When Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the central region of the Philippines on 8 November 2013, the world rushed to support with offers of assistance. Within hours of making landfall, the strongest typhoon ever recorded destroyed almost all existing media and communication infrastructure, leaving little or no access to radio, television, newspapers or Internet for those who survived. Communication with and between communities became vital to meet the needs of those affected.
The CDAC Network has just launched a report – the Typhoon Haiyan Learning Review – which looks at initiatives aimed at improving engagement with communities in the humanitarian response. The report acknowledges that a stronger commitment by humanitarian agencies to address communication and information needs was seen after Typhoon Haiyan than in previous disasters.
However, efforts are still required to ensure the consistency and coordination of ‘communicating with communities’ approaches, to make sure that the information and communication needs of affected people are considered a priority.
The review found that a coordinated approach to communication at field level is important, to avoid duplication and conflicting information, to identify and fill information gaps (or ‘what people need to know’) and to ensure action is taken to address communities’ questions and complaints. Communicating with Communities (CwC) Working Groups established across the affected area were important in raising awareness of communication within the humanitarian response, and also in developing relationships with local government, local media and private sector organisations.
‘Coordination within the humanitarian sector is important’, explains Caroline Austin, author of the report, ‘but investment in partnerships with local government, local media and the private sector is also crucial’. The report recommends these relationships be built as part of preparedness planning in the future.
One recommendation was preparing communities on early warning terminology: despite receiving warning text messages, many people did not evacuate the area, as the term ‘storm surge’ was not well understood.
The importance of using locally preferred and well-understood channels to communicate was highlighted, along with the need to encourage dialogue, rather than just ‘message out’. Communities need opportunities to discuss issues outside NGOs’ programmes. As one community participant explained: ‘Expressing feedback would also be if NGOs would ask what project do we want to have, what project is needed here, not just about the project which already exists.’
Despite relatively high mobile phone use in the Philippines, people overall preferred talking to humanitarian agencies face-to-face, to develop relationships and get their questions answered on the spot. Radio was also stated as a key source of information and feedback, but the two humanitarian radio stations (featured in the Report’s accompanying case studies) were not able to reach people across the huge affected area.
The review was funded by UNOCHA and captures good practice, gaps and suggestions for improvement in the emerging field of ‘communicating with communities’ programming and coordination in humanitarian response.
The majority of Members of the CDAC Network, which includes international NGOs, Media Development Organisations, UN agencies, the Red Cross movement and technology providers, responded as part of the large international humanitarian response to the Typhoon last November.