Iraq's Displaced People Need Information, Not Only Food, Water and Shelter, says Report

Women with a group of children in a shelter
Nergz (left) and her family fled Shingal. They have lived in an overcrowded unfinished building together with 85 people. In late August, they moved into a tent donated by an INGO. (credit: Tiril Skarstein/NRC)

(Erbil, Iraq, 17 September 2014) - A new report released today by a consortium of UN agencies, NGOs and media development organisations highlights the importance of access to information for Iraqi communities and their ability to cope with the current humanitarian crisis.  

"Communicating with, and providing information to, people affected by the crisis are two of the most important elements of humanitarian response," Kevin Kennedy, Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, said.

The report follows a rapid assessment of information and communication needs carried out in northern Iraq in August. Its findings reveal that displaced Iraqis often have only limited access to conflicting and broken information regarding the provision of and access to basic services.

"Our needs are not only food and water, we want to know about our future."

According to the report, the priority information needs among displaced people are threefold:  more information about their places of origin and family members who were left behind; better information on aid services, criteria and procedures for registering for assistance and information about the future including the possibility of resettlement and asylum.

Although information is not always accessible, internally displaced people (IDPs) and host communities have been proactive at using existing communication channels, especially mobile phones, to reach out to family members. Misinformation is a particular concern in a conflict zone where community perception and access are key.

The situation is particularly acute for women. In some locations, women reported having no direct access to communication channels such as mobile phones, and overall limited information about assistance. "Sometimes we don't know that distributions are taking place," said one woman at the Baharka IDP camp on the outskirts of Erbil.

Following the community consultations in Erbil, Dahuk and Suleymaniyah governorates, the report calls on aid agencies to strengthen their information sharing and their ability to listen to those affected. These include increasing the information flow and dialogue between displaced communities, host communities and the humanitarian community, and improving the capacity of responders to listen to those affected. In turn, humanitarian aid will be made more effective.

"Iraq's population is educated and literacy rates are high," said Kevin Kennedy, Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq. "We expect humanitarian organizations to reach out to local media networks and other existing communication channels to ensure that affected communities are well informed about developments affecting their daily lives and their future."

Common activities to support information sharing and the collection of feedback, such as radio programmes, hotlines and community preferred communications channels also require support, ensuring that the needs and languages of both those in camps and in host communities are considered. 

"Once again, an information vacuum is impacting communities affected by crisis," said Brendan Gormley, chair of the Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) Network. "Communication is aid, and the CDAC Network exists to ensure that it becomes a predictable, consistent and resourced element of every response. Therefore, it is critical at this time that the humanitarian country team in Iraq includes support for communicating with communities work in the Strategic Response Plan."

The assessment team comprised of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), World Vision International and media development organisation Internews, with support from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the World Food Programme (WFP). The consultation was undertaken following a request by humanitarian aid agencies operating in Iraq to the Community of Practice of the CDAC Network.

The CDAC Network is a cross-sector initiative between aid agencies, UN organizations, the Red Cross Movement, media development organizations and technology providers that recognizes information and two-way communication as key humanitarian deliverables.

Read the full report: Understanding the Information and Communication Needs among IDPs in Northern Iraq

For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

In Erbil:
Sarah Mace, Coordinator, Communications with Communities, UNOCHA | +964 (0) 7508470628 | @SarahMace

In London:
Jacobo Quintanilla, Director, Humanitarian Communication Programs, Internews, | +44 7791553744 @jqg

Madara Hettiarachchi, Associate Director, Humanitarian Accountability, World Vision International | +44 7775517941 | ‪@madzUK

In New York:
Alexandra Sicotte-Levesque, Global Coordinator, Communications with Communities, UNOCHA, | +1 917 3672729 | ‪@alexandrasl

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