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Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs & Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, a.i. Mr. Ramesh Rajasingham, Remarks at High-Level Event on Data Responsibility in Humanitarian Action (17 December 2020)

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Thank you very much for joining us today for this event on data responsibility in humanitarian action. I am pleased to open this session and welcome you all to what promises to be a rich discussion.

I would like to take this opportunity to recognize our partners from DG ECHO who have supported OCHA’s work on data responsibility over the past two years. Together, we have worked to move from high-level principles & policy frameworks to practical guidance, tools and processes that can help humanitarians navigate an increasingly complex area of work. Your strategic vision and partnership have been fundamental to progress in this area across the humanitarian system, and we are grateful for DG ECHO’s leadership on this issue.

Data responsibility in humanitarian action is the safe, ethical and effective management of data for operational response. It is a critical issue for the humanitarian system to address and the stakes are high.

In 2021, 235 million people worldwide will need humanitarian assistance and protection - an increase of 40 per cent in a year. Just as COVID-19 has exacerbated existing humanitarian emergencies, it has also increased the sector’s reliance on digital technologies and data. More than ever before, data is essential to our work as a system.
Humanitarians must be careful when handling data to avoid placing already vulnerable people at greater risk. For example, disclosing the location or particular identity or affiliation of an individual or community could expose them to targeted violence, social exclusion, or other forms of harm.

In addition to avoiding harm, the safe, ethical and effective management of data also has a number of benefits. It can lead to more informed and transparent decision-making, more efficient humanitarian response, and increased trust among humanitarian actors and with the people we seek to serve.

We have made considerable progress as a system in advancing data responsibility in recent years. However, gaps remain between global frameworks for data responsibility and their practical application in humanitarian settings. Because the humanitarian data ecosystem is inherently interconnected, no individual organization can tackle these challenges alone. While each organization is responsible for its own data, humanitarians need system-wide guidance to inform individual and collective action and uphold a high standard for data responsibility in different operating environments.
In view of this, OCHA supported the establishment of a Sub-Group on Data Responsibility under the IASC in January of this year to develop joint, system-wide Operational Guidance on Data Responsibility in Humanitarian Action. The Sub-Group has been co-led by the International Organization for Migration, the OCHA Centre for Humanitarian Data, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and comprises twenty member organizations representing different stakeholders from across the humanitarian system.

The operational guidance aims to consolidate the current policies and practices of humanitarian partners in the area of data responsibility. This includes agreeing on common frameworks for information and data sensitivity classification, data incident management, and practices to reduce the risk of sensitive data before sharing it, among other key topics.

The operational guidance is now in the final stage of review and I look forward to seeing how the sector collectively advances this critical work.

OCHA will continue to support the development of practical guidance, provide technical advisory support to OCHA and partners on the adoption of responsible data practices, prototype technical tools for the management of sensitive data, and convene partners across the humanitarian system for discussions like this one.

Once again, thank you to DG ECHO for your catalytic support to this work over the past two years. In addition to the concrete results of our collaboration, your foundational investment has mobilized additional support from other donor states and humanitarian organizations for this critical area of work. Notably, the Humanitarian Data and Trust Initiative -- launched earlier this year by the Government of Switzerland, the ICRC, and OCHA -- will serve as an important platform for accelerating collective action on data responsibility.

It is now my pleasure to welcome Mr. Juha Auvinen, Deputy Director from DG ECHO, to deliver his opening remarks.

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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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