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December 15, 2022

Data–based humanitarianism in Nigeria and South Sudan

D and D camp

Source: Data and Displacement Project Fieldwork

Written by: Funke Fayehun, Briony Jones, Leben Moro and Vicki Squire

This blog from members of the Data and Displacement team explores barriers that emerge in the context of data-driven approaches to humanitarian protection.i

How far can a data-driven approach to humanitarian protection foster increased participation and improved outcomes for IDPs? We address this question based on an analysis of interviews with displaced persons (IDPs) and stakeholders in Northeastern Nigeria and South Sudan. Our findings highlight the ways that the production and use of data in itself generates challenges for the participation of affected communities, with protection outcomes compromised by a range of contextual, specific and systemic barriers.

Northeastern Nigeria and South Sudan

Northeastern Nigeria has seen terrorism and armed conflict over a number of years, including insurgencies by the Boko Haram sect in the 1990s, later allied with the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). This has led to deaths, the loss of livelihood and key support systems, and multiple displacements. Findings from our research suggest that there are lapses in the data ecosystems in Nigeria, with likely consequences of imprecise and inaccurate data on humanitarian assistance and planning.

South Sudan gained independence on 9 July 2011, enabling the return of millions of displaced persons. However, due to the outbreak of civil war in 2013, ongoing political battles and intense violence, largely along ethnic lines, has caused catastrophic repercussions for civilians. As of 2021, 2.34 million South Sudanese were refugees in neighboring countries while another 1.615 million were IDPs. Despite resolution in 2018, our research indicates that the generation and management of data on IDPs in the country have significant shortcomings.

Exploring the Challenges:

1. Technological and infrastructural barriers

In Northeastern Nigeria, there are both personnel and equipment gaps, which limit capacities for data collection and storage. The lack of equipment and well-trained personnel limits the coherence of data storage and handling processes, which differ across organizations. Divergent data banks across institutions and actors, along with reliability and systematisation issues in some cases, mean that there is a multiplicity of data.

Most South Sudanese NGOs do not generate sufficient and reliable financial resources by which to acquire the necessary expertise and material resources. UN agencies and international organisations are better positioned to acquire and deploy the required capacity to generate and manage data. Representatives of international organisations that we interviewed confirmed use of tablets to undertake headcounts and profiling for returns.

2. Procedural and Administrative barriers in defining vulnerability

Both stakeholders and IDPs highlight irregularities in the classification and identification of the most vulnerable IDPs in camps in Northeastern Nigeria. Many ‘fall through the cracks’ of protection because classification issues both at the point of registration and within the data subsequently collected for planning purposes lead to many needing help being overlooked.

While some stakeholders in South Sudan are involved in projects targeting vulnerable groups as well as general protection needs, many IDPs who we interviewed in camps suggest that the needs of some vulnerable people are not addressed. Those likely to ‘fall through the cracks’ of protection are victims of sexual violence, which is a significant but culturally sensitive issue in South Sudan.

3. Ethical barriers

There is an inconsistent and inappropriate ethical system for data collection from IDPs in Northeastern Nigeria. Many IDPs describe consent as verbal, without proper recording or written documentation and with limited information. In some instances, data collectors do not directly obtain consent from IDPs, but instead, go ahead with data collection after stating the purpose and approval from higher authorities.

In South Sudan some IDPs interviewed for this study expressed distrust or fear about people coming to collect data from them. Some IDPs agreed to give consent because their community leaders agreed to the data collection, and some complain that those who collect data from them do not return and fail to provide feedback.

