Information saves lives and is in itself a vital aid in a situation catastrophe. Those affected need information just as much as they need food or drink. Victims need to know how to access help, where their loved ones are, guidance on safety and self-protection measures, how to avoid illness resulting from the disaster…
Accurate information about such an event and its impact on the lives of those affected has a critical impact on the allocation of resources to victims. As what is happening and the needs of those affected are better communicated, it will become easier to obtain funds needed to sustain the relief effort.
Below are a number of tips or guidelines that NGOs and humanitarian organizations can consider when improving their disaster or emergency communications.
Focus on the victim, not her
Communication about those affected, but above all communication with them, leads to more effective evaluation and assistance. In addition, the information is useful in that it is made available to those affected, making it easier for them to take charge of their future without being dependent on humanitarian aid. Therefore, the focus of humanitarian communication must be on the victims and always count on their active participation.
Strengthening of relationships with journalists, communicators and media
With the advent of social networking and other advances in information technology, some humanitarian agencies have believed that there is no need to work with the media and seek their support because society can be reached without their cooperation. Big mistake. The journalist’s role is irreplaceable when reporting on a disaster. They are experts in information management and have the necessary specialist knowledge to do so movement in complex contexts and also while maintaining one of the journalistic maxims of examining and comparing sources, something not trivial.
Yes, the new information and communication technologies open up possibilities for storytelling and dissemination that were unthinkable just a few years ago. In addition to the necessary use of ICT, however, we must not forget the maxim of optimal communication management: high-quality content.
Direct contact with the affected person is a cornerstone of any humanitarian communication about a disaster
This quality content, in addition to the different formats and narratives used, is the different value of an NGO’s communication and what can give it greater credibility. Yes, we have to reach as many people as possible, but not at any price. And here, let’s not forget, the price can be human lives. For this reason, there is a need to offer content that allows a more accurate global picture of what is happening, the underlying causes and, yes, ways to work together to solve this problem, while respecting the dignity of the victims. problem in the short, medium and long term.
Pictures; But not at any price
There has been and will be an eternal ethical debate among the media about their coverage of disasters: How good is it to show or not to show? Do we have to offer these extremely hard pictures? And the most important question: is it informatively relevant? We won’t go into that debate, but we will go into the guidelines that humanitarian organizations typically follow in this regard.
In 1994, eight of the world’s largest aid organizations signed the International Code of Conduct for Disaster Relief. This document, which is widely accepted by NGOs, explicitly considers how to approach communication from the perspective of “humanitarian duty”. And it is noted that in information activities, victims must always be recognized as worthy human beings, and not hopeless objects that arouse sympathy.
Use digital communication technology
Aid organizations are obliged to use new digital communication technologies. For one simple reason; because their correct use saves lives. It’s a responsibility. Its role is crucial in areas such as early warning, disaster relief or risk reduction, since the massive availability of mobile phones and the internet has completely changed the communication paradigm.
In this context, social networks such as Facebook, TikTok or Twitter have demonstrated their ability to disseminate and mobilize, as they did in the current war in Ukraine. They provide instant information from places of interest with the greatest possible virality and distribution. It is usually through these networks that we learn about a disaster, and their correct management allows us to access valuable information, naturally respecting the necessary verification criteria. But we will also be able to provide real-time advice to affected populations, locating reference sources, denying hoaxes or rumours…
Social networks will provide us with instant information about all the relevant news, the latest images, the resources provided by the victims themselves… But they will never replace a fundamental criterion that all NGOs should consider: go, see and tell. In The Field.
Direct contact with the affected person is the cornerstone of any humanitarian communication about a disaster. No one better than the person concerned to know their needs. The ones we need to cover with your help and participation. It’s not enough to talk to the other person. You have to smell, feel, breathe the same air, share the same place. Only then, by trying to really put ourselves in each other’s shoes, will we be able to establish genuine and credible communication. With technology, of course.