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High-tech survey tool offers new hope to disaster-hit communities

Rizwan Soomro enters answers into his PDA. The reponses can then be quickly analysed and needs of communities determined.
(UNICEF Pakistan)

The sight of humanitarian assessment teams moving through calamity-hit villages and punching data into small, hand-held computers as they interview villagers may soon become routine in Pakistan.

An innovative new survey methodology, the Multi-cluster Rapid Assessment Mechanism (McRAM), assesses the immediate relief needs of communities affected by humanitarian emergencies.

An integrated questionnaire is used, with trained enumerators entering the results into hand-held computers, known as Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs).

Separate groups of men and women in a village complete the questionnaires. Once this process is completed, it is hoped the data - which is instantly transferred to a centralised computer using email or a mobile phone, and analysed - will enable the immediate needs of a specific community (eg resulting from sickness in a village hit by floods) to be identified.

"When a disaster strikes a community, the McRAM envisions pre-trained teams of enumerators dispatched as soon as possible to collect the information necessary to plan an initial response," Sandie Walton-Ellery, the McRAM project coordinator, told IRIN.

"Since data is collected electronically on PDAs, it can be analysed within days, so UN agencies and their partners can quickly begin the work of bringing relief to affected people," Walton-Ellery said.

''Since data is collected electronically on PDAs, it can be analysed within days, so UN agencies and their partners can quickly begin the work of bringing relief to affected people.''

Inter-agency initiative

While McRAM was initiated, and is funded, by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), with technical support from UN-HABITAT (Human Settlements Programme), it is essentially a broader inter-agency initiative. Several UN agencies and international and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are partners in the McRAM project. The tool aims to improve coordination and cooperation between agencies.

In June, the tool was used by a team led by Rizwan Soomro, a trained McRAM surveyor, to assess the post-flood situation in Pirthi Goth village, on the coast of Sindh Province. The village is vulnerable to flooding, and the McRAM assessment tried to assess the issues that arose for people affected by it.

UNICEF Pakistan's Chief of Monitoring and Evaluation Dorothee Klaus, who monitored the pre-testing in Pirthi Goth, believes "Pakistan's experience during the 2005 earthquake and the 2007 floods showed the importance of quickly and accurately assessing the needs of affected people to coordinate relief and rehabilitation efforts."

She is confident McRAM will contribute to this.

Photo: UNICEF Pakistan
Women at Pirthi Goth answer the McRAM survey team's questions

Looking for funding

UNICEF is at present looking for funding for another six months so it can continue testing McRAM. Once this is done, a final questionnaire will be designed and teams who could be deployed immediately in the case of a natural disaster trained in using the tool.

The McRAM initiative offers one example of how modern technology can contribute to solving old problems. Across Pakistan, as the quake and the floods of 2007 showed, people live at the mercy of nature. The introduction of a system that eliminates the need for tedious, multiple surveys may improve the chances of assistance reaching those affected swiftly.

Many who saw the immediate aftermath of the quake recall unwanted clothing burning along roadsides and communities being offered supplies of materials, such as powdered milk, that they did not need. The McRAM project is intended to improve coordination between beneficiaries and humanitarian organisations, so that such chaos can be avoided and people offered the kind of help they most need.

The system may have a very important role to play in the months and weeks ahead, with monsoon rains likely to bring to many areas their usual annual toll of hardship and misery.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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