Communication As Aid

Communities need and deserve to have information that affects their future, both before and after a disaster.  As in everyday life, communities make decisions based on the best possible information available to them at the given time. Strong evidence suggests that there is not simply a wish for more information; there is a real demand for it and desperate frustration when it is not available.  Understanding the communication ecology of the communities we work with is an essential part of disaster risk management.

Effective two-way dialogue with survivors of such a disaster is as critical as the delivery of aid itself.  Not having systems in place to receive and communicate important, often life-saving messages can be detrimental to relief efforts. In the absence of good two-way communication, disaster affected communities may become disempowered and humanitarian actors miss out on a valuable perspective that can improve the way they deliver services.  
 

Household

Households should understand how to access information and communication before, during and after disasters.  Of particular importance is an understanding of where to access information when basic services fail. One of the great learnings from the Great East Japan Earthquake which can be applied in many other disaster-prone countries is the absolute importance of preparing populations at risk for the worst-case scenario and the importance of traditional communication mediums.  Preferably communication plans which accesses multiply channels of communication should be included within household disaster plans.

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Workplace

Businesses should also understand how to access information and communication before, during and after disasters, particularly where it affects their ability to maintain continuity of operations.  Communication and information plans should be included within normal business planning.

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Community Organization

There is a clear role for the Red Cross Red Crescent, UN and community organizations to deliver both life-saving and life-changing information to the people who need it most, before, during and after disasters. Research on the characteristics that define safe and resilient communities include communities being knowledgeable, as well as connected through communication and information about how to access services and resources.  Thus organizations should work with communities to define information channels and needs pre-disaster to properly define and coordinate their communication and information both pre and post disaster. 

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Local and National Government

Increasingly internet and social media platforms make significant contributions to make to disaster response and recovery.  These platforms are critically dependent on power and telecommunications infrastructure. Building resilient communications infrastructure and restoring connectivity should be at the heart of disaster management planning for local and national government.

Beneficiary communications is about empowering people by giving them a voice to participate in their own recovery. It connects humanitarian programming with vulnerable people by employing appropriate communication channels to provide and receive information. It is classic community engagement with aspects of community outreach, community media, and public health. In order to be effective, beneficiary communication needs to provide effective two-way communication, on-time information from the beginning to the end of the programme cycle, and through methods that allow community input.  Ideally, beneficiary communication connects humanitarian programs with the people they are designed to support. This is done through the use of low-tech face-to-face or newspaper communication and through increasingly high-tech communication channels such as SMS or social media. Modern tools allow information to remain constantly relevant and effective due to the fact that information is coming directly from staff working in the field or even the vulnerable communities themselves.

BC works right across the disaster environment i.e. preparedness; early warning; disaster and post-disaster interventions. It is a crosscutting function that ensures a greater quality of aid delivery and promotes an understanding between programme managers and their clients. The
programme is integral to supporting an environment of accountability and transparency. BCA straddles the spectrum from (lo-tech) face-to-face communication and town hall meetings to (hi-tech) crowd sourcing via SMS and crisis mapping – it is accessible and is especially important in terms of nurturing productive partnerships with the private sector.
 

Key Concepts in Beneficiary Communications

GAP  Global Accountability Framework

HAP Humanitarian Accountability Partnership

SCHR Steering committee for humanitarian response