We’ve been writing a lot about how mobile technologies give us new opportunities to track food security. As WFP, we provide food assistance to many refugee and IDP camps. But right now, our knowledge often stops at the camp border. What happens to refugees or IDPs when they leave the camp? And importantly for WFP, what happens to their food security situation? Mobile surveys could provide a key to this mystery.
Mobile Surveys and IDP Flows
Jean-Baptiste, our brilliant young colleague, did his Master’s Thesis on precisely these questions. He looked at almost two years of data, collected by mVAM since December 2013 in Mugunga III camp- 10km from Goma, DRC. Approximately 4,664 people live in Mugunga III, and since many people didn’t have phones, we distributed phones to 340 randomly selected households so they could participate in a phone survey.
Every month, our WFP operators, Mireille and Jean-Marie, have been diligently calling these same households. They’ve been asking households about their food consumption and any coping strategies that they’ve had to resort to if they were short of food. These questions let us calculate two key food security indicators- a household’s food consumption score (FCS) and reduced coping strategies index (rCSI). It’s also gotten Jean-Baptiste some pretty good data to play with. (For more on our work in DRC, see our blogs on our DRC launch, our market monitoring, and our 2-way communication system with camp residents).
In Mugunga III, like most IDP camps, the population is always in flux and hard to track. People come and go without officially notifying the camp administration. In IDP speak, a “returnee” is someone who has left the camp (and in theory “returned” home though in practice the person might just have gone to live somewhere else). In March 2015, we started asking people about whether they were “returnees” and if so, where they had gone.
By using our mVAM data, Jean-Baptiste was able to pick up on changes in camp population not picked up by official figures and track where people went. Most returnees reported staying in areas nearby to camp. Few were returning home to Masisi where over half of the IDPs in Mugunga III were from but where there still was conflict.
IDP Flows and Food Security
We don’t just want to know where returnees go; we want to know how they are doing. However, usually, once IDPs leave the camp, they fall off our radar screen and we have no more information. But with mVAM surveys, returnees continued to respond to our calls asking about their household food security situation. Jean-Baptiste decided to see whether there were any difference in the food security situation between returnees and IDPs who remained in the camp
Sure enough, there was a difference. Returnees had better food consumption on average than IDPs who were in the camp.
But you might be wondering whether returnees were doing better even before they left the camp. Jean-Baptiste found that yes- on average, returnee food consumption climbed in the months before departing. It also improved more over time than IDPs who stayed in the camp; maybe their situation was improving so much that it allowed them to leave the camp.
Then, Jean-Baptiste went a step further. Maybe returnee households were just plain old different than IDPs who stayed in the camp. But he found that even by controlling for differences (for stat geeks- using a fixed effects model), leaving the camp had an estimated food consumption score increase of 7.64, which would be the equivalent of a 27% increase in the average food consumption score of an IDP currently in the camp.
Needless to say, all these findings could have a lot of implications for our programmes. Our office in DRC is looking into it.
Also, if we’ve peaked your interest, read Jean-Baptiste’s excellent thesis here.