Multi-sectoral needs assessment - Round 5: Non-government controlled areas in eastern Ukraine - Quarter 4, 2020

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In 2021, almost eight years since the beginning of the dual political and internal armed crisis in Ukraine, and a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 3.4 million people are still in need of humanitarian assistance (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 2021). In eastern Ukraine, the movement of goods and persons looking to access financial, legal and other basic services has been largely reliant on the passage through designated entry-exit checkpoints (EECPs) along the ‘Contact line’, separating government-controlled areas (GCA) and non-government-controlled areas (NGCA). Further compounding this and other challenges presented by the conflict, in March 2020, Ukraine registered its first case of COVID-19. As a result of this outbreak, EECPs were closed, a decision that was likely to directly affect the estimated half a million NGCA residents who used to cross the ‘Contact line’ to enter GCA on a monthly basis. Following the first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak, only two of the originally five operational EECPs reopened, contributing to further isolation for NGCA residents from the rest of Ukraine (OCHA, 2021).

To support evidence-based programming in the region, in quarter 4 2020 REACH conducted a fifth Multi-Sectoral Needs Assessment (MSNA 5) in close coordination with humanitarian actors. The assessment sought to respond to questions on where within NGCA of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts and within which sectors the households most frequently reported humanitarian needs during the data collection period. MSNA 5 particularly sought to answer this question in response to the additional pressures created by COVID-19 and the closure of the EECPs. The information and analysis produced can be used to understand and assess the existing needs and level of needs prevailing in each area, as well as the possible causes behind and the probable future needs. In pursuing these questions, this report aims to inform the Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) and the Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for 2021, under the framework of the Inter-Cluster Coordination Group (ICCG). More specifically, the humanitarian milestones that are expected to be informed include the HNO Sectoral Analysis Support and the HNO Joint Analysis Workshop.

The assessment builds on REACH’s experience in implemented MSNAs in NGCA in 2016, 2017, 2018, and quarter 1 2020 (MSNA 4). In approaching MSNA 5, REACH sought to improve on existing methodologies by reducing burden on the respondent through the reduction in the length of interview and adjustments to some core indicators. As a consequence, comparability with MSNA 4 findings or other prior rounds of MSNAs in NGCA is limited. Therefore, it should be considered while reading this report that the follow are indicative of the current reporting period only: (1) composite indicators (i.e. Food Security Index (FSI)) (2) indicator-by-indicator if changes were made to the data collection tool between MSNA 4 and 5. Where core indicators, or individual items, have not changed comparison between MSNA 4 and MSNA 5 is possible (a list of comparable indictors will be made available in late summer 2021). No changes were made to the sampling strategy or data collection methods used for MSNA 5.

Further to this, all findings should be read keeping in mind that access to NGCA is restricted and data collection is complex. Following previous MSNAs, humanitarian partners observed that accessible populations within NGCA are to varying degrees not entirely representative of the residential population. Given this known issue, MSNA 5 (like the previous MSNAs) used a mixed-method research design and the following report seeks to clearly triangulate various data sources to create a more robust analysis based on a tiered approach. This comprises four information sources to enable:

  1. General situation overview using interviews with 403 households representative of the population in settlements of over 20,000 people. In September 2020, these urban areas were estimated to represented 77% of NGCA population. Households were contacted at random through telephone surveys (conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS)). These interviews are used in this report to provide an broad overview of the humanitarian trends in NGCA;

  2. Area-based profiling of eight geographic entities (with each area made up of several raions – see map 1) via 1,625 telephone interviews with households requesting assistance through the Donbas SOS hotline (conducted by Donbas SOS). This sample is representative of hotline households in eight assessment areas cross NGCA (Donbas SOS) but is used to understand geographic variation in key indicators across NGCA;

  3. More robust analysis of areas in which response rates were predicted to be low (South Donetsk and Central Luhansk), via 101 community key informant interviews (KIIs) conducted by Right to Protection (R2P), at EECPs;

  4. Understanding of the motivations, concerns, and behaviors of NGCA residents crossing the ‘Contact line’, through 768 random individual interviews at EECPs.

Despite triangulation and cross-checking the different data sources, however, the findings presented in this report should be considered representative only for NGCA population groups targeted by this research’ sampling strategy: NGCA residents crossing the ‘Contact line’ back into NGCA, households who have called the Donbas SOS’ hotline and urban households in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts NGCA.

Data collection was carried out between 10th October and 22nd December 2020. The reader should bear in mind while reading this report that data collection took place during a reported upsurge in COVID-19 cases in NGCA, with the number of recorded cases doubling between October 29 (7,944) and December 29 (16,957). This may have impacted on response to question on access to medical and education services, and/or employment patterns in the 30 days prior to data collection, as restrictions on movement were put in place to prevent the spread of the disease. More information on the methodology is provided later in the document, including more details on the sampling strategy, stratification, and confidence levels.

