Information saves lives in humanitarian emergencies, UN official stresses

26 March 2009

When a crisis or disaster strikes, the victims not only need rapid assistance with food, water, shelter and safety, but fast and effective information describing the situation on the ground, a senior United Nations humanitarian official told a panel discussion in New York today.

“The right information is crucial to being able to make the right decisions, particularly when one’s life has been turned upside down by events outside of one’s control,” stressed UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Catherine Bragg in her opening remarks to participants at the meeting.

The discussion, under the banner “Left in the Dark: The Unmet Need for Communication in Humanitarian Response,” focused on the information needs of populations affected by natural disasters and man-made crises.

When Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar in May last year, it was weeks before local humanitarian relief efforts were reinforced by an international response. However, in that time information outlets provided a life-saving service, according to the UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Dedicated radio broadcasts helped many to survive in those first critical weeks, telling them how to purify water, treat minor ailments, identify serious medical problems and build basic shelters.

“For people in remote areas of developing countries who may be cut off from help for weeks at a time if a disaster strikes, information is literally a life-saving resource,” said Ms. Bragg, who is also Assistant-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.

Participants at the meeting shared examples of cases where crucial information has successfully reached people caught up in emergency humanitarian situations through the UN, Member States, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The meeting, hosted by OCHA with the BBC World Service Trust and Internews, is part of an ongoing process aiming to make effective two-way communication with affected populations common practice during crises.


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