Displaced by floods in Pakistan, a family rests in a makeshift shelter Displaced by floods in Pakistan, a family rests in a makeshift shelter Photo credit: UN Photo/UNICEF/ZAK
IDP Vulnerability Assessment and Profiling (IVAP) in Pakistan: a report and appraisal
by Nicki Bennett and Bobi Morris October 2012

The IDP Vulnerability Assessment and Profiling (IVAP) project was launched in Pakistan in 2010 to enable agencies to provide humanitarian assistance in a more impartial and targeted manner. Responding to needs arising out of a protracted conflict, humanitarian agencies in Pakistan’s north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province were preparing to provide aid to hundreds of thousands of conflict IDPs for a third consecutive year. Effective targeting of beneficiaries – particularly in a period when financial resources were steadily decreasing – required humanitarian agencies to locate and identify those directly affected by the conflict, broadly understand their priority needs and then analyse vulnerability and threats at the household level. More than a dozen humanitarian agencies joined together in Pakistan to gather data to address these concerns. The resulting analysis was used to influence programming decisions and bring broader response policy more closely in line with needs. IVAP was designed to meet a very specific set of expectations within a very particular context. This article does not claim that it has been an unqualified success; however, it does argue that it represents a unique inter-agency initiative and contains a number of innovative elements that may be relevant or replicable in other response contexts.


The idea that humanitarian assistance must be given to those who need it the most (the basic principle of impartiality) is widely considered to be an essential element of humanitarian action. In practice, however, this principle is not always observed or successfully implemented. Studies and evaluations have repeatedly found that emergency responses are often based on poor or non-existent analysis, and driven by the resources available, rather than needs. Decisions on who to assist – and how – are often only weakly based on evidence, and formal needs assessment continues to play only a marginal role in the decision-making processes of many humanitarian actors.

In north-western Pakistan in 2010, a number of humanitarian actors observed serious inclusion and exclusion errors resulting from the government-led registration process. The process had been established in 2008, and was used by most large UN agencies and their implementing partners as the basis for assistance provision. Members of an inter-agency ‘Durable Solutions Task Force’ agreed that targeting decisions needed to be informed by an enhanced understanding of the scale and severity of the humanitarian situation. The decision was taken to carry out an assessment that would verify the overall number of conflict IDPs in KPK province, while simultaneously providing humanitarian actors with a better sense of humanitarian needs.

Operational and technical approach

Assessment design

The particular objectives of the IVAP required a specific assessment design, some elements of which may not be required or appropriate in other contexts.

bennet-table-1The IVAP essentially represented a census of 94,454 conflict-affected IDP families (497,894 individuals), collecting data on a range of needs and vulnerabilities and registration status. This data was analysed to better understand whether humanitarian needs existed amongst this group, and if so what kind, and which households were most vulnerable and subsequently most in need of assistance.


bennet-box-1Following a pilot phase which profiled 14,000 IDP families in Peshawar district, the IVAP was formally launched in November 2010 by a group of 15 humanitarian actors: six UN agencies, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), six international NGOs and two national NGOs. Some of the key elements of implementation are discussed below.

  • Management through committee. The management of the project remained a joint initiative supported by several committees, which guided the process and made key decisions. While implementation by one agency might have been simpler, it would not have achieved the same degree of ownership of assessment results and would have led to fewer agencies targeting on the basis of the data collected.
  • Cluster-developed questionnaire. A questionnaire of approximately 50 questions was developed with input from the clusters and humanitarian actors in Pakistan. Involving in-country technical leads in the development of the questionnaire improved both the use of the data inside Pakistan, and its comparability with other assessments in the country.
  • Mass communication campaign. Under the leadership of IOM, radio, television and newspaper advertisements were published throughout the hosting regions explaining the purpose of the IVAP, that the data would be used to inform the humanitarian community on how best to provide assistance and providing toll-free phone numbers to call if a family had been missed out.
  • Inclusion policy. A driving factor behind the IVAP was the need to redress inclusion and exclusion errors in the original registration system, as well as determining who was still displaced following spontaneous returns. IVAP developed a policy to include all families who had fled their area of origin due to conflict, fear of conflict, individual threats and economic reasons directly linked to the conflict (based on the definitions in the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement).
  • Door-to-door survey. While limited by security constraints in some areas, 90% of families were interviewed in their homes. This allowed the registration of families who were unable to access registration desks due to transport or other reasons (exclusion errors), and the removal from beneficiary lists of families who were included in the original, desk-based registration, and who were not actually displaced but held official ID cards with an address from a conflict area.
  • Data quality monitoring. The World Food Programme (WFP)’s Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (VAM) unit seconded ten data collection monitors to the IVAP to systematically monitor the survey teams in the field and ensure the quality of data collection, including through spot-checking interviews to ensure that each question was posed correctly. On average, the IVAP had around 50 surveyors in the field, rising to over 150 at the height of data collection.
  • Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs). IVAP data was collected in large part on handheld PDAs, from which the data was directly uploaded and initially cleaned by the IVAP database. This allowed both for automated checks in the questionnaire (prompting enumerators to review unlikely responses), as well as minimising data entry errors, as the software does not allow for skipped questions or ambiguous responses.

