12 Feb 2010 - 11 Apr 2021
Left in the dark: The unmet need for information in emergency response
In today's media-rich world, many of the planet's poorest still lack access to potentially life-saving information.
In the aftermath of disaster - such as the 2004 Asian Tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and 2008's cyclone Nargis and Sichuan earthquake - those affected have immediate humanitarian concerns; food, shelter, and medical attention.
But in a new policy briefing (pdf)
from the BBC World Service Trust, Imogen Wall and Lisa Robinson argue that affected populations also have immediate information needs that are currently unmet.
Millions of people, already suffering or at risk through manmade crisis or natural disaster, are having their problems compounded because they are denied access to basic information that could help them save or rebuild their lives.
In 2005 Markku Niskala, Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies acknowledged that:
"People need information as much as water, food, medicine or shelter. Information can save lives, livelihoods and resources. Information bestows power."
Effective information and communication exchange with affected populations are among the least understood and most complex challenges facing the humanitarian sector in the 21st century
Lisa Robinson and Imogen Wall
Yet in 2008, the complex challenges of meeting these needs have not been addressed.
World Development Information Day
This week marks World Development Information Day (also UN Day), designated by the UN as a day of awareness "to draw the attention of world public opinion to development problems and the need to strengthen international cooperation to solve them".
This is essential and valuable work, but the BBC World Service Trust briefing emphasises the importance of communication to and with affected populations over and above traditional advocacy information.
As the authors state: "Effective information and communication exchange with affected populations are among the least understood and most complex challenges facing the humanitarian sector in the 21st century."
The demand for information
Disaster victims need information about their options in order to make meaningful choices about their futures, and the impact of effective informational broadcasting can be immediate and profound.
In 2008 following the devastation of cyclone Nargis, the BBC World Service Trust provided "Lifeline" radio support. As one survivor observed: "I can't see, so when my radio was destroyed in the cyclone, I felt very isolated. Now that I have a radio, I feel like I can see!"
The impact of new technologies and rapid growth of telecommunications in the developing world are addressed in the briefing recommendations, which acknowledge the many new mediums and channels of communication.
Robinson and Wall conclude that "the information needs of people affected by disasters are currently unmet because the people, systems and resources that are required to meet them simply don't exist in a meaningful way" and recommend "long term recognition of the information needs of affected populations should be at the core of both disaster relief and disaster risk reduction strategy."
Image: Matt Davis, AFP/Getty Images