Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Providing Effective Assistance: Poverty Targeting Formulas in the Middle East

October 25, 2017

Group photo with Irani

International Fellow Alexandra Irani discusses her work developing poverty targeting formulas with refugees in the Central African Republic as well as Palestinian and Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Q&A with Alexandra Irani (HI² International Fellow)

What are you currently working on?

The Applied Economics and Development (AED) Research Group at the American University of Beirut (AUB) has recently partnered with UNHCR Cameroon to work on a project targeting refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR). Approximately, 260,000 CAR refugees have settled in Cameroon since 2003 due to the continued conflict in their home country. In light of the reduction in funding for CAR refugees, humanitarian organizations have been struggling to maintain the same level of assistance. It has become therefore crucial to switch from a blanket assistance approach to a more targeted one by identifying a reduced group of potential beneficiaries based on their level of vulnerability and their inability to afford and consume the minimum resources necessary for their long-term physical well-being.

This project aims to build on the already established WFP/UNHCR vulnerability targeting mechanism and expand the analysis to move to a basic needs targeting approach. The approach will identify some of the observable correlates of economic vulnerability and food insecurity of households using representative survey data. The correlates identified will be used in constructing various indicators of food insecurity and economic vulnerability, thus developing a multi indicator system (proxy means). 

What is a poverty targeting formula, and how did you go about developing one?

Lebanon hosts the largest per capita refugee population in the world with an estimated 260,000 Palestinian refugees, 33,000 Palestinian refugees recently displaced from Syria and 1 million Syrian refugees. When first arriving to the country and at the onset of the various crises that led them to seek refuge in Lebanon, refugees were first given blanket assistance. With time however, funding decreased and it was no longer possible to provide assistance to all the refugee population. Accordingly, we've collaborated with UNRWA, UNHCR and WFP on several projects to support them in the process of identifying the most economically vulnerable households to inform the various cash assistance programs.

We've developed the various targeting formulas that UNHCR, WFP and UNRWA currently employ for their cash assistance programs, using the Proxy Means Testing (PMT) system, which allows us to approximate economic vulnerability scores based on observable and verifiable characteristics of refugee households using household survey data. 

Did this work inform your development of a multidimensional poverty index?

In addition to our work on targeting and measuring money-metric poverty, we've also developed multidimensional poverty indices. A full understanding of poverty requires taking into account  monetary deprivation as well as non-monetary deprivation in education, health, housing, water and sanitation among other well-being dimensions. 
We developed multidimensional deprivation indices for Lebanese households in collaboration with UNDP, WFP, UNICEF and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Palestinians Refugees in collaboration with UNRWA. We've recently collaborated with UNICEF to develop a child deprivation index for Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon using their Multiple Overlapping Deprivation Analysis (MODA) methodology. 

What are some of the challenges you face when developing various indices?

The biggest challenge in developing these indices is the limited data availability and accessibility. This is why AED always seeks partnerships on projects focused on primary data collection. This would allow us access to better quality data and pave the way to better performing and precise deprivation indices.

Why are these indices important? How do these indices contribute to larger efforts to aid refugee populations?

Targeting formulas, welfare measures and poverty indices all play a crucial role in depicting the various levels of hardship and deprivation marginalized and vulnerable populations face and help inform evidence-based poverty reduction programs and strategies.