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Assessment: Local media landscape and information needs of Ivoirian refugees in eastern Liberia

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(May 4, 2011) Internews’ assessment along Liberia’s eastern border with Cote d’Ivoire, where more than 150,000 Ivoirians have fled the violence at home, makes several recommendations for how the international aid community, along with local media organizations and telecommunications companies, can better meet the information needs of Ivoirian refugees.

Watch a video from Liberia.

The Internews Assessment Team, in Liberia from April 6-17, determined that the majority of refugees, especially women, have received little to no news about the situation in Cote d'Ivoire, although their access to such information about the ongoing situation might help them to determine when it is safe for them to return home. The best sources for such information are radio or mobile phones, both of which are in short supply among refugees and host communities.

Internews’ recommendations include:

Distribution of wind-up radio sets to refugees and host communities, who have nominal access to the relevant news that is available, albeit limited, in French and local dialects

Distribution of megaphones and bicycles to local representatives responsible for delivering humanitarian information to refugee and host communities.

Assistance to local radio stations to increase coverage of both the conflict in Cote d’Ivoire and the refugee situation in Liberia, which affects the host community as well as the refugees.

Establishment of listening stations or loud speaker systems within refugee camps, transit centers, and food distribution points, to play recorded programs specifically developed for the refugee population.

Development of comprehensive and coordinated two-way communication strategies with refugees and host communities, including systematic mechanisms for feedback and complaints, to enable real participation of refugee and host communities in the relief efforts and measure the impact and perception of humanitarian interventions.

The assessment team interviewed 224 refugees directly to gain information on their access to information and their information needs. Nearly half of women and men said they view the radio as their most trusted source of information, if news were available in French or a native dialect.

Sixty-four percent of men and 39% of women know how to read an SMS on a mobile phone, indicating that bulk SMS messages may be a viable communications option, though the lack of mobiles with access remains a problem, especially for women, of whom only 4% reported access to a functioning cellphone.

In fact, there are stark differences between male and female access to information, by any means. 30% of men said they had access to a radio, but only 8% of women did. (Related news: Women Encounter Additional Barriers to Information).

As part of its assessment, Internews organized an initial meeting between the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), UNICEF, and the World Food Program (WFP) with Lonestar Cell, one of two GSM providers who have the greatest number of cell towers in the refugee area. While both the telecom companies and humanitarian agencies were eager to collaborate, Internews found an existing lack of communication between the humanitarian actors and private telecommunications companies.

Internews assesses information needs based on a comprehensive and two-way communications flow between refugees and those providing aid. In addition to examining how the humanitarian community can best distribute messages about aid availability, the comprehensive approach also asks of refugees: What information are you receiving? What would you like to receive more information about? What source of information do you trust? What tools of communication do you have access to? In what language do you prefer to hear communication?

“Aid agencies are increasingly recognizing that the effectiveness and efficiency of their emergency responses and development programs can be greatly enhanced, or undermined, by sustained dialogue with local communities, or the lack of it,” says Jacobo Quintanilla, Internews Director of Humanitarian Media. “Without participation in the response, affected communities cannot ask questions or make informed decisions, and they cannot inform, guide or direct the services intended to support them,” said Quintanilla.

Internews’ assessment in Liberia was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation.