Technology is an important tool in every aspect of society – including in humanitarian aid.
Technology has allowed us to conduct surveys in South Sudan, warn communities about potential floods in Madagascar, and respond to hunger in Yemen. In Lebanon, technology has allowed us to more easily support the needs of Syrian refugees and vulnerable Lebanese families – especially during COVID-19.
Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in the world – an estimated two million refugees in a population of 6.8 million. Lebanon doesn’t have a formal refugee camp system; instead, Syrian refugees live in apartments, sub-standard buildings, or in informal settlements on rented farmland. The settlements can range in size from a couple of hundred tents to just one or two. Our mapping project uses Geographic Information System (GIS) technology to efficiently map refugee settlement locations and track needs and changes in the settlement population in a way that can be updated in real time. The information we gather is loaded into the Inter Agency Mapping Platform (IAMP), where other organisations can use that information to coordinate responses and deliver support.
During COVID-19, that information became even more important – but with lockdowns, we faced significant challenges in accessing the settlements to gather the information we needed.
Edgard Rahme is the manager for the mapping project in Lebanon. “During the total lockdown at the beginning of 2021, it was really difficult for the GIS teams to be on the ground with precaution and physically collect data. Instead we were working from home and collecting data digitally. Every day we contacted the community leaders from a range of different informal settlements by phone and asked questions about the needs in their settlement. We asked things like, ‘How many people live in the settlement now? How many tents are there? Is there anybody there with mobility restrictions?’ In order to keep the IAMP updated, we were doing data collection remotely. After the lockdown, the team has returned back to field visits to physically collect data, making sure to take precautions against COVID-19 to keep everyone safe.”
With COVID-19, that information allowed us and other humanitarian organisations not only to assess needs, but also to remain updated with information that is helpful in quickly responding to new cases. “The geographical information system can map which communities contain the highest concentration of those at risk of the disease, which can lead to prevention of transmission and eventually can help us save lives,” says Edgard.
In June, we were one of six organizations asked by the Ministry of Public Health to help establish and run COVID-19 vaccination clinics. Currently, Medair has been running a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Saida, South Lebanon. The information from our mapping project is helping us to identify the more vulnerable communities that need help accessing COVID vaccinations. To encourage people to vaccinate and help reduce myths around the available vaccinations, community health volunteers are going door to door in the surrounding vulnerable communities to conduct awareness sessions.
Our mapping intervention is a crucial part of our response to the humanitarian crisis in Lebanon – especially at a time with a global pandemic has forced millions of people into poverty, and when our ability to deliver emergency health support around the world has been challenged by lockdowns, border closures, and movement restrictions. It’s also just a really cool project – and a mark of what we can do when we harness technology and adapt it for use in the most challenging of circumstances.
If you’re interested in this story, you might also be interested in reading about the essential apps that our humanitarian teams cannot live without!
Medair’s mapping work in Lebanon is made possible by the support of United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Since June 2021, Medair has also been running a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Saida, South Lebanon. Support of the health clinics in the Bekaa Valley are supported by Global Affairs Canada in partnership with Tearfund Canada.