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  • People keep social distancing after collecting food donations at a distribution center in Majengo slums, Nairobi, Kenya, April 22, 2020.

    People keep social distancing after collecting food donations at a distribution center in Majengo slums, Nairobi, Kenya, April 22, 2020. | Photo: Xinhua

Published 11 August 2020
Opinion

Coronavirus is predicted to push more than one million people from their homes across the Sahel, according to new forecasting software.

The analytical Foresight tool, developed by the humanitarian group Danish Refugee Council (DRC), has found that Covid-19 is predicted to push more than one million people from their homes across the Sahel, creating havoc in an already fragile region.

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Analyzing national factors such as economy, conflict level, climate, governance, and food security, the Foresight tool uses open data from sources including the World Bank and the United Nations (UN) to predict forced displacement in a given country.

The software has been praised as a potential game-changer for the humanitarian sector by one of its founders, Denmark’s ministry of foreign affairs.

“What is most impressive about this tool is that it gives us a chance to see the indicators and react much more rapidly to humanitarian needs before they increase conflicts and create tension within governments and between neighboring countries,” Rasmus Prehn, Danish minister for development, told the Guardian.

For Prehn, the Sahel is one of the forgotten conflicts of our time, and what we can see is that if we don’t do anything now, we will end up having a lot of displaced persons.

DRC’s secretary-general, Charlotte Slente, said that scenario modeling is not a new thing in the humanitarian sector. Still –she added- what this project does for the first time is to put our knowledge about what we know creates displacement into a mathematical formula to help us predict when a scenario might arise.

Slente stressed that the Foresight tool couldn’t predict whether the displacement will be internal or across borders, and it needs to be paired with technical and expert knowledge about development in a given country.

However, she stated that the new forecasting software does open up the opportunity to use big, open-source data to give us qualified estimates of how many displaced people we can expect to see in a country over the next one to three years.

‘’If you can intervene early in a humanitarian emergency, it becomes more efficient and cost-effective in getting assistance and funding ready,” noted DRC’s secretary-general.

James Smith, a humanitarian affairs adviser of Médecins Sans Frontières, said that while big data had the potential to improve responses, modeling must also be informed by close engagement with at-risk communities.

The number of people forcibly displaced from their homes has doubled within the past decade to nearly 80 million, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). Conflict, lack of human rights, and poor governance can increase the likelihood of large-scale displacement by more than 25 percent.

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