Gil Arevalo, OCHA’s CwC Officer in the Philippines, explains how networks and relationships built during the response to Typhoon Haiyan enabled communicating with communities initiatives to get off the ground quickly when Typhoon Hagupit hit the same area one year later.
The late American writer Alexander King once said that the basic need of the human heart in nearly every great crisis is a good hot cup of coffee.
And that was probably all it took for OCHA to be able to call an emergency meeting on December 13 2014 with the First Response Radio-Far-East Broadcasting Company (FRR-FEBC) [a partnership between Manila-based radio station and CDAC Network Member First Response Radio] and the Peace and Conflict Journalism Network (PECOJON).
In a coffee meeting near the UN office in Manila, with no memorandum of agreement or any official partnership paper, OCHA witnessed how the FRR-FEBC and PECOJON agreed to deploy a team together to set up a humanitarian radio station on the December 15 in the municipality of Taft, Eastern Samar --- the area worst hit by Typhoon Hagupit.
The network, or Community of Practice (CoP), of Communications with Communities (CwC)/Accountability to Affected Populations (AAP) was established in Eastern Visayas in early 2014, during the response to Typhoon Haiyan. The CoP includes staff from humanitarian agencies, local government and media agencies who participated in the CwC/AAP technical working groups, which were part of the cluster system post-Haiyan.
However, the response to Hagupit would be the first time that a partnership was forged between FRR-FEBC and PECOJON for a joint humanitarian radio project, using emergency radio equipment entrusted to FRR-FEBC by International Organization for Migration (IOM), as partners in CwC.
And the rest was a good example of how to further improve working with CwC partners both in preparedness and emergency response.
Lessons from past typhoons
The Typhoon Haiyan response in 2013 taught us, CwC/AAP specialists and practitioners, the importance of having CwC/AAP technical working groups across three affected regions in Eastern Visayas, which were coordinated and integrated into the cluster system.
The Typhoon Hagupit response, almost one year later, taught us not only the valuable lesson of sustaining the good practice from Typhoon Haiyan, but also expanding the level of partnership within the network or CoP.
It was one of those rare experiences when the same region,
However, Hagupit brought some silver linings in the proactive engagement of Members of the CwC/AAP CoP in Manila and the various field level working groups in Western and Eastern Visayas – largely thanks to experience and learning from Haiyan.
All members and partners of the field level working groups and CoP responded collaboratively, pre-positioning staff, solar radios and other resources for Hagupit’s expected impact (it was anticipated to be as strong as Haiyan). Assessments carried out by members immediately after the typhoon highlighted areas where access to information was poor. And that paved the way for FRR-FEBC and PECOJON (including local journalists from Radyo Abante) to broadcast as 98.7 FM from December 15 to January 7 2015 in Taft, Eastern Samar.
Just like OCHA and IOM, FRR-FEBC and PECOJON are CDAC Network Members and worked in various capacities during the Haiyan response in 2013. They were active members of the Philippine CwC/AAP CoP based in Manila and were also part of the successful field level technical working groups in Western Visayas and Eastern Visayas
For over three weeks, the 98.7 FM station was recognised as a conduit bridging local government units (LGUs), humanitarian and development agencies and affected communities in Eastern Samar.
In some ways, this was déjà vu for FRR-FEBC and PECOJON, given the stations they set up during the height of Haiyan response. The big difference this time was that even prior to the destruction brought by the typhoon, there was no radio station active or operating in Taft municipality.
The CwC/AAP technical working group based in Borongan, Eastern Samar, reported that the LGUs were thankful for the presence of 98.7 FM, and felt relieved to have a radio station that caters to the ongoing humanitarian response reaching most affected areas.
More than just providing access to critical information, once again humanitarian radio became the voice and ally of the affected communities, while putting some positive pressure on humanitarian agencies, the government and LGUs.
As recognised by FRR-FEBC, PECOJON, IOM and even OCHA, partnering for the first time on this humanitarian radio initiative was a laboratory test in various ways. It was a big test for the CoP in terms of working with each other’s strengths and weaknesses. It also highlighted the benefits of the ad-hoc nature or level of partnership among FRR-FEBC, PECOJON and IOM. From the onset, the usual bureaucratic process in any level of partnership was simplified, as this collaboration depended on trust and commitment within the network to look at the existing capacities, resources, and mechanisms. It proved that formalising partnership, and developing relationships and trust between different actors, should be a priority as part of preparedness.
Creating exit and transition strategies was of course a challenge. It has always been. And this response was no exception.
Three weeks might not be enough to bridge the gap in access to information for communities, and to ensure that LGUs will continue to address the unmet humanitarian needs of those affected.
What FRR-FEBC, PECOJON and IOM accomplished in a short span of time was already commendable. It opens more windows of opportunities for the network or CoP to continue to improve the various levels of engagement or partnership, and find opportunities to work together.
After all, it’s a small world for all CwC/AAP specialists and practitioners. The next thing we know, we’re going to work together either in preparedness or emergency response. I am looking forward for more hot cups of coffee with my colleagues. As the old saying goes, ‘it’s like déjà-brew: the feeling or experience that you’ve had this coffee before’.