Agata Slota | Palladium - Sep 20 2019
A Spreadsheet Helps Bring Humanitarian Relief

Women returning to the Damaturu camp in Yobe, Nigeria. Credit: Sonia Nguyen, FAO

If you're looking for someone who gets excited about spreadsheets, you may expect to search the darkest corners of your company's finance department. But when it comes to humanitarian aid, this stalwart of the corporate world can actually save lives.

Over seven million people are in need of assistance in north-east Nigeria. But due to the sheer number of humanitarian challenges and the fluctuating security situation, there are communities that hardly receive adequate aid – or whose exact needs are not known – even with government assistance and international support.

Some aid that is promised to communities is not delivered, whether due to mistakes, complications, or corruption. A spreadsheet is helping to identify community needs and advocate for the humanitarian relief needed amongst the chaos and bureaucracy.

Relief Reaches Yobe's Self-Made Camps

There are five "self-made" internally displaced persons' camps in Yobe State in north-eastern Nigeria. The camps were set up by the residents themselves – not by the government or humanitarian organisations – and are home to over 12,000 households.

Most people living in these camps left their homes to flee violence caused by the nine-year conflict between the Nigerian military and armed groups, including Boko Haram. While government-run camps in Yobe were closed down in 2018, with residents going back to their homes, not everyone was ready to go back. New bouts of violence had led to further challenges and many displaced persons didn’t have many promising opportunities to go back to. So, the self-made camps remained.

Local organisations monitoring the delivery of humanitarian aid in Yobe came to the camps in early 2017. They used the "Humanitarian Intervention Tracking Tool" – a spreadsheet at its foundation – to check what services, if any, were being delivered there.

They found that residents were in dire need. Neither the government nor humanitarian organisations were providing adequate relief. Insufficient food, water, shelter, and health services had translated to malnutrition, disease, and insecurity.

Using the tracking tool, the local organisations recorded residents' needs, including how many people required support, and shared this information with citizens groups, who advocate for change. The citizens groups then turned to wider humanitarian organisations to ask them to provide support to the camps.

As a result, more services and supplies began arriving in the camps. All five camps received food and other items, such as soap and cooking pots. In the biggest camp, in Kukareta, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) provided materials for 300 shelters, as well as cash for all residents. Médecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) began delivering health services, including antenatal care and medicines, and the Community and Social Development Project built 80 houses. The camp also received solar water boreholes. In the Kalallawa camp, the International Rescue Committee built a health clinic, and the Fune, Abbari/YBC, and Kasaisa Camps received shelters.

A Simple Tool for Complex Problems

The Humanitarian Intervention Tracking Tool was developed to monitor whether relief was being delivered by government and non-governmental organisations, including large players such as the UN, and whether there were any gaps in the delivery of relief. At its core, the tracking tool is a spreadsheet populated with information on needs, on who is and isn't receiving support, and on which goods or services are reaching the intended beneficiaries.

But the spreadsheet is also a tool for accountability and advocacy, recording what has been promised and budgeted, identifying what’s actually been done in communities, and analysing the data.

The original tool from which the humanitarian tracker was adopted was developed by citizens groups and advocacy organisations partnering with the UK aid-funded Partnership to Enagage, Reform, and Learn (PERL) program through the Voice and Accountability Platform. The original tool had been used to track whether the government was spending money on public services, as allocated in budgets.

But a return of insurgency in the region in 2017 led to an upsurge in humanitarian need. PERL and its partners worked to understand humanitarian issues and recovery efforts and to adapt the original budget tracking tool so that it could be used to monitor humanitarian needs and relief. The new tool would track whether food was delivered, if shelters were built, if there was access to healthcare, and more.

In addition to internally displaced persons camps, the tool has been used to help permanent communities affected by the conflict, which has destroyed buildings, infrastructure, and people’s livelihoods. In early 2017, the tracking tool highlighted service delivery gaps related to the destruction and citizens groups advocated for specific recovery activities to be included in the 2018 budget, as well as for support from humanitarian organisations.

As a result, six schools were rebuilt, along with a health centre and a secretariat. The government repaired boreholes and reconstructed a bridge and relief organisations helped to improve livelihoods and to empower women.

"We had limited access to health facility (sic) in the period of the insurgency," explained a resident of Bara, Yobe State, after a health centre was rebuilt in his town. "But now our problem was solved, our wives attend to the facility for ante-natal services".

Now, PERL's partners are looking into how community members can collect the data for the tracker themselves, in a way that ensures the data is accurate. They are also trying to get humanitarian organisations and workers in Borno State to use the tracking tool. Meanwhile, civil society organisations in neighbouring Adamawa State have expressed an interest in adapting the tool to their own context, which PERL is helping them do.

PERL is funded with UK aid from the British people and is implemented by Palladium, DAI and ODI.