4. Systemic barriers

Technological innovations intersect with donor pressure, donor agendas, and our research highlights the role of inter-agency competition over finite resources and funding. Data-driven humanitarian assistance is clearly a contested terrain with implications for IDP participation and humanitarian outcomes. Our research indicates that IDPs often have different understandings to humanitarian practitioners of the value of sharing data and expectations of what it should be used for. One told us:

‘I did not ask them. I would want to ask them, but I did not, they came to collect data like you are doing now, but they disappeared’


In reviewing data-driven humanitarian assistance in IDP camps in Northeastern Nigeria and South Sudan, our research points to a range of barriers to improving protection outcomes: technological and infrastructural, procedural and administrative, as well as ethical. Our findings suggest that this requires further investment in personnel and technological infrastructure, more careful attention to classification processes in the identification of vulnerability and need, plus improved ethical practices that take informed consent seriously.

Profile of Authors:

Funke Fayehun, Associate Professor and Head of Department of Sociology, University of Ibadan

Briony Jones, Reader of International Development, Politics and International Studies Department, University of Warwick.

Leben Moro, Director of the Directorate of Scientific and Cultural External Relations, University of Juba.

Vicki Squire, Professor of International Studies, Politics and International Studies Department, University of Warwick.


[i] Data and Displacement: Assessing the Practical and Ethical Implications of Targetting Humanitarian Protection is funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council and Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (AHRC-FCDO) Collaborative Humanitarian Protection Programme (grant AH/T007516/1). We would like to thank the wider research team for their work on this project, including João Porto de Albuquerque, Dallal Stevens, Rob Trigwell, Ọláyínká Àkànle, Modesta Alozie, Kuyang Harriet Logo, Prithvi Hirani, Grant Tregonning, Stephanie Whitehead, HajjaKaka Alhaji Mai, Abubakar Adam, Omolara Popoola, Silvia De Michelis, Ewajesu Opeyemi Okewumi, Mauricio Palma-Gutiérrez, Funke Caroline Williams and Oluwafunto Abimbola. The project team undertook a total of 140 semi-structured qualitative interviews in Northeastern Nigeria and South Sudan, 100 with IDPs and 40 with practitioners, split equally across the two locations. The team has also conducted semi-structured qualitative interviews with a total of 42 humanitarians who have expertise in data and information management, from across a range of international organisations and NGOs. We would also like to extend our thanks to Annika Sirikulthada, a University of Warwick Research Assistant who suported preparation of the blog.

October 19, 2022

Informal networks as sources of healthcare support

Informal networks as sources of healthcare support: How slum dwellers cope with health challenges by talking to each other

Informal health support

Photo by Sheyi Owolabi on Unsplash

Blog written by Chinwe Onuegbu

Access to quality healthcare is a fundamental human right, but this remains a struggle for people living in slums in low and middle-income countries. The term “slum” can be controversial but it is used in this article, in line with a larger project under which the research described in this article is based, to describe poor urban settlements characterised by overcrowding, poor housing structures and an overall shortage of social and health amenities. Globally, one in eight people reside in slums or poor urban settings, and in many African countries, including Nigeria, about 60% or city dwellers live in slums. Public health services in urban cities do not sufficiently cater to people living in the slums, and many are unable to obtain the comprehensive formal healthcare they need.

Staying healthy and fit is particularly essential for people living in slums. Many engage in informal jobs with daily wages, and maintaining health is crucial for maintaining daily household income.

In the face of inadequate formal healthcare services, slum dwellers turn to alternative healthcare options. It is important that we begin to understand these alternatives in order to mitigate any negative consequences and to amplify potential synergies.

My PhD study within the NIHR-funded slum health project

My PhD project was nested within the NIHR funded slum health unit at Warwick Medical School. The unit worked collaboratively with universities in Asia and Africa to map and understand use of health services in slums across both continents.

With my background in Sociology, I recognised the untapped opportunity to explore how health was managed beyond formal medical settings in the slums. My thesis explored a phenomenon known as lay consultation: how people manage illnesses and health challenges by talking to informal network members (e.g. family, friends and neighbours) or other informal online forums or resources (e.g., Facebook friends) beyond medical settings. My study population were the working-age adults in slums in Ibadan (Oyo state), Nigeria, and they were chosen because they were more likely to migrate in and out of the slums, be engaged in work that make them unable to seek care when needed and are likely to own and use mobile devices. These dynamics can shape lay consultation behaviours and network composition. The project adopted a mixed method approach. First, a survey to map how common lay consultation was, which network members were contacted and how influential were informal network members in determining people’s treatment behaviours. Next, interviews were conducted to understand in more depth the connections between speaking to others about a medical problem and actions taken afterwards. The study was done in collaboration with partners from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria.

