Pakistan: Giving flood survivors a voice

29 November 2010

Kathy Mueller, IFRC Communications Delegate, Pakistan

"Ready in 3, 2, 1... take camera two, you're on," commands the producer of the Pakistan Red Crescent's first ever live television show. And with that, the light on the camera turns red, and "Voice of Awareness", the televised component of the beneficiary communications programme is launched.

The Red Cross programme is designed to open up two-way dialogue with the millions of people who survived the monsoon floods in July.

"It is critical that we give people a voice," says Will Rogers, beneficiary communications delegate with the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies. "We have a responsibility to engage beneficiaries in conversation. Getting their input can help us deliver aid more effectively, and ensure that the aid which is delivered meets their needs."

The programme is based on models initiated in Indonesia following the tsunami, and developed further in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. Because not everyone can be reached through one medium, the beneficiary communications programme relies on a mix of old and new communication methods to reach its intended audience; radio, television, print and 'sms' messaging.

In Pakistan, the hour-long interactive weekly radio show, the first in the history of Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS), and the 30-minute television show not only cover the Red Cross response to the monsoon floods, they feature phone calls and feedback from viewers and listeners, while also providing a mechanism for the delivery of public service announcements focusing on issues such as hygiene promotion and disaster preparedness. During the first radio show callers from across the country asked general questions about the Red Cross relief effort, while others commented on the lack of a girls' school in their area.

Both shows utilize the skills of volunteers with the PRCS gender programme. The young, energetic university students are responsible for developing programme content and lining up guests. "These shows are allowing us to communicate directly with flood-affected communities," says 24 year old Sadia Jamil. "By providing a platform for them to voice their concerns, we can help find the best solution to resolve their problems."

The 'sms' component of the beneficiary communications programme is expected to be launched in mid-December, the first time it will be used outside of Haiti, where it was developed. Text messages will be sent to the mobile phones of millions of flood affected men and women, in regions where PRCS and IFRC are working. Questions will also be asked about Red Cross programming, to determine whether it is hitting the mark. If programming needs to be adjusted, based on the responses received, it will be. "Sometimes those who are recovering from a disaster never really know that somebody cares for them," says Dr. Munis Sajid, deputy director of the PRCS gender programme. "They may be living in a village that has yet to receive aid. Or aid workers may have come and gone after having conducted their distributions. This programme will allow us to continue to have contact with the people we are helping long after the aid workers have gone home. It will allow us to continue to assist them. Sometimes, listening is the best way to help someone cope with the trauma of a disaster."

The beneficiary communications programme is one arm of the IFRC and PRCS response to the July floods. Other programmes focus on the provision of shelter, food, health care and clean water to more than one million people, all survivors of the devastating floods. These programmes will continue through July 2012.