Vulnerability targeting

IVAP aimed to collect enough information at the household level for each humanitarian actor to target assistance as effectively as possible to IDP families most in need of the specific types of assistance available. This required all humanitarian partners to have timely access to data, which IVAP provided through an online database that allowed for detailed analysis across all indicators, including filtering and sorting capabilities. This database allows any IVAP vetted and registered assistance provider to filter information on the basis of one or more indicators in the database to identify families who fall into their specified definition of vulnerability. For example, the child protection sub-cluster can identify separated children (one indicator), or children living in low-income families, with tent-like shelter and more than five siblings (three indicators combined).

In addition to providing individual assistance providers with access to relevant data, IVAP partners also developed a ‘vulnerability index’ to move from general distributions covering the entire IDP population to the more targeted distribution of food and cash assistance. While reaching agreement on the ‘correct’ technical approach proved to be challenging and there was a temptation to simply abandon the effort (since no vulnerability index would ever be ‘perfect’), IVAP partners ultimately agreed that it was preferable to target on the basis of an index designed to reflect the need for cash or food assistance than accepting assistance criteria designed to support a political strategy (e.g. cutting off assistance as a way of encouraging people to return to certain areas of origin).

Results and lessons learned

Use of IVAP data and impact on response planning

The IVAP has influenced how the humanitarian community supports IDPs from KPK and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). INGOs use IVAP data to inform IDP family targeting for interventions ranging from livelihoods, agriculture assistance and non-food items to document reclamation and child protection. IVAP data is also used to target community-based assistance, with assistance actors using the data to inform decisions on priority areas for specific interventions, such as protection monitoring in areas with high concentrations of IDP families. Similarly, cluster leads use IVAP data (including mapping of areas with high IDP concentrations and limited public services such as water, healthcare or education) to prioritise specific projects or activities within their overall cluster strategies. In 2012, IVAP data formed the basis for both the joint Humanitarian Operational Plan and the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

IVAP’s most significant impact, however, has probably been its influence on the registration process and the distribution of food and cash assistance. In terms of registration, IVAP found around 200,000 IDPs (42% of IDPs who are still displaced) who were never registered, primarily because they never reached registration desks. The government agreed to register families who wanted to do so (a small number of IDP families did not want their information shared with the government), and who met the policy of possessing a valid government ID card and whose area of origin was still categorised as unsafe by the government. As a result, approximately 70,000 IDPs were registered by the authorities for assistance. While humanitarian actors continue to advocate for changes in government registration policy to align registration criteria more closely to the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, IDPs who are not permitted to register remain in the IVAP database, and can therefore be targeted by independent humanitarian actors that do not limit assistance to those on government lists.

As conflict displacement has continued in Pakistan in 2012, the IVAP continues to profile newly displaced families. Recently, around 10,500 newly displaced families have been reached and profiled, and the plan is to cover another 70,000 before the end of the year. In addition, in recognition that all data has a limited timeframe of validity, the IVAP has expanded to include ongoing data updates (using a call centre and relocation team), as well as sample-based surveys to ensure that the database remains as current as possible.