The study found that most people experiencing illnesses consulted 1-3 network members including family, friends and neighbours. People navigated through the complexities of social life in slums such as having fewer networks due to busy life and difficulties in having trusted or dependable sources of support, to find people they could talk to. Participants rarely used online informal networks, mainly because many did not have access to such devices, had limited digital literacy, or preferred physical networks. The informal consultations were largely unplanned and taken-for-granted as they were ingrained in everyday life. Yet, within those informal conversations, were exchanges of advice and support- some useful and some not, that shaped how people managed illness experiences.

A striking finding from this study was that, despite living in the slums where the harsh conditions may drive over-reliance on informal networks for health maintenance, slum dwellers were highly agentic in using advice or support from others. People had strategies for coping with health challenges which included ability to assess the relevance of advice they received. Occasionally, they consulted other informal health providers such as local medicine vendors (known locally as ‘chemists’) and traditional healers to confirm advice they received from their network members.

So what?

We now know from this study that lay consultation, that is talking to informal network members, is a common way of managing illnesses in slums. The conversations- whether intended or unintended- contribute to management of personal health. There is a potential to leverage on informal networks to improve knowledge about health conditions and health care access, thereby contributing to strengthening of the health system in poor urban settings. Informal networks, including those existing online, should be recognised as an integral part of the overall health system, and incorporated into health policies and programmes as a means of increasing the coverage and effectiveness of health interventions.

Next steps:

The next step involves working with collaborators at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria on an intervention around lay consultation for slum communities in Ibadan, Nigeria. Our initial idea is to co-design an online health-resource that would provide formal, verified and accessible health advice for people living in the slums. People feeling ill or having health challenges can consult the online resource as part of steps taken to inform their health-seeking decisions. We will work with policy makers, community members and concerned organisations such as NGOs to co-design and promote the resource.

An internal seed fund grant has been obtained from the Warwick International Partnership fund (IPF) to kick start this project. The funding will be used to:

  • Disseminate findings from the PhD to study participants, key stakeholders and the general public,
  • Engage representatives of slum communities and public health policy makers at the state level in Nigeria to assess the value of lay consultation as an intervention to improve health outcomes
  • Build a multidisciplinary collaborative research team from across public health, information technology and social science and other stakeholders (such as Non-Governmental Organizations) for future research on leveraging lay consultation for health benefits in the slums.

In conclusion, interventions that are bottom-up, innovative and interdisciplinary approaches have the potential to tackle the complex issues in slums. The PhD project and planned intervention discussed in this blog exemplify how the intersection between social science and health science can improve health in slums.

Author Bio:

Chinwe Onuegbu is a Research Fellow at the Division of Health Sciences, Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, UK. She recently completed her PhD in Health Sciences at Warwick Medical School. Her research interests include the social determinants of health in resource-constraint settings, and the role of information and communication technology (ICT) in healthcare in low- and middle-income countries. She is also interested in research communication and hosts a Research chat show on YouTube in her free time.

December 08, 2020

How COVID–19 is affecting the socio–economic conditions of women in Nigeria

IDP Camp Apo Nigeria

IDP Camp, Wassa Community, Apo, Abuja, Nigeria in February 2020
(Source: Author)

Written by Ruth Duniya

From the Global North to the Global South, regardless of social classifications, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all. The trending mantra- ‘we are all in this together’ resonates across borders. The socio-economic conditions of millions of people globally have been adversely affected by the pandemic. Women in the Global South, many of whom were already living below the poverty line are the most affected, as many of these women are responsible for providing food and means of livelihood for their families. Those in the rural areas, who before the advent of COVID-19 relied on subsistence farming, and the urban poor who depended on petty trading for daily income to feed their families, are the most impacted by the pandemic.

