Communication: Integral to disaster recovery
According to the World Bank, the Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. Ten million people are affected by natural disasters every year, and P177 billion are lost from typhoons and earthquakes. Recently, we felt the wrath of Typhoon “Karding,” the country’s 11th tropical cyclone for 2022. Though there is now very little news about its aftermath, many communities are still recovering from the damages caused by strong winds and floods.
Typhoons, earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions, landslides are no longer unusual to us. We have been learning how to recover fast and build back better. Recovery is not easy, as there are just too many demands and challenges, especially at the community level, where the disaster is mostly felt by the old, women, children, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups.
One of the challenges of recovery is communicating between the affected people and the government authorities at the local and national level. Depending on the extent of destruction and damages, the media, local and international donors, and civil society organizations may also deserve attention, so communicating with them would be equally important.
Communication should be an integral part of the recovery process, yet it is most often taken for granted. Every local government unit (LGU) should have a communication strategy in place, even before a disaster happens. A team should be ready to be activated once a disaster hits. This team should be able to quickly assess the situation, determine the first official messages, identify a spokesperson, and determine the best ways to send out the information.
A communication plan can be immediately drawn from a communication strategy based on a sound analysis of the context of the LGU or community. Who are the opinion leaders in the community who have influence on the attitudes and behavior of the people? Who should you be communicating with during the recovery process? What is the best way to communicate to the people—how do they get their information? And how can we get timely feedback from the community?
When a disaster hits, it is important for the people not to lose hope and to trust the authorities managing the recovery process. The goal of a good communication strategy is to inject hope among the victims of the calamity and build their trust on the authorities and the process, so they can act on their own recovery and seek help when needed. Even before a disaster hits, the local chief executives should already know how to gather, analyze, send, and evaluate information. Messages should be clear, relevant, focused on the target audience, and timely. This does not mean that we should be contented with one-way communication and messages that only make politicians look good. Bawal umepal. To earn the trust of the communities, it’s important that they are free to ask questions, voice their views and opinions, including unfavorable ones to the authorities, and, of course, receive a timely response.
Here are some tips from the Disaster Recovery Guidance Series published by the World Bank’s Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme and the European Union:
Be quick in disseminating early messages about the recovery activities and how to get information and assistance from the government. If possible, provide an initial assessment of the situation and steps for recovery. This sends the message that you are on top of the situation, and you can be trusted. You may not be able to control the onset of a disaster, but you can certainly manage your response.
Validate their feelings and express your care and concern. Empathy is much needed at this stage.
Update and communicate regularly. Assign a credible spokesperson. Sometimes it’s the mayor, but he might be too busy attending to his constituents.
Use the appropriate channels and tactics to reach out to your target constituencies. A blast text message may be the quickest way to communicate to some communities, but in areas with weak internet, it’s better to tap respected local leaders to relay information. Use existing networks of communication, like local churches, civic organizations, women’s groups.
Monitor the flow of information and feedback from communities, and address the spread of rumors or wrong information. Nip misinformation in the bud through immediate feedback.
Be flexible. The situation may change, and what was urgent and necessary in the beginning may change over time. Adjust your messages and delivery channels accordingly.
Remember that information sharing is just the beginning. Constant engagement with the communities, which results in empowering the people to help themselves recover, is the ultimate goal of communication during the recovery process.
Lesley Jeanne Y. Cordero is a lawyer and senior disaster risk management specialist at the World Bank. Leonora Aquino-Gonzales teaches in UP College of Mass Communication and used to work at the World Bank as senior communication specialist.