The resulting dataset produces findings representative of the population groups surveyed with either:

  • 95% confidence level (CL) and 5% margin of error (MoE) for surveys conducted remotely by phone (KIIS), or 95% CL and 7% MoE when disaggregated by Oblast.
  • 95% CL and 7% MoE for surveys conducted remotely by phone (Donbas SOS) when disaggregated by assessment area.
  • 95% CL and 5% MoE for individual interviews conducted in-person at EECPs (R2P). Note: findings from KIIs are indicative not representative.

Key Findings

The main findings of the assessment suggest that the financial situation of households in the assessed areas in late 2020 (MSNA 5) may have deteriorated slightly in comparison to early 2020 (pre-COVID-19, MSNA 4). The COVID-19 outbreak put additional financial strain and stress on the conflict-affected population but evidence suggests that people and communities have been able to adapt to changing circumstances as the proportion of households reporting no need for humanitarian assistance in the 3 months following data collection increased between MSNA 5 (34%) and MSNA 4 (20%).

Food security and livelihoods (FSL): Findings show that that there has been an increase in the proportion of urban households who report 65% or more of their expenditures consisting of food items between MSNA 4 (22%) to MSNA 5 (46%) (KIIS). There was also an increase in the proportion of households reporting the use of coping strategies, with an increase in 8 of the 10 comparable variables between MSNA 4 and MSNA 5 (KIIS). Amongst urban households, 30% reported that they were in need of assistance to access food (KISS). Amongst households with school-age children (6-17 years of age), 19% reported that at least one member had to stop work to stay home with children during school closures due to COVID-19. Pensions delivered by de-facto authorities in NGCA were the most-reported source of income in the 30 days prior to data collection, reported by 60% of urban households (KIIS). A change in the proportion households receiving GCA pensions was evident, with a 9 percentage point decrease in the proportion of hotline households reporting receipt on a GCA pension in the 30 days prior to data collection between MSNA 4 and MSNA 5 as reported by hotline households (MSNA 4: 39%; MSNA 5: 31%). There was a corresponding 9 percentage point increase in hotline households reporting receipt of NGCA pensions (MSNA 4, KIIS: 54%; MSNA 5, KIIS: 63%). This may indicate that households whose access to GCA pensions are affected by the closure of the EECPs turn instead to NGCA pensions. Geographic analysis of hotline user responses in MSNA 5 suggests that households in Donetsk City and Donetsk East may have higher food security needs than average (see Table 16 in the conclusion).

Health: In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, access to healthcare may have changed. Thirty percent (30%) of urban households reporting that one or more member had required treatment for a chronic illness in the eight months prior to data collection reportedly received no care or reduced care during this period (KIIS). Reducing medical costs was one of the most-reported coping strategies by urban households (17%), while 16% of urban households reported a need for humanitarian assistance in relation to health (KIIS).

Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH): Seventy percent (49%) of urban households reportedly experienced water stoppage of 2 days or longer in the 12 months prior to data collection (KIIS), and 11% experienced a lack of drinking water once a month or more (KIIS). A comparison between key WASH indicators between MSNA 4 and MSNA 5 was not possible, however geographic analysis on hotline user responses in MSNA 5 suggested that households in Luhansk West and Luhansk South, followed by Donetsk North and Luhansk Centre may have higher water-related needs than average (see Table 16 in the conclusion).

Education: Around one-fourth (27%) of households with school-age children (6-17 years of age) reported that children had been absent from school in the 30 days prior to the interview (KIIS). Households with children who were absent reported that the school was closed for security reasons (21%) and that the child did not attend due to fear of COVID-19 (30%) (KIIS). Problems with distance learning were the most-reported concerns for the services within schools (12%), noting that 63% of households with school-age children reported no problems (KIIS).

Protection: Hostilities and civilian casualties continued on a downward trend, reaching their lowest annual numbers since the beginning of the conflict. Amongst interviewed households in urban areas, 7% of households reported that one or more members ages 14 years or over did not have an ID or passport, while 9% of households with children 0 – 4 years reported that the child(ren) did not have a birth certificate (KIIS). Five percent (5%) of urban households reported a need for legal assistance (KIIS). Geographic analysis on hotline user responses in MSNA 5 suggested that households in Donetsk South, Donetsk North and Luhansk West may have higher protection needs than average (see Table 16 in the conclusion).

Shelter: Thirty percent (30%) of urban households reported current damages to their shelters (KIIS). Around one-quarter (24%) of urban households reporting damage to their shelter reported not having been able to address this damage, and 13% reported that they needed assistance with shelter repair (KIIS).

EECPs saw a major drop in crossings (-90%), and stays in GCA saw an increase in length, with over half of respondents at crossings reporting that their stay had been over one week (R2P). In previous years, most respondents (approximately 90%) reported staying under one week in GCA. Respondents also reported that they crossed less often: 63% crossing once every two months in MSNA 4, and 28% reporting the same in MSNA 5. Reasons for crossing were primarily financial in MSNA 4, but in MSNA 5, there was a 42% increase in the proportion of respondents who reported crossing the 'Contact line' for social reasons, such as visiting family and friends.