India - Developing capacities to respond in post-crisis situations through information exchange
Primary thematic focus: Capacity challenges in post-crisis and transitional situations
In a Nutshell:
In a post-humanitarian disaster situation timely and accurate information, in forms that can be used for decision making by various stakeholders, builds capacities to mount an efficient, appropriate and equitable response. The information exchange and communication strategy following the 2004 tsunami provides countries a model in disaster response.
The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami brought devastation to costal communities in Southern Indian states. Nagapattinam, in Tamil Nadu state was the worst affected district. The challenge in post-crisis situation is management of relief and rehabilitation efforts. On the demand side, the scale of damages is large, needs of affected communities is varied (food, shelter, health, etc.). The situation is dynamic and needs change frequently. On the supply side, there are a plethora of aid agencies and volunteers bringing money, manpower and material with little understanding or control over effective distribution. Given the lack of grass-root level information, many affected people get left out. In such conditions information becomes critical to capacitate stakeholders to develop a response which is efficient and inclusive of all affected communities, especially the marginalised and voiceless.
An innovative public-private partnership mechanism called NGO Coordination and Resource Centre was established within a week of the disaster to facilitate coordination of relief and rehabilitation efforts. NCRC developed an Information Exchange and Communication (IEC) model to generate and communicate stakeholder friendly information for effective planning, monitoring and learning to improve the effectiveness of current and future relief and rehabilitation programs in disaster management. The IEC model was a comprehensive network of human and technology interfaces that enabled efficient sourcing of information, information analysis and its dissemination. It was customised to the information needs of different stakeholders. At the community level, a network of Village Information Centres was established to collect and share information with the communities. Information was collected door to door and through village coordination meetings. Each VIC had computer and was linked to the district level unit through wireless intranet, which was then linked to the District Collectorate. This ensured real time updates on village level needs and situations and enabled quick responses. It was a place for the community to secure information on the response. For NGOs, donors and other stakeholders a ‘Front Desk’ was established at the District Collectorate, which stored all publications and had a ‘touch screen’ computer with a resource library. The front desk provided a communication link between humanitarian organisations and the administration.
At the NCRC office an IEC unit operated to receive information from all quarters, analyse and communicate it thorough stakeholder friendly media. Data management in the system was through technology that was easy to develop, modify, access and work with such as spreadsheets and web-page development software. Communication media, included document, paper based media (posters, books, newsletters, exhibitions), verbal (explaining through teams, meetings) electronic (desktop interactive information system, touch-screen, electronic files), web-based (websites) and geo-referencing (GIS was tried). A continuous and concurrent needs assessment was institutionalised to ensure that the information provided was relevant in an environment where needs of stakeholders changed rapidly. Accordingly, the contents of information varied across phases, from accurate information on locations, damages, profiles of communities, exclusions, guidelines during the relief phase; good practices, case studies, disaster preparedness data, vulnerability mapping, progress and outcomes of responses, in the rehabilitation and development phases; systematic research in thematic areas like shelter, livelihoods children, case studies, good practices, process documents, as the development phase moved on. For wider sharing, learning and advocacy efforts linkages were established with other district and state resource centres like TriNet. The entire network built capacities of all stakeholders to plan and execute their response based on credible and updated information. It built transparency and accountability into the system. It provided a model to the country for effective public-private partnership in responding to post-crisis situations and provided lessons for developing disaster risk reduction strategies.
Results and Critical Factors:
The IEC model enabled effective and timely decision making during each of the post-crisis stages based on accurate information. It afforded the government a greater control of the post-crisis chaotic situation and enabled it to focus on control in few critical areas like shelter and adopt a laissez faire approach in other areas The capacity to plan relief on a daily basis was enhanced, ensuring that aid was being provided as required and exclusions – geographic, community and material were small. During the rehabilitation and development phