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UN agencies increasingly using biometric registration to target aid in conflict areas


United Nations agencies tracking displaced individuals are increasingly using biometric registration to better target aid, particularly in areas of conflict, where personal identification systems tend to be weak, according to a report by Devex.

Biometric registration can help these agencies provide real-time data, limit paperwork, and improve efficiency in these regions.

However, different agencies often use different systems, which can result in overlap and duplication within the registration process.

For example, in northeastern Nigeria, both the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the World Food Program (WFP) are using biometrics to register displaced people in geographically separated locations affected by Boko Haram to avoid duplication.

IOM’s DTM has successfully registered 1.2 million displaced people in northeastern Nigeria, compiling the records in a database using fingerprints and other identifying information.

Following registration, each household is provided with a biometric card that displays the number of family members.

But despite their efforts, overlaps can still occur because of the highly mobile nature of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the region.

In addition, the WFP has registered 790,000 people in the region using its SCOPE database.

IOM and WFP are working together to ensure interoperability, however, aid agencies and NGOs will increasingly face these types of challenges as they continue the digitization process.

Incompatible systems that are unable to interface with one another can create a whole new set of issues, which makes biometric registration a challenge at times.

“If beneficiaries are registered in both systems, the efforts and the caseload that is receiving assistance are duplicated, [so] it is paramount to have these two systems that are interoperable,” said Amalraj Nallainathan, an IOM information management officer. “We are working very closely with WFP to develop the interoperability module,” he said. “We will hopefully complete this by the end of the year.”

When used properly, biometrics systems can help aid agencies better understand the conflict areas they are trying to assist and help facilitate funding allocations.

In addition, these systems allow humanitarians to more quickly detect the onset of illnesses and avoid aid misuse and duplication.

“Unfortunately we are getting to the point where there are so many humanitarian crises around the world, so many competing emergencies, and we will be looking at how to properly allocate resources,” Henry Kwenin, coordinator of the IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix based in Maiduguri, Nigeria, said.

To prevent aid misuse and duplication, local agents work closely with community leaders to understand the dynamics of each location and send up to the minute updates for tracking purposes. Meanwhile, system settings allow IDPs to move to new areas without impacting their assistance.

Beneficiaries of humanitarian aid are registered for a cash-based transfer program. UN agencies are planning to expand the program in the future to include in-kind food assistance and nutrition aid.

Nallainathan said that while both agencies believe it is important to link their systems, developing a single uniform database for all UN specialized agencies could be challenging for both for users and system administrator alike.

Creating combined databases would require additional user verification to ensure that proprietary information can only be accessed by those individuals using the information to determine humanitarian assistance.

Biometric registration must now be customized to meet humanitarian needs while protecting the vulnerable beneficiaries from this source of data collection.

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