More than two and half years after the beginning of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, recent reports have documented more than 9,000 civilian and military causalities, 1 20,000 houses damaged, 2 and the annual gross domestic product (GDP) of country has recorded a 9% decrease in 20153 . The latest Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine report4 indicates that hundreds of ceasefire violations are recorded daily in the areas separating the Government Controlled Areas (GCAs) and Non-Government Controlled Areas (NGCAs). As the assessment demonstrates civilians continue experiencing significant humanitarian hardship including obstacles in accessing basic services and legal rights, compounded by a severely deteriorating economic situation. The main findings revolve around: i) multifaceted humanitarian needs at the household level, ii) specific protection vulnerabilities, iii) a challenging housing situation and iv) the significant loss of economic security that has affected ability to access basic services including health, education, and utilities.
The purpose of the inter-agency vulnerability assessment (IAVA), endorsed by the Humanitarian Country Team in Ukraine, was to evaluate immediate humanitarian needs of the conflict affected population in the Donetsk and Luhansk Government Controlled Areas. It was conducted under the overall guidance of the Technical Assessment Working Group (TAWG) composed of more than 20 members from the UN and NGO community operating in Ukraine. The target population was composed of both displaced and non-displaced households through a mixed approach using household surveys, focus group discussions and secondary data review.
The multifaceted humanitarian needs of the crisis affected population remain of concern. As evidenced by the report, conflict affected populations in Donetsk and Luhansk GCAs continue to experience constraints in accessing housing and public services, thereby increasing their vulnerability. Many of the conflict-affected population have exhausted whatever resources they had since the beginning of the conflict. This, together with uncertainty regarding the longevity and prospects for the resolution of the conflict, as well as a deteriorating economic situation characterized by widespread unemployment and soaring prices for basic goods, has led to a humanitarian situation which is highly vulnerable to shocks such as upsurge in violence, cold weather or increase in prices.
Of concern are humanitarian needs in several areas. The assessment has found that most surveyed internally displaced persons (IDPs) come from the cities of regional significance of Donetsk, Luhansk and Horlivka. This underlines the challenge of addressing the needs of a mostly urban population resettling in host communities with prior social and economic difficulties. With regards to surveyed location, the displacement analysis finds that IDP households have moved in geographically scattered areas for reasons primarily revolving around safety and existing social networks. From a return point of view, while the quantitative evidence was limited, the qualitative data confirmed that rising costs of living and inability to pay rent were factors that might encourage displaced household to return to their area of origin in the NGCAs or close to the contact line.
With regards to provision of humanitarian assistance the survey highlighted that IDP households were much more likely to have received aid than their host communities, potentially leading to sensitive social cohesion issues highlighted in focus group discussions. Importantly, the support received was usually described as critical in helping conflict-affected households to meet their basic needs especially in terms of food assistance.
In terms of protection, the assessment confirmed needs in the following areas: i) legal assistance to IDPs, ii) access to social benefits and pensions, iii) awareness raising, identification and availability of services, iv) support to families caring for unrelated children, v) minimizing risks related to unexploded ordinances and mines, vi) referral of gender based violence survivors and vii) support to address housing land and property rights violations.
Based on the findings, thousands of homes require light emergency repairs and winterization with more obvious needs in areas close to the contact line. An important finding was that the unaffordability of heating will put pressure on low incomes. As household revenue will be prioritized to cover food and rent expenses, provision of core NFIs can complement basic household needs based on discussions with focus groups.
This crisis is negatively affecting households’ ability to access basic services including health, education, and utilities. From a health perspective, the need for providing psychosocial support to affected persons was identified especially in areas where the supply of such services is limited. Main issues in terms access of to healthcare revolved around the price of medicines and consultations which ranked as the most important barriers across the IDP and host populations.
Economic insecurity is a reality for most households in Donbas. Rising prices of utilities, food and other essential basket items are forcing affected populations to adopt negative coping strategies such as spending savings with little capacity for replenishment and reducing healthcare and education expenditures. An issue that is severely compounded by the suspensions or delays in payments of pension and social benefits which have deprived the most vulnerable displaced people of their only source of income Finally, the vulnerabilities of certain households were clearly identified. Female-headed households, people residing in areas along the contact line, and IDPs were more likely to need additional humanitarian assistance.
However, these vulnerabilities should be carefully analysed through sector specific analyses to avoid generalizations that could be detrimental to the response. This assessment finds that immediate needs of conflict affected households in Donbas should be addressed through targeted household level interventions that address some of the key needs identified in this report.
However, findings also highlight the need for longer term planning that should address the economic insecurity of households living in Donbas that has been compounded by the conflict. The findings of this significant data collection effort in the field will be complemented by continued support to humanitarian actors for the operationalisation of the main results of this assessment.