Addressing the Critical Need for Lifesaving Information in the Wake of Hurricane Matthew

An older man sits on the rubble of his house after Hurricane Matthew

Humanitarian efforts require rapid re-establishment of media and information infrastructure to deliver aid and relief

At least 1,000 people are now feared dead in the wake of the devastating hurricane that hit Haiti on October 4th. The storm has left in its wake a serious humanitarian crisis, made worse by the fact that a cholera epidemic was only barely being held in check prior to the storm. Relatively isolated areas in southwestern Haiti were particularly hard hit, with damage estimates of up to 80% of structures.

In the aftermath of natural disasters, one of the most critical needs is the provision of timely, accurate and trusted information that responds to the needs of the affected population. This is especially true in Haiti, where the hurricane has left many parts of the country inaccessible. People need life saving information to find loved ones, locate food and medical aid and other emergency relief.

Without the right information, rumors quickly spread, people make decisions based on bad or no information, and humanitarians lack a clear understanding of the needs of the affected population. In the extreme, social unrest and disease outbreaks can quickly spread.

Humanitarian information must also serve as a two-way channel, with the needs of the affected population feeding back to the humanitarian community, so decisions can be made to deploy relatively scarce resources effectively. A functional information environment holds aid providers to account and increases transparency about how response funds are spent.

In recent days, Internews’ well-established country team in Haiti has launched a full scale Humanitarian Information Service as part of the overall international response. 

Internews staff are travelling in the hardest hit areas to carry out a technical evaluation of damages sustained by radio stations. Read the preliminary findings.

In the days and weeks to come, Internews will be training and supporting national journalists to provide life-saving information to devastated communities as they seek to connect with the resources and assistance they need to stay safe, avoid health threats, and start to rebuild and recover. We also be working with UN agencies and other humanitarian responders to help them better communicate with many thousands of people, and to seek community feedback on the aid response.

Damaged radio tower in Haiti (credit: Ben Noble/Internews)

“As the media and communications networks are hard hit, people are having a hard time finding out what is going on. There is already a lot of inaccurate information and rumor flying around,” says Internews Country Representative Ben Noble. “Many Internews trained journalists have the skills to give their communities news they can use. It’s really important that we continue to mentor and support them to do accurate and responsible reporting, and keep feedback loops open between communities and humanitarian responders.”

Over 35 media outlets have so far reported damages that have taken them off air and disabled their capacity to relaying critical lifesaving information to the affected communities. People in worst-hit areas are currently unable to receive information through media or to exchange information on mobile phones. Their isolation is compounded by current challenges for aid workers in physically reaching the critically affected areas. Internews is working with local partners to reestablish the information networks that can meet the local information needs as rapidly as possible.

“We’re pleased to be working, once again, as part of the British Government’s approach to funding rapid response projects in humanitarian emergencies,” said Daniel Bruce, CEO for Internews in Europe. “This timely and nimble support allows us to immediately tackle the significant communication challenges in emergencies, which if left unaddressed can seriously hamper the rest of the response. The international aid community learnt a huge amount about disaster communications after the catastrophic Haiti earthquake in 2010, where thousands of people were simply ‘left in the dark’. We’re hopeful the response to Hurricane Matthew will be very different.”

Please help us to increase our support to the victims of Hurricane Matthew; donate online today at Global Giving.

(Banner photo courtesy of United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH))

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