What can we learn from previous humanitarian responses to help us communicate effectively with communities affected by the earthquake in Nepal?
Communication with communities has been frequently highlighted in evaluations as a shortfall in earthquake crisis response.
From experience, we know that communication with communities in early stages can make a profound difference to operational aid effectiveness. Wall and Chery’s ‘Ann Kite Yo Pale’ identifies benefits of communication in Haiti primarily as improving trust, helping to mitigate conflict, developing relationships and gaining insight into community perceptions and issues.
The following lessons, which focus on early stages of earthquake response, come from the Ann Kite Yo Pale report, and other evaluations and learning reviews:
1) Asking recipients if your assistance is appropriate from an early stage is vital
ALNAP’s Learning from earthquake relief paper highlights the need to constantly check with communities that aid provision is culturally appropriate and aligned with their needs. Local populations voices need to be heard and driving programmatic decisions.
2) Early assessment of people’s information needs, and the best channels and methods to meet them is crucial
Including questions on information needs and preferred communication channels in needs assessments can help determine how best to reach communities with vital information as early as possible. Guidance on questions to include in your needs assessment is available here.
This Nepal infoasaid Media and Telecommunications Landscape Guide developed by BBC Media Action and Internews in 2011 gives information about language, literacy, media stations and other communications channels.
Bear in mind it is correct as of 2011, and also fuel shortages and damaged transmitters may result in some of these channels being unavailable. Up to date information on functioning media stations should be available soon.
3) Key information needs (or ‘things people need to know’) after an earthquake tend to be as follows:
- Family reunification - how to contact and find family members
- Guidance on shelter, as people are afraid to go back into damaged houses
- How to meet their physical needs (food, water, medical assistance)
- Dead body management
- Assessment of buildings (whether I can go back home or not)
- Followed later by need for information on: personal documentation, property deeds, compensation, death certificates and other legal issues.
We also know that localised information is really important for communities.
4) A multi-channel approach to communication works best
Face to face communication is always critical. Make sure field staff have as much information as possible so they can answer people’s questions, and that they are feeding back what communities’ ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ are, so your agency can try and respond to them.
Look out for coordinated communication efforts amongst local and humanitarian responders, and feed vital information into existing media broadcasts. BBC Nepali is currently broadcasting its lifeline programme, available to listen to on over 300 channels. Frequencies and broadcast information available on the BBC Nepali Facebook page.
Personal radio sets may have been destroyed, resulting in limited access to information, particularly in rural areas. Consider coordinating with other agencies to include solar/wind up radios in aid distributions; or playing radio broadcasts through loudspeakers at distribution points.
5) Don’t just message out - Create a space for interaction and dialogue
‘Communication models that facilitate genuine dialogue and facilitate listening to perspectives and concerns of local populations are more effective on multiple levels (including improving operational design and delivery, relationship building, delivering on accountability and transparency commitments and developing trust). The ability to communicate - ask a question, share a story - rather than just source information is key for communities affected by disasters.’ (Wall and Chery, 2012)
Communication and connectivity plays a crucial role in psychosocial support and healing following a crisis, as this short video shows.
6) Providing support to local media can help with rumour mitigation and aid effectiveness
Local media can play a vital role in getting important information to communities, and providing a platform for community voice, dialogue and connectivity, as well as mitigating rumours.
In Haiti, practical support such as fuel for radio station generators and restoration of Internet access (this is increasingly prioritised by local journalists), as well as food and shelter for reporters, would have made a considerable difference. (Wall and Chery, 2012)
This article outlines key lessons from the Ebola response on the difference empowering local media can make.
Please comment below if you have other lessons on communicating with communities in earthquake response you’d like to share.