Report shows the benefit of two-way communication after a disaster

Published: 29 May 2013 10:23 CET

Today the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) launched a report on one of the areas of humanitarian support that can have a significant impact on lives, but often fails to attract the attention of donors and reporters: beneficiary communication.

In January 2010, a massive earthquake struck in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince. The results were devastating. Hundreds of thousands dead, millions displaced and life disrupted for almost the entire country. The response from the international community, NGOs and international organizations was equally massive, eventually becoming one of the biggest humanitarian operations in history.

As operations continued, the Haiti Red Cross Society and IFRC developed a range of innovative tools that helped create a two-way dialogue between staff and volunteers working in the region and those they were attempting to support. Beneficiary communication, the report says, can establish what support people need, and importantly what they do not need, to better ensure communities get the right help, in the right place, at the right time.

Alexandre Claudon, the IFRC’s head of delegation in Haiti said the report sheds light on how potentially life-saving information was shared and used in the aftermath of the earthquake, in the response to disease outbreaks, and in preparation for incoming storms. “As a movement we are committed to putting those we strive to help at the centre of everything we do. New communication technologies mean we not only have the opportunity, but also the responsibility, to do that more completely than ever before,” he said.

Small infographic on beneficiary communications in Haiti

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The report suggests that almost 90 per cent of the affected population received information from the Haitian Red Cross and that of these, 87 per cent said the information was useful, and 82 per cent shared the information with their family, friends or local community.

Tools used in Haiti include the TERA SMS system which has sent out over 100 million texts on issues ranging from storm preparation, advice on sexual health and cholera prevention; an interactive voice response (IVR) system which was able to deal with both complaints and advice services; a weekly radio show featuring interviews and advice, and sound trucks which were able to take hygiene and health messages directly into temporary camps which were set up following the earthquake.

“Today’s report is an important step in identifying how we can move forward and include genuine two-way communication with communities in the way we work, something we know makes programmes more effective, more efficient, and better suited to meeting the needs of those we help,” Claudon said.

The development and adoption of new technologies will have a significant effect on the way that humanitarian organizations engage with affected populations and respond to their needs. The success of the beneficiary communication operations in Haiti shows that vulnerable communities are more willing than ever to play an active role in the response to disasters, especially when decisions are being made that concern their lives.

Learn more about the IFRC's approach to beneficiary communications

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