Somalia: poor data protection risking the lives of vulnerable



Technological advancements are making our life more comfortable than ever before. Just one click payment options have made money transfers seamlessly easy. But what if the same technology is putting the lives of thousands living in dire need of humanitarian aid at risk as is happening in Somalia?

The concern is, how can this be tackled along with providing urgently required assistance?

Somalia: humanitarian crisis

Somalia’s ongoing armed conflicts, the shortage of state protection, and instability have caused a vast humanitarian crisis inside the sovereign country. Unfaltering civil war since 1991 has brought the country to the brink, where millions are forced to displace internally. Face-offs between militia groups and intra-security forces over establishing control and revenge assassinations have killed many civilians.

In 1992, UNOSOM I, a mission to stabilize Somalia’s condition by the UN was launched, and large peacekeeping forces were sent to the country. But due to many casualties, the UN withdrew the mission in 1995. The unrest continues, continuing the humanitarian crisis in the country.

In 2019, the UN released data showing that more than 2.1million people in Somalia live under an acute shortage of food; COVID 19 now worsening the condition even more with about 5.2 million people in dire need of aid a result of locust invasion and floods. Humanitarian organisations face severe challenges in the country as the militia groups mainly target the aid workers.

Role of humanitarian organisations in Somalia

The global pandemic caused by COVID-19 pushed the aid organisations to their uttermost limits. With the world coming at a halt, the requirement of food, medicines, other essentials increased exponentially. Those who were already weak before the pandemic, i.e., refugees, economically weaker section etc. were the most enfeeble by the pandemic

Humanitarian organisations like the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia, the National Human Rights Commission; hence work hard in providing needed basic aid of food, vaccines and education for children. The aid organisation have also been helping the poor residing in war-torn areas with money.

But some recent data flashes a light on how this succour is being used against the civilians, and how it is laying a life-threatening risk on the fellow beneficiaries.

Data protection

The international aid organisations use various technologies for the sake of communications and assisting with the needed. With the pandemic spreading out, most organisations try to come in the least contact with people to control the spread. But the local organisation in Somalia is accusing these aid providing bodies for breaching the vulnerable’s data protection.

According to Abdifatah Hassan, Digital Shelter, a human rights organization in Mogadishu; in the recent past, they have witnessed people getting killed after the leakage of their personal, identifiable information. He urges, “NGOs should uphold the humanitarian principle of ‘do no harm’ when providing assistance to poor people”.

The Islamist militia groups al-Shabaab, in Somalia, forcefully recruit the vulnerable living in the area. Many escape this forcible recruitment, risking their lives and found shelter in the refugee camps where they can have access to aid services. In such cases, when their personal information gets to the militia group, it risks their lives. This is creating a great concern of local’s safety amongst the local right groups.

The international aid organisations stockpile vast amounts of local data; which includes the personally identifiable information of the vulnerable. This data is shared amongst various platforms and network providers for assistance purposes, making it easier to be breached.

What is the aid organisation’s say?

Online money payments used by various organisations is also a growing concern for data breaching. Humanitarian bodies like The Somali Cash Consortium, an accumulated group of Save the Children; the Norwegian Refugee Council; the Danish Refugee Council and Concern Worldwide are operating to make the mobile payment more secure; following the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation.

NGOs have been transferring money online to the people displaced due to war or famine for financial support. This money support has helped millions of families to stave off the famine of 2017. Just in the past three years, international organisations have provided $46million support.

Different organisations have different policies to monitor data protection and data breaching. The case becomes especially vulnerable when the identifiable data about the beneficiaries are collected over telecommunication; where the possibility of leakage of data increases exponentially.

“We’re extremely conscious that we’re in a powerful position when it comes to gaining consent. People are unlikely to say no when we’re going to give them money. But we make every effort to gain informed consent. Consent is received verbally when we’re collecting data, either in person or through our call centre. When using the call centre, we record and review calls to ensure beneficiaries’ consent is properly received” says a Somalia based organisation to the Guardian.


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