeply in the registration process. Let them face the problems".
The final conclusion of this section of the review recognises the importance of accurate identification of beneficiaries, but states that "registration is rarely the ideal method to achieve it. A combination of other methods should therefore be used. The methods are not mutually exclusive and over time triangulation or cross-referencing of sources of information should result in increasingly refined figures". The next two chapters of the review explore these 'other' methods.
Alternatives to Registration
- Community estimates should be sought as one of the first steps in counting beneficiaries. Although often mistrusted, experience has shown that in the early stages of an emergency, before vested interests have a chance to take hold, this can produce accurate data.
- visual habitation counts,
- screening of under fives,
- flow monitoring and
- over flights and aerial photography.
- through the community, e.g. community leaders, collectors of community service information, and village committees,
- rapid research techniques
- household surveys.
- degree of anticipation and planning for the population displacement,
- population location and geographic distribution,
- level of co-operation from beneficiaries,
- degree of host government involvement, and
- the degree of donor pressure for a type of information.
The Review is available from The Relief and Rehabilitation Network, ODI, Portland House, Stag Place, London SW1E SDP.
Tel. 44 (0)171 393 1674
Fax. 44(0) 171 393 1699
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Reference this page
Counting and Identification of Beneficiary Populations in Emergencies: Registration and its Alternatives. Field Exchange 3, January 1998. p5. www.ennonline.net/fex/3/counting