When I worked at Dadaab
Refugee camp in northern Kenya, I saw how refugees would day in, day out tune
into the BBC Somali Service and crowd around our agency information board to
find out the latest news. Communication, it was obvious, is
This was forefront in my
mind last week in Nairobi when the BBC Media Action team and I took part in the
launch of the annual World
Disasters Report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red
This year, the report
examines the profound impact of technological innovations on humanitarian
action. We were at the event to show how media and humanitarian responders can
work jointly together – the aim of our current project in
Our key message to those
attending the event was how important it is to create two-way communications -
and we developed an interactive demonstration to show how to do it.
A hands-on demo
We came up with a
scenario: a disastrous flood had hit the Nyando region in Kenya, an area
perennially affected by flooding.
The media and humanitarian
staff at the launch were then set the task of creating a mini radio station and
airing a live lifeline programme.
The participants were at
first a little daunted. But with our team’s help, they succeeded in creating a
programme that provided practical information to affected communities, such as
where food aid was available and how people could avoid water-borne diseases
and trace displaced family members.
The programme also
interviewed a woman affected by the flooding – played by an actress – who told
how her son was missing since the floods and her younger daughter was in
hospital with cholera.
in a crisis
We showed how to
communicate with affected communities during a crisis – and the important ways
in which Lifeline programming differs from day to day journalism: it is for
affected people and not about them, as such every second of airtime must
offer something that will in some way help them cope with or improve their
Participants learned how
to handle interviews sensitively with people affected by a disaster and we
emphasised the importance of investing in portable equipment which can be used
during a humanitarian crisis when infrastructure may be destroyed.
But our key message was
how important it is to place affected people at the forefront of such lifeline
programming. Many of the participants acknowledged that all too often
emergency responses through the media are purely one-way and that local media
sources need support to do better two-way communication.
So we ensured that the
participants knew how important it was to incorporate the voices of
affected people into the programme, so they can share their experience,
express their needs and concerns, ask questions and have space to hold relief
providers to account.
We also showed
participants how to provide contact details to enable people to get in touch
with the programme makers at a later date and interact with the output. We
emphasised that this was key!
Importance of listening
We were thrilled at the
response. "The work that BBC Media Action is doing with disaster-affected
communities is nothing short of excellent. I am impressed with the
presentation, the radio simulation that you put together and the special
lifeline programme," Rocco Nuri from the UNHCR Innovation team in Nairobi told
We were also careful to listen to the participants' input about how we could
make lifeline programming more responsive and learned how strongly people felt
that both media and humanitarian agencies should work closely together in
For example, the findings
from Joint Needs Assessment processes (in which agencies gather information
about the needs of disaster-affected communities) will help us develop
programme content that is well-tailored to our audiences, in the same way that
it helps other relief providers define what kind of aid they should to supply
The most important thing I
learned was that we must listen, work with other actors in the field and remain
in tune with the changing ways in which humanitarian support is delivered.