Humanitarian action in Post-Disaster scenarios -Disseminating knowledge and demanding accountability

Lou Orchard –  Humanitarian action in urban areas is highly politicized, and complex. Unilateral Aid Organisations, Multilateral Aid Organisations, NGOs, INGOS, Non-profit organisations, the Government, and those affected by the event, are all stakeholders in post-disaster humanitarian action. Only one, the Government, is accountable to those affected. In contexts where the Government behaves in an ineffective manner, it is even more crucial to disseminate information and communicate with citizens. Communication is fundamental to build trust and ownership and should not be restricted to matters regarding the built environment.

Recommendations:

  • Local language used and minimum communication standards created and enforced using a variety of methods to access the entire population particularly the most vulnerable.
  • Create ownership by holding public consultations regarding expectations and needs of population, not limited to the built environment.
  • Challenge vertically organised institutions to create culture of transparency and feedback mechanisms with those impacted by all current and future projects.
  • Ensure priorities of humanitarian efforts in the year following the event are cohesive with long-term development strategies and will not leave those affected without support after initial funding is depleted. Demand and participate in programmes that promote capacity building within the government and public bodies to create long term stability avoiding dependence on external actors.

Background

We are living in an increasingly hazardous world; disasters are causing more damage than ever before. More than half of the world’s population live in cities and this rapid urbanisation has vastly increased vulnerability. In the event of a disaster, psychologically dealing with the trauma is magnified by the confusing new social, physical and organisational infrastructures that appear over night. Since Haiti’s earthquake in January 2010 killing over 220,000 people, $6 billion (estimate) has been donated, with 1% reaching the government’s humanitarian efforts [1]. A vast unaccountable infrastructure of private enterprises and NGOs has developed alongside widespread dissent and confusion at the little progress made in reconstruction. A well-recognised factor in the management of post-disaster redevelopment is communication. Communication with those affected, especially once the emergency situation has passed, is far from acceptable. Citizen engagement encourages better understanding and ownership of their circumstances – and increases the ability to act on it.

Lessons Learned

Communication in humanitarian action is key to success, some stand out themes are presented here:

  1. Meaningful communication is needed: Research by the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP) identified in evidence from Haiti that ‘few agencies communicate meaningfully with affected communities, including sharing information and listening to those they are seeking to help [2].
  2. Simple strategies are key: the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) used notice boards, help lines, sound trucks and others in Haiti to ‘mitigate conflict and build trust through dialogue’. Helplines were particularly useful for people to communicate [3]
  3. Cooperation embedded in policy: changes were made between Japan’s last two major earthquakes to facilitate the growth of civil society and cooperation between NGOs, Civil society and the government to create communication channels and a coordinated response [4].

Policy and Advocacy Implications for ASF

Given that talk and dialogue is integral to building trust, practitioners must rethink how their role may contribute towards the reconstruction of built environment. Although many practitioners are equipped with a strong background of technical skills and knowledge, it is important to note that they should consider themselves as an individual with valuable skills instead of a technician [5].

Communications may be distorted through employing their technical and expert language. Practitioners should facilitate citizen’s dialogue and mediate their negotiations, ensuring that users are in control of key decisions and responsible in the reconstruction process and long term development. Delivering this as an open discussion, various parties may reach a better understanding and arrive at social consensus [6] to  collectively generate new steps forward to the reconstruction [7]. Practitioners should not let their professional backgrounds restrict the type of contributions that they make.

Conclusions

Humanitarian action is unaccountable; decisions made immediately and in the year following a disaster are crucial to the long-term development of a place. Demanding meaningful communication with citizens at this stage will ensure that their needs are met and responsibility is placed in the right hands

References

  1.  http://www.cgdev.org/ publication/haiti-where-has-all-money-gone
  2. http://www.hapinternational.org/what-we-do/deployments/2010-haiti.aspx
  3. http://www.ifrc.org/haiti
  4. http://www.japanesestudies.org.uk/ejcjs/vol15/iss1/leng.html
  5. Architecture Sans Frontières -UK Ethics and the Architect in Post Disaster Housing Reconstruction
  6. Jürgen Habermas. 1984.The Theory of Communicative Action.
  7. John Forester, 2013. On the theory and practice of critical pragmatism: Deliberative practice and creative negotiations Planning Theory.
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