In need of words: Using local languages improves comprehension for people affected by Cyclone Idai in Beira, Mozambique


Survivors of Cyclone Idai: 33% do not have information they understand

Humanitarian responders need to use local languages to communicate effectively with crisis-affected people living in Beira, Mozambique

DANBURY, Conn., USA – 23 May, 2019. Translators without Borders (TWB) found that 33% of people surveyed in Beira, Mozambique lack the information they need following Cyclone Idai, in a language they understand.

Humanitarian responders should understand the communication needs and preferences of people affected by Cyclone Idai and design their programs accordingly to help people rebuild their lives.

TWB conducted the survey in April 2019 in Beira, Mozambique, following the March 2019 cyclone that impacted an estimated 1.85 million people. The survey found that local languages like Sena, Ndau, and Chwabo are the most widely used and understood languages in temporary relocation sites in Beira. They are much better understood than even Portuguese, the country's official language. People in these sites prefer to receive information in audio format. Posters and leaflets are helpful forms of written communication, since people can later reference the information.

Key findings from the assessment include:

  • 41% of people do not understand written Portuguese, the main language of humanitarian communication.

  • 65% of women of all ages and 57% of people of both sexes over the age of 50 do not understand written information in any language.

  • 44% of women do not understand spoken Portuguese.

Given the complex language needs and low literacy throughout Mozambique, cyclone-affected people in other parts of the country will face similar communication challenges. Humanitarian responders should understand and customize the communication needs and preferences of affected people in the areas in which they are working.

The assessment follows initial language support provided by TWB in the region. To better facilitate communication between humanitarians and crisis-affected people, TWB provided language mapping and translation of humanitarian documents for various organizations. These include the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Save the Children, and OCHA.

The assessment is supported by the H2H Fund, a funding mechanism for H2H Network members supported by UK aid from the UK government.

About Translators without Borders

Translators without Borders (TWB) envisions a world where knowledge knows no language barriers. The US-based non-profit provides people access to vital knowledge in their language by connecting non-profit organizations with a community of language professionals, building local language solutions and raising awareness of the power of language. Originally founded in 1993 in France (as Traducteurs sans Frontières), TWB translates millions of words of life-saving and life-changing information a year.

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