Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Acting Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Mr. Ramesh Rajasingham remarks at high-level event on Data Accountability in Humanitarian Action (December 17, 2020) – World
Thank you very much for joining us today for this event on Data Accountability in Humanitarian Action. I am happy to open this session and welcome you to what promises to be a rich discussion.
I would like to take this opportunity to greet our partners in DG ECHO who have supported OCHA’s work on data accountability over the past two years. Together, we have worked to move from high-level policy principles and 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 in moving this area forward across the humanitarian system, and we are grateful for DG ECHO’s leadership on this issue.
Data accountability in humanitarian action is the safe, ethical and efficient management of data for the operational response. This is a critical issue that the humanitarian system must address and the stakes are high.
By 2021, 235 million people around the world will need humanitarian assistance and protection, an increase of 40% in one 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, data is essential to our work as a system.
Humanitarians need to be careful when handling data to avoid putting already vulnerable people at greater risk. For example, disclosing the location or identity or affiliation of an individual or community could expose them to targeted violence, social exclusion or other forms of harm.
In addition to preventing damage, safe, ethical and efficient data management also has a number of advantages. This can lead to more informed and transparent decision-making, a more effective humanitarian response, and increased trust between humanitarian actors and with the people we seek to serve.
We have made tremendous progress as a system to advance data accountability in recent years. However, gaps remain between global data accountability frameworks and their practical application in humanitarian settings. Because the humanitarian data ecosystem is inherently interconnected, no single organization can address these challenges on their own. While each organization is responsible for its own data, humanitarians need system-wide guidance to inform individual and collective actions and maintain a high level of data accountability in different operational environments.
With this in mind, OCHA supported the creation of a Data Accountability Subgroup under the IASC in January this year to develop joint system-wide operational guidance on data accountability in humanitarian action. The subgroup was co-led by the International Organization for Migration, the OCHA Humanitarian Data Center and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and includes twenty member organizations representing different stakeholders in the humanitarian system.
The operational guide aims to consolidate the current policies and practices of humanitarian partners in the area of data accountability. This includes agreeing on common frameworks for classification of information and data sensitivity, management of data incidents, and practices to reduce the risk of sensitive data before it is shared, among other key topics.
The operational direction is now in the final stages of review and I look forward to seeing how the sector collectively advances this essential work.
OCHA will continue to support the development of practical guidance, provide technical advisory support to OCHA and its partners on adopting responsible data practices, prototype technical tools for the management of sensitive data, and convene partners across the humanitarian system for discussions like this.
Once again, thanks 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 fundamental 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 Swiss government, the ICRC and OCHA – will serve as an important platform to accelerate collective action on data accountability.
It is now my pleasure to welcome Mr Juha Auvinen, Deputy Director of DG ECHO, to deliver his opening speech.