Sustaining essential public services through a resilient data system

February 13, 2023

Damaged data at Lasta Woreda of Amhara region

The northern Ethiopia conflict has led to devastation to human life, livelihoods, assets, and infrastructures. Following the conflict, UN agencies, including UNDP-Ethiopia organised consecutive missions in Amhara and Afar regions to explore the socioeconomic and governance aspects of the conflict’s repercussions at different tires. 

The government’s business continuity strategy outlined in the recovery plan called for capacity building in terms of vehicles, computers, servers, and other office equipment, along with investment in human resources.

However, introducing complete infrastructural support to revive government services might not be successful if essential data is missing and proper data management systems are not in place. 

Therefore, the UNDP-Ethiopia Accelerator Lab singled out the data element for further exploration to understand the extent of the data loss and possible recovery mechanisms and devise a resilient data handling system for the future. 

The output from this data exploration mission will be integrated with the Amhara recovery interventions and contribute to the project's overall goal.

The Accelerator Lab approached the exploration through sectoral offices in the Woredas (districts) and its constituted city administration. The field mission assessed the extent of data loss and devised short-term, and resilient long-term, data management solutions at the lower government structures that have been affected by the conflicts in northern Ethiopia (Lasta woreda and Lalibela city administration).

The Accelerator Lab discussed with the Woreda and the city’s administration and learnt about the type and extent of data losses and its repercussion on public service delivery. The exploratory team also assessed the adaptation strategies followed by the local administration to revive the normal government functions, IT-related expertise profiles and existing capacities. 

The lab also analysed the cause of each office's essential data loss, the extent of the damage, alternative measures pursued, and future data fetching plans. 

Data losses were said to have been caused mainly by two reasons. Local individuals or groups take advantage of the disruption caused by the disruption to commit targeted data destruction, such as eliminating tax and court-related files. Another cause was distraction caused during combat in the northern Ethiopia conflict. 

As a result, considerable disruption has happened in the government’s business delivery and its ability to safeguard legal rights.  

Loss of Income

The main source of economy for Lalibela city administration and Lasta woreda is tourism, which is sensitive to the local security situation. During the conflict period, business and religious institutions in the explored areas experienced income losses. Having a single source of economy has placed the local government in a challenging position to address the needs of the local community and business entities.



Business and religious workers incomes losses

Source: The accelerator lab’s team exploration from Lasta Woreda and Lalibela city administration
The extent of data losses and challenges

The Accelerator Lab's exploration mission to the government offices in Lasta Woreda and the city of Lalibela uncovered major destruction to the data in all respective governmental offices, with varying degrees of loss. 

For example, the Justice and Prosecutors Office filing room burnt down, leading to the loss of data accumulated since 1985 (Ethiopian Calendar), including case files, court decisions, document authentication, and criminal records.  

In the Customs and Revenue office, data has been dismantled, files mixed up, and pages lost, making it difficult to track an individual's data. Files have been mixed and pages have been lost. The extent of data loss to the taxpayer is different based on their taxpayer level (which has three levels). 

The extent of data loss in both Lasta woreda and Lalibela Bureau of Finance and Economic Cooperation (BOFEC) was minimal because the office uses IBEX (Integrated Budgeting and Expenditure), a system which captures the data online, and it was possible to use backup for the past ten years despite the loss of hard copy.  

The Culture and Tourism Office revealed that data records for the civil service employees, cooperatives/enterprises have been affected by the northern Ethiopia conflict. Lalibela’s economy depends on tourism, unlike other cities which have diversified economies. In addition to COVID, the conflict has adversly affected Lalibela's tourism numbers have dropped drastically from 39,000 tourists in 2019/19 to 776 in 2021/22. 

The challenges faced by the government offices in Lasta Woreda and the city of Lalibela are twofold. There are challenges in data loss related to internal capacities of the offices such as lack of technical capability and systems to manage data, but also, there are external challenges such as intentional damages to data using the opportunity that was presented by the instability. The existing data management systems differ from office to office. There are purely paper-based data in the case of the Justice Office of the woreda, a hybrid system in the revenue and trade office to fully digital backup in the Bureau of Finance. The varying degree of data management systems created vulnerabilities for offices that are lagging in digitization. It not only creates challenges in data management but also in providing better services to citizens and exchanging information between offices.   

Another aspect of digital data management that was crucial is how connected it is to the region or federal data repositories. If the system is backed up regionally or at the federal level, such as what the revenue office did, recovery would be simple even when total destruction happens. 

Woreda Sector offices' data losses

Source: The accelerator lab’s team exploration from Lasta Woreda and Lalibela city administration
Recovery and future resilient data management 

Based on the exploration inputs, locally proposed solutions, desk reviews, and shared experiences from other local and national government offices in the country, the accelerator lab has identified implementable solutions for the target area. In its exploratory report, the accelerator lab pointed out short-term solutions for data recovery for the local government offices’ business continuity. However, long-term digitized and resilient data management systems were prioritized and shall be integrated with the recovery process in the affected region. The team has identified twenty action points, therefore, to support a resilient data management system.

Furthermore, these exploratory mission outcomes will be presented to secure funding for experimentation, where work efficiency, data backup and recoverability, and increased public satisfaction could be hypothesized for testing cases. Having a successful data management system will benefit the remaining wider area of northern Ethiopia including Tigray and Afar that have been affected by the conflict.

Difficulty of implementation: Refers to technical sophistication, and special expertise requirement. Also, the existing bureaucratic environment, which includes the employee’s low level of digital literacy could put a challenge to deliver the recommended products Timeline for completion: Refers to how long it takes to deliver the recommended solutions/products