Politics and the role of government

The IVAP was developed and implemented in close coordination with the government of Pakistan, particularly provincial disaster management authorities and senior military officials operating in KPK/FATA. The project was formally endorsed by the Policy and Strategy Committee, a senior forum for decision-making on humanitarian issues, and was discussed in detail in the Committee as well as in monthly working-level meetings. However, unlike other vulnerability mapping and targeting initiatives (for example social safety nets), the IVAP was never designed to be wholly owned or led by the government. Placing the government fully in charge of data collection and vulnerability ranking would have been difficult within the context of an ongoing conflict in which it is one of the main parties, and where the humanitarian community had already observed several instances of political or military interference in targeting, for example preventing humanitarian assistance from being distributed to certain tribes or even specific families or individuals, usually on the basis of political affiliation. IVAP partners agreed that IDP families needed to be assured that the government (and the military) would not have direct access to personally identifiable data unless families provided informed consent. The reasons for this were clearly explained to the government, and were accepted by officials participating in IVAP committees.

IVAP partners made a conscious decision to manage the project as an independent humanitarian initiative, and believe that the contextual factors described above made this unavoidable. It is acknowledged, however, that the decision creates certain limitations for humanitarian actors. First, it can complicate the transition from emergency humanitarian assistance to the kind of predictable livelihoods support (like social safety nets) that may be more appropriate to meeting protracted humanitarian needs. Second, it can create confusion regarding the precise role of the federal and provincial governments – which have primary responsibility for assisting their citizens – in making decisions about the targeting of assistance, particularly in situations where humanitarian actors are being asked to support government policies that conflict with humanitarian principles, such as the expectation that humanitarian assistance will support the broader political and military strategy of ‘stabilising’ conflict-affected areas by promoting IDP return.

Cost, financial sustainability and the role of donors

The cost of the IVAP mechanism was substantial, both in terms of design and implementation. Within an 18-month period, $1.5 million (funded by USAID) was spent to achieve the initial project objectives, and an additional €600,000 from ECHO has been committed over 15 months to complete data updates, conduct sample-based surveys and profile newly displaced families. Donors and the humanitarian community alike have questioned whether the output is worth the cost, and whether such a mechanism would be an advisable investment in other contexts. The cost might be deemed reasonable in contexts where one or more of the following are true:

  • Large numbers of displaced people living in host communities have not been identified and/or are not accessing assistance.
  • There is sufficient support both from the humanitarian community and the government concerned to ensure that action will be taken on the basis of the assessment findings.
  • Information on the needs and wishes of displaced people is likely to have a clear impact on future programming and funding priorities.
  • Displacement is expected to be protracted, and funds for assistance are expected to decline.
  • A significant number of affected people are displaced to hard-to-reach areas, or in locations where the UN or government actors cannot complete registration (the door-to-door approach of the IVAP allowed it to reach thousands of families who were unable to reach registration desks).


The IVAP was created to help humanitarian actors identify solutions to specific challenges arising within the context of conflict-related displacement in northwestern Pakistan. However, the project’s broader aim of ensuring that humanitarian assistance reaches those who need it the most remains relevant far beyond any particular crisis or country. Not all aspects of the IVAP may be suitable or relevant to other contexts, but there is no reason why individual elements of both the conceptual and operational approach would not provide a foundation for a similar initiative in other humanitarian responses characterised by protracted needs in an offcamp displacement context.

Despite the many challenges encountered in planning and implementing the IVAP, the decision of donors and humanitarian actors to continue funding and implementing the project suggests that it has helped to define, quantify and compare various types of vulnerability. It has also shown that better data can lead to a more principled and effective response on the ground, for example as demonstrated by the IVAP’s success in linking thousands of previously unregistered IDP families with assistance providers. The IVAP has made a difference in these families’ lives by helping IVAP partners to resolve and negotiate sensitive political issues with the host government, and ultimately attempt to correct the serious exclusion errors made during the initial response phase of the IDP crisis.

Providing assistance strictly in line with basic humanitarian principles – including the principle of impartiality – remains a major challenge for any humanitarian actor in northwestern Pakistan, as it does in many other contexts. The IVAP has certainly not eliminated the factors that make it difficult for humanitarians to provide assistance on the basis of need alone, nor has it enabled humanitarian actors to remain immune to political pressures. It has, however, provided sufficient credible data for a diverse group of humanitarian actors to develop more robust methodologies for informing operational humanitarian responses – with the ultimate outcome of moving its partners closer to providing humanitarian assistance in a principled and appropriate manner.

Nicki Bennett was OCHA’s head of policy and strategic planning in Pakistan in 2010–2011. She currently works for OCHA in South Sudan. Bobi Morris was IRC’s Assessment Coordinator in Pakistan, and overall coordinator of the IVAP from 2010–2011. She currently works as IRC’s Senior Emergency Accountability Coordinator, based in Kenya.