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The world is more connected, with around two thirds of the global population using smartphones and over five billion internet users worldwide. Although the growth of digital connectedness has several obvious benefits and risks, digital technology has enabled a quicker and more efficient response in humanitarian crises, with many digital tools at our finger tips.
Since 24 February 2022, conflict has intensified in Ukraine with millions of people being displaced internally and abroad. From the beginning, Concern has deployed an emergency response team to provide humanitarian support to those affected and our response to this crisis, and others, could not be as effective without progress within the digital world.
As part of our response, we wanted to highlight how digitalisation is helping the people of Ukraine.
Financial support in Ukraine
The use of digital technology for cash transfers in humanitarian crises has been well established and employed across several crises.
Over the last decade, research has shown that cash transfers are an effective form of humanitarian aid and allow people to buy goods and services from local markets, which supports the domestic economy of the affected region. Digital cash transfers can help governments and non-governmental organisations expand social assistance at speed and scale, and are effective in protecting vulnerable households.
Concern has been implementing digital cash transfers in many of the countries we work with for many of our programme participants, and support cash assistance as the most dignified and relevant assistance for internally displaced people.
In Ukraine, by the end of December 2022, Concern and its partners reached over 65,000 people with cash transfers, food supplies and hygiene kits. Over 40,000 individuals in Ukraine have received multi-purpose cash assistance (MPCA) to cover their basic needs. Affected people receive 2,220 UAH (£63 GBP), which covers half of the needs of a person’s monthly needs for three months.
Digitalisation and Ukraine’s displaced people
Digitalisation and the use of data are an important part of any humanitarian toolkit. We have previously covered the use of data in a humanitarian context in the fight against hunger. Since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, we have seen digitalisation being employed in further contexts to help displaced people.
According to the United Nations, by the end of 2022 nearly 100 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced as a result of persecution, conflict and violence. Monitoring the whereabouts and needs of displaced peoples is essential to better providing them with food, shelter, education and medical treatment.
In 2020, the Ukrainian government launched the Diia app to provide citizens with an array of governmental services. Digital identity documentation has been used in other humanitarian contexts (such as within refugee camps in Uganda) and since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, the Diia app has been repurposed to allow displaced Ukrainians to access digital documents (such as driver’s licenses and passports). Ukrainians can even use the app to present it to access neighbouring countries such as Moldova and Poland. The app’s scope has also been expanded to allow citizens to receive monetary assistance, and to pay bills.
For government and NGO workers, apps like these are appreciated as they keeping easily accessible up-to-date records that can be used for monitoring, rapid response and policy-making. On a personal level, Ukrainian citizens can also use apps like this to monitor the conflict and affected areas back home, something crucial in potentially giving them peace of mind.
But when things do not work the way they should, Concern has put into place an efficient system to address the problems of internally displaced Ukrainians. Concern has joined with a German non-government organisation Welthungerhilfe and Italian humanitarian organisation Cesvi to operate the Joint Emergency Response in Ukraine (JERU), which launched an online register to collect, process and resolve all complaints received. Accessible information is provided to communities and people affected by the crisis on their rights and entitlements, as well as setting organisational standards. According to Natalia Zhukova, who helps lead this register, it is “based on trust between partners and with communities,” and is helping coordinate a response that listens to the Ukrainian people.
The association between trauma and displaced people fleeing conflict is well documented, with displaced people being at a significantly higher risk for post-traumatic stress syndrome and other trauma-related disorders. Since we’ve been responding to the conflict in Ukraine, we have listened to stories of people who have witnessed unprecedented violence and have been tragically separated from family, friends and whole communities.
As we’ve mentioned earlier, digitalisation has several benefits for humanitarian responses on a large scale. However, on a smaller and more personal level, digitalisation is allowing displaced people in Ukraine to hold onto memories and connect with their communities.
Many of the people we spoke with, were very enthusiastic to show us digital photos of their loved ones stored on their phones, tablets and laptops. Illya*, a Ukrainian volunteer at a community hub for internally displaced people, has saved photos of his pets and daughter on his phone and often reminisces on more peaceful times with his family. We have listened to displaced Ukrainians who have spoken to us about the importance of sharing sentimental memories through messaging apps and social media, and how vital it is to receive regular updates from back home.
How Concern is responding to the crisis in Ukraine
Concern’s teams are on the ground providing life-saving aid to the people inside Ukraine most affected by the conflict and disruption. We’re working with local partners to provide:
- Cash assistance – for rent and other essentials
- Survival kits – including bedding, blankets, cutlery and tableware
- Hygiene kits – including toilet paper, soap and other cleaning items
- Baby kits – including nappies, wipes and soaps
- Psychosocial support -- Mobile teams of psychologists are making regular visits to schools and Collective Centres to provide psychosocial support to those affected by the conflict
We also continue to support Ukrainian families at border crossings and train stops with ready to eat food kits, as well as providing support to hosting facilities and centres in western Ukraine for displaced people, sharing items such as mattresses, blankets and upgrading sanitation or heating systems.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.
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