As the Bank and others prepare their response plans for Haiti, it is worthwhile taking a moment to stress the importance of media and communication in the aftermath of the disaster, as well as in the more long-term post-crisis reconstruction period.
In both post-conflict and natural disaster situations, donors focus on filling people’s basic needs: shelter, sustenance, medical care. But there is another basic need that people have in emergencies: information. People need to find out if their loved ones are safe, and if so, how they can communicate with them. They need to find out where they can access basic services. They need to find out if it is safe to go back to their homes, and if not, where they can stay. And in the longer term, they need to reconnect with others in society, to come together to rebuild a nation.
Unfortunately, in many post-conflict and disaster situations, the media and communication sector is one of the last to be addressed in systematic fashion. Typically, communication interventions are inserted awkwardly into the reconstruction process, with purely tactical and/or expedient choices taking precedence over strategic decision-making. While this is to be expected in the immediate aftermath of a crisis, it tends to persist even well into the sustained period of reconstruction and recovery.
As assessment teams begin to roll out and long-term plans are laid, donors have a chance to think strategically about the role of media and communications in Haiti’s recovery and longer-term development. This means not merely setting up emergency public information units, but thinking about the long-term impact of media such as emergency radio stations; how these stations and other crisis media can or should form a bridge to a future revitalized media sector; and how a revitalized media sector can support good governance and development for Haiti in the years to come.
This may seem like a lot to digest, especially now while people are still dealing with the terrible reality of death and destruction. But donors are already considering long-term development issues as they prepare assessment and short-term stabilization teams. This is an area that should not be overlooked.
For more information, see last year's CommGAP paper "Towards a New Model: Media and Communication in Post-Conflict and Fragile States"
Photo Credit: United Nations Development Programme (on Flickr)