United Academy

Using Data to Respond COVID-19, Why Data Matters?

Er. Manish Thapa

April 13, 2020
Last updated July 15, 2021
KMC Lalitpur


In Government authorities' efforts to respond to COVID-19, data becomes the inevitable part in reducing the impact of COVID-19 on the livelihood of families especially of those depending on the daily wage-based income, sales of agricultural products and families not having a stable source of income. For effective humanitarian response action, data management is a crucial part. 

During any type of disaster, there has been a disconnect between data availability, decision-making process, and humanitarian response actions. So far, the Government of Nepal has taken some steps towards effective data management by circulating the need for data collection of individuals who have returned from India or other countries, families with poor economic status and individuals showing symptoms of COVID-19. In this crucial moment, when delaying to track and respond can impact not only individual or families but to whole communities, authorities from local to federal level need to collaborate with all like-minded agencies, use the whatsoever data they could compile, analyze, and interpret to trace and support the communities. In the current pandemic scenario, efficient data management can be the life savior of many. 

Widespread of COVID-19 and its impact 

COVID-19 erupted from Wuhan back in December 2019 and traveled to almost every single country impacting millions of populations. COVID-19 spread across the world as there was no strict travel restriction as early as the virus was found. Once the COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, the majority of the government authorities including Nepal started searching for the travel history of their citizens entering the country either via air-route or by land. 

Though, there was a travel history of people coming from the Airport but not of the individuals entering Nepal via land. In a scenario like this, the importance of an efficient database management system comes upfront. After lockdown, all small to large businesses and industries are closed, daily wage-based workers are jobless, and farmers are being unable to sell their agricultural products. These all factors directly or indirectly affected their income sources resulting in the difficulty in livelihood. 

The realization about the importance of data

Once the pandemic was declared and the country went into the lock-down situation, Government authorities were in quest of data majorly -

  • To trace out an individual showing symptoms of COVID-19;
  • To find a safe location where quarantine can be built;
  • To map out the available resources (human, financial, materials/equipment) with the government as well as private institutions;
  • To track the individuals who have travel history and map out the areas, track and test individuals who met with individuals with travel history;
  • To map out the areas with the potentiality of the spread of pandemic; 
  • To identify and respond to the needs of most impacted or likely to be impacted population. 

The government developed the dedicated web portal and app (MOHP Nepal COVID-19) to disseminate the COVID-19 related information and conveyed the message to each local government authorities to track individuals with travel history. The government has also announced an economic relief package on March 30. On April 1st, 2020, MOFAGA circulated the standard to all local governments that mandated the need for identification and documentation of individuals and families falling under criteria set by the government. Local governments are intensively collecting data of individuals and families following the guidelines. 

Since the country is in its third week of lockdown, the government is yet to completely track and test the individuals with a travel history to identify and respond to the families in a needy condition. This has further worsened the issue among families with poor financial conditions leading to dissatisfaction with the government body.  

Use of data during the disaster to respond to impacted families

In recent years, there has been increasing use of data during any type of humanitarian response or planning by the Government and INGOs/NGOs. Whenever any disaster occurs, the government and INGOs/NGOs panic for having data of most impacted or likely to affect individuals and families. In the process, all concerned organizations collect data and respond to the needy families. Time and again, it has been proved that accurate data can help local authorities to predict the areas where the problem may erupt, support authorities to plan and prioritize their resources towards the geographical areas and communities with greater need and help to effectively coordinate with like-minded agencies. 

Data collection practice in Nepal

Much of the data required by Government authorities already exists but in scattered form. In an annual manner, Government and NGOs invest millions of dollar just on data collection to identify unemployed youth, houses without basic infrastructure facilities such as toilet, drinking water, electricity, etc., accessibility to basic services (health institution, market, road, school, etc.) and production and sales of agri-products. No matter what the objectives are, the major target of all those data collection activities is to identify the families and their needs, plan and intervene in the program to fulfill their needs. 

National ID Management Center (NIDMC) was established in July 2001 to provide National ID for all Nepalese citizens. Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) officially records the data of every single citizen through census every 10 years. Back in 2014, government authorities (then poor household coordination board) conducted a survey and ranked households based on their economic condition in more than 25 districts. Likewise, the local governments repeatedly update their profile for which they conduct the census. 

Different government offices record information of Nepali citizens for citizenship registration, birth certification, marriage certification, passport, driving license, health insurance schemes, social protection schemes, etc. The summary is then visualized in dedicated web-portal, nidmc.gov.np. Alongside Government bodies, a private institution such as bank and insurance companies detail out information of their customer. Similarly, I/NGOs regularly conduct the survey and take detailed information about the families. Regardless of number of agencies collecting data in frequent manner, integrated data management system has been the issue to deal with.

Issues faced for not having the right data

The federal government (MOFAGA, April 1) developed the criteria of the individual and families that are likely to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Local Government localized the criteria and started the data collection and response activities. As of now, mostly food items has been supported by government authorities as well as non-government agencies. The entire process delayed response and seems to be more of a haphazard rather than systematic. Had there any earlier collaborative approaches between all those data-collecting agencies, the response activities could have been done in a timely and systematic manner. Though every institution claims itself to be a data-rich organization, none of them seems visible working together. 

The need for repeating the same process repeatedly not only delayed the response program but also increase the potentiality of non-vulnerable making an entry of their name into the list of impacted and vulnerable families. This has been heard and seen during Earthquake (2015) and Flood (every year). The same has been seen during the COVID-19 pandemic as well, as the news about people raising their voice against the selection of wrong families has started circulating the print media and the internet. The recurring issue could be solved by having an integrated data collection system or providing a unique citizen ID to each individual. Though there have been discussions about integrated and centralized data collection systems, the Government of Nepal is yet to fully functionalize and operationalize it, which has been the major issue regarding the lack of authentic data. This issue has been resolved by issuing national identity cards by European countries, the USA, Malaysia, the Philippines, and India to name a few. 

Plan from government authorities

The process of tracing and ranking the families based on their economic condition from 26 districts has been re-started this fiscal year. More than 600 million has been allocated for the second phase of the household identification survey that concluded its first phase some five years back. Similarly, all Local Governments (LGs) have been ranked based on the Human Development Index (HDI). These data could be used for effective planning, allocation, and mobilization of resources.

Back in the second week of March 2020, Office of Prime Minister and Council of Minister registered Statistics Bill-2020 at National Assembly. This bill included the proposal of making data production, processing, storage, publication, and distribution more effective, efficient, reliable and systematic. This bill has dreamt of having the National Data system to integrate records of data collected or compiled by government offices for official purposes. Likewise, the Central Bureau of Statistics has already initiated census, which was done previously back in 2011. Once, the data will be collected, hopefully, Local Government authorities should not run door-door for collecting data every time. Furthermore, in any disaster, government authorities can plan and quickly respond the needy families. 

The writer is the student of M. Phil at the Department of Development Education, Kathmandu University, School of Education and also managing project-related data for various I/NGOs since 2013 and the views and opinions expressed article does not necessarily reflect the views of edusanjal.

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