World Disasters Report 2005 - Data or dialogue? The role of information in disasters

"The flow of information throughout the disaster cycle is crucial for effective humanitarian operations. This year's report, with illuminating examples from before, during and after emergencies, will be welcomed by practitioners and policy-makers."

–John Mitchell, Head of ALNAP (Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action

People need information as much as water, food, medicine or shelter. Information can save lives, livelihoods and resources. It may be the only form of disaster preparedness that the most vulnerable can afford. The right kind of information leads to a deeper understanding of needs and ways to respond. The wrong information can lead to inappropriate, even dangerous interventions.

Information bestows power. Lack of information can make people victims of disaster. Do aid organizations use information to accumulate power for themselves or to empower others? The report calls on agencies to focus less on gathering information for their own needs and more on exchanging information with the people they seek to support.

The report by chapters


Chapter 1 - Data or dialogue? The role of information in disasters
This year’s World Disasters Report considers the quality of communication between aid givers and receivers, and what impact this has on vulnerable people. The report examines how information is handled before, during and after disasters. It analyses thematic issues such as consulting with affected people, assessing needs, mapping risks and sharing information. And it looks at the role of both local and international media, and the impact of information and communication technology on humanitarian relief. Read Chapter 1

Chapter 2 - Run, tell your neighbour! Hurricane warning in the Caribbean
From August to November 2004, nine hurricanes raked the Caribbean. At least 2,000 people were killed. Hundreds of thousands were left homeless. Economic losses totalled over US$ 60 billion. Haiti suffered by far the greatest human toll. Yet Cuba, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, while hit very hard, suffered relatively low death tolls. Why? Much of the difference comes down to knowledge and warning. The chapter reveals that local organization and awareness are as important as timely, accurate hi-tech warnings. Read chapter 2


Chapter 3 - Locusts in West Africa: early warning, late response
Over 9 million people faced severe food shortages in 2005 across West Africa’s Sahel region, because of poor harvests following years of drought and the 2004 locust plague. Villagers scavenged ant-hills for stray grains of food. Child malnutrition and infant mortality soared. But who cared? Warnings went unheeded and responses to appeals for food aid were sluggish. The Sahel crisis could have been avoided – so why wasn’t it? Read chapter 3

Chapter 4 - Information black hole in Aceh
The tsunami which devastated Aceh on 26 December 2004 left 164,000 people dead or missing and over 400,000 homeless. It rapidly became the most reported and well-funded disaster in history. Over 200 humanitarian organizations – plus 3,000 military troops from a dozen countries – arrived to offer aid. Read chapter 4


Chapter 5 - Sharing information for tsunami recovery in South Asia
“I don’t want to see another cooking pot – I have as many as I will ever need. I want to know where my family is going to be living in one month’s time!” Parvita, a widow from India’s Tamil Nadu state, summed up what many survivors wanted, three weeks after the tsunami: clear, hard facts about their future. Read chapter 5


Chapter 6 - “Please don't raise gender now – we’re in an emergency!”
Media coverage of the 26 December tsunami dominated headlines worldwide well into January – much longer than any other disaster in modern history. After the tsunami came a metaphorical tidal wave of donations. Aid workers worried that the tsunami would divert donor money and media attention away from the world’s ‘hidden disasters’. Read chapter 6

Chapter 7 - Adequate? Equitable? Timely? Humanitarian aid trends in 2005
Media coverage of the 26 December tsunami dominated headlines worldwide well into January – much longer than any other disaster in modern history. After the tsunami came a metaphorical tidal wave of donations. Aid workers worried that the tsunami would divert donor money and media attention away from the world’s ‘hidden disasters’. Read chapter 7

Chapter 8 - Disaster data: building a foundation for disaster risk reduction
Disaster data are vital for identifying trends in the impacts of disaster and tracking relationships between development and disaster risk. This chapter offers a brief review of four international disaster databases: EM-DAT, NatCat, Sigma and DesInventar. It identifies challenges for the collection, validation and presentation of disaster data, and considers options for improving such data. Read chapter 8



Press release

World Disasters Report underlines that information is a life-saving resource

Today’s information technology has helped aid agencies gather and store huge amounts of ...