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presentations and discussion listed in the workshop agenda (see the appendices).


The phrase “demographic methods” refers to techniques for measuring population size, structure, distribution, characteristics, and rates. In complex humanitarian emergencies, these methods are used for the purposes of early warning, intervention planning (assistance to and protection of the population), monitoring and evaluation of these interventions, and baseline surveillance. Assessment techniques may be used at different points throughout a crisis and by international organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), government agencies, academics, or refugees themselves. There are a variety of settings and types of populations (e.g., refugee camps, self-settled refugees,4 internally displaced persons) in which demographic assessment is needed. Therefore, the array of techniques and methods that may be used is vast. The workshop aimed to improve their application to estimate vital population parameters by reducing sampling (selection of individuals) and nonsampling (selection of information) error.

The workshop began with a presentation by W. Courtland Robinson of Johns Hopkins University about the basics of demographic assessment in emergencies. At least three major organizations have published guidelines on how to conduct initial demographic assessments: Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the Sphere Project.5 Each of these sets of guidelines varies slightly, but their purpose is the same—to help field workers obtain a baseline estimate of the total population and its vital characteristics.

As Robinson explained, a variety of techniques are used individually or in combination to estimate total populations of displaced persons and their characteristics. Simple counting of individuals or shelters, administrative records, community estimations, mapping (either manually or using geographic positioning systems), aerial photography, screening of children under age five or vaccination surveys and consequent extrapolation, household surveys, and camp registrations or censuses are some of the many methods available. Rates—including mortality, fertility, and migration rates—can be estimated in these settings using the methods listed above, in combination with registration and medical records, sample surveys, and counting burial sites or bodies (for mortality rates). The rest of this report examines some of the advantages and disadvantages of a few of these meth

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