According to the World Bank, the Philippines is among the disaster-prone countries in the world. Tens of millions of people are affected by natural disasters each year, and 177 billion pesos are lost to typhoons and earthquakes. Recently, we felt the wrath of Typhoon Karding, the country’s 11th tropical cyclone for 2022. Although there is now very little news of its aftermath, many communities are still recovering from the damage caused by high winds and flooding were caused.
Typhoons, earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions and landslides are no longer uncommon for us. We learned how to recover quickly and rebuild better. Recovery is not easy as there are simply too many demands and challenges, especially at the community level where the impact of the disaster is mostly on the elderly, women, children, the disabled and other marginalized groups.
One of the challenges of recovery is communication between affected people and government agencies at the local and national levels. Depending on the extent of the destruction and damage, the media, local and international donors and civil society organizations also deserve attention, so communicating with them would be just as important.
Communication should be an integral part of the recovery process, but most often it is taken for granted. Every Local Government Unit (LGU) should have a communication strategy in place even before a disaster strikes. A team should be ready to be activated as soon as a disaster strikes. This team should be able to quickly assess the situation, determine the first official messages, identify a spokesperson and determine the best ways to convey the information.
From a communication strategy based on an in-depth analysis of the context of the LGU or community, a communication plan can be created immediately. Who are the opinion leaders in the community that influence people’s attitudes and behavior? Who should you communicate with during the recovery process? What is the best way to communicate with people – how do they get their information? And how can we get timely feedback from the community?
When a disaster strikes, it’s important that people don’t lose hope and trust the authorities who are managing the recovery process. The goal of a good communication strategy is to give hope to the victims of the disaster and to build their trust in the authorities and the process so that they can work towards their own recovery and seek help if needed. Even before a disaster strikes, local business leaders should already know how to collect, analyze, broadcast and evaluate information. Messages should be clear, relevant, targeted to the target audience and timely. That doesn’t mean we should settle for one-way streets and messages that only make politicians look good. Bawal umepal. In order to gain the trust of communities, it is important that they are free to ask questions, express their views and opinions, including negative ones towards 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 partnership with the United Nations Development Program and the European Union:
Be the first to spread the word about recovery activities and how to get government information and support. If possible, provide an initial assessment of the situation and steps for recovery. This sends the message that you are in control of the situation and can be trusted. You may not be able to control the onset of a disaster, but you can certainly control your response.
Validate their feelings and express your caring and concern. Empathy is badly needed at this stage.
Update and communicate regularly. Assign a credible speaker. Sometimes it’s the mayor, but he may be too busy taking care of his constituents.
Use the appropriate channels and tactics to reach your target audiences. A blast text message might be the quickest way to communicate with some communities, but in areas with weak internet it’s better to reach out to reputable local leaders to share information. Use existing communication networks, such as local churches, civic organizations, women’s groups.
Monitor the flow of information and feedback from communities and counter the spread of rumors or false information. Stop misinformation in the bud with instant feedback.
Be flexible. The situation can change, and what was urgent and necessary in the beginning may change over time. Adjust your messages and delivery channels accordingly.
Remember that sharing information is just the beginning. Ongoing engagement with communities that results in empowering people to help themselves in recovery is the ultimate goal of communication during the recovery process.
Lesley Jeanne Y. Cordero is an attorney and disaster risk management expert at the World Bank. Leonora Aquino-Gonzales teaches at the UP College of Mass Communication and formerly worked at the World Bank as a senior communications specialist.
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