Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in the world – an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees in a population of 5.8 million. Beginning in 2011 with the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, Lebanon witnessed a massive influx of displaced Syrians. The poorest refugees settled amongst Lebanese communities in informal settlements, collective shelters or on rented farmlands throughout the country. Unable to pay high rents, people began building very basic shelters on empty lands across the country, using wooden panels and some pieces of fabric and tarpaulin. Year after year, these shelters evolved into settlements with tens and thousands of structures that refugees have struggled to convert into homes. Under these living conditions, the majority are exposed to sub-standard and hazardous conditions. There are currently 6,425 of these settlements across the country in which 306,049 people live.
Recognizing the need to put people on a map, identifying their needs, monitoring their locations and movement trends, Medair created an innovative Geographic Information System or GIS mapping system. This innovative system maps the location of each family structure in informal settlements throughout all of Lebanon. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are designed to capture, store, handle, analyse, manage, and visualize all types of spatial or geographical data.
A combination of all the mapping data collected is loaded onto the Inter-Agency Mapping (IAMP) interface. To uniquely identify each settlement on the ground, the IAMP developed a GPS-based placement code better known as a “PCode” to pin the exact location of the settlement. Think of a “PCode” as an address. It is a unique code designated to each visited settlement and allows the system to identify the constantly shifting population living in over 6,000 informal settlements across the country. This contributes greatly to improved humanitarian coordination and thereby establishing a set of baseline data about where settlements are located, how many people live there, and other relevant information. Most significantly, it helps put people on the map and make them visible. Reliable data on the needs, people’s locations, and assistance delivered is crucial to ensure effective and efficient humanitarian assistance. After all, how can you help people if you don’t know where they are?
Every month, Medair’s mapping team produces a new IAMP, meaning the monthly new data collected from tented settlements is uploaded into the system, stored in the cloud, and made safely available to validated multiple parties from any location. To ensure the information in the database remains up to date, the mapping teams conduct two sweeps per year of the entirety of the country. This is an essential step in ensuring that already isolated families are not easily forgotten. At any stage of the humanitarian assistance effort, data can be accessed in real time showing how long they’ve been there, their living conditions and most importantly their needs.
This method not only saves time, it also greatly improves accountability and ensures that the needs of the most vulnerable people do not slip through the cracks. Regardless of the context, a sudden-onset disaster or unreachable conflict zone, Medair and other humanitarian actors can use the information to coordinate a response and render support immediately.
In Lebanon, Medair in coordination with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), is the lead agency for mapping refugee settlements. This month, Medair’s Mapping team celebrates their 100th IAMP produced in Lebanon. “Today we celebrate the 100th IAMP – it’s a milestone for us, and we are very proud of this moment. The team has been visiting each settlement in Lebanon for the past 9 years. The work is carried out with integrity. We’ve built trust with the communities we serve. They know us well; they even recognise the team’s faces. They know and acknowledge that these are the people that gave them an address, put them on the map, make them visible and therefore help them receive the support they need. says Edgard Rahme, manager for the GIS mapping project in Lebanon. “This is all because they are now on the IAMP, as the UNHCR and all humanitarian actors are aware both of their locations and their needs. So, for us, producing the 100th IAMP is a continuous reminder of our responsibility and dedication towards serving the communities, understanding their needs, and putting them on the map. The GIS team continue to want to update the IAMP for as long as there are Syrian refugees living in informal settlements – as the IAMP locates and highlights the needs of the most vulnerable, which is the core of humanitarian work.”
Medair’s work GIS Mapping work in Lebanon is made possible by the support of United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and generous private donors.
This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organization.