Evidence from Nigeria indicates how women are being impacted by COVID-19. They have lost their meagre livelihood during the pandemic. The food security of poor households was significantly threatened due to restrictions on movement, these women who usually fend for their families from their daily income are unable to provide household care. Women in the North Eastern part of the country are most affected by the pandemic. Faced with challenges, such as sexual and gender-based violence, as well as poverty brought about by the Boko Haram insurgency these women and their families most of whom are currently living in Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) camps are confronted with increased food insecurity. Living in overcrowded IDP camps, most of these women are in daily search of menial jobs to provide for their families as support from government and other non-state agencies has not adequately addressed the food insecurity within displaced communities. COVID-19 restrictions on movement had made it difficult for displaced women to find jobs. The pandemic has also taken a toll on the small-scale enterprises these women were doing to support their families. The condition has become so deplorable such that the menace of street begging among disadvantaged children which is common practice in parts of Northern Nigeria has increased drastically. Some women whose source of livelihood has been depleted due to the pandemic have resorted to street begging along with their children in major cities across Nigeria.

The socio-economic challenges of women in, and beyond, Nigeria as a direct consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic requires increased collaborative actions by state-governments, the private sector and international organisations, particularly, UN agencies such as the UNDP, UNICEF and UNFPA as they are agencies for development, children’s welfare and maternal health respectively. First, there should be firm action on domestic violence. Laws against gender-based violence in a developing country like Nigeria need to be more stringent and adequately enforced. The existing law in Nigeria to ensure justice and protection from any form of sexual and gender-based violence against persons in private and public life is the Violence Against Person’s Prohibition Act (VAPP) signed into law in 2015. Unfortunately, 5 years since the Act was passed into law, only 13 states including Nigeria’s capital city- FCT, out of 36 states in the country have adopted this law. In addition, many cases of gender-based violence are underreported, as many victims do not report their experiences out of fear of being victimised in society. Relevant agencies, such as the Nigerian Police, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the National Council for Women Societies Nigeria (NCWS) need to ensure victims safety is guaranteed so that sexual and gender-based violence cases are reported without the risk of stigmatisation.

Secondly, the humanitarian relief response should be stepped up as many women and their families from low-income background most affected by the pandemic need to be supported with palliatives measures, such as- food items (for the immediate nutrition of their families) and finance in form of a grant scheme (to enable them start up micro-businesses to support themselves and their families post-COVID-19). Although, the government of Nigeria through the Ministry for Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development with support from the private sector and international organisations have currently put in place some measures to assist their population during the COVID-19 pandemic, these strategies have so far not been sufficient. For instance, it is alleged that many among the poor in Nigeria have received little support, while some are yet to receive any support from the government.This can be attributed to one key factor- accountability deficit on the part of the relevant government agencies responsible for COVID-19 response, particularly the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development already shrouded in allegations of corruptionon their handling of COVID-19 emergency funds. Before the advent of COVID-19, corruption has been identified as a major limitation to Nigeria’s development.

Admittedly, the world was not prepared for a pandemic. This is evident in the way COVID-19 has affected most economies globally, from developed economies to developing economies such as Nigeria. The pre-existing socioeconomic challenges in Nigeria which includes, high rate of unemployment and inadequate basic social services, such as healthcare have been worsened by COVID-19, affecting mostly the poor and vulnerable groups, particularly, women and children. In view of this challenges, partnership arrangements with development agencies and the private sector, along with a strong political will by the Nigerian government is imperative to ensure that the poor and most vulnerable in society are adequately supported socio-economically in the short term and post-COVID-19. Going forward, as Nigeria, and indeed other developing economies have put together short term economic and social development measures to cushion the impact of COVID-19 on their societies, long term economic and social development policies should also be drafted as a matter of urgency to ensure recovery and sustainable growth beyond COVID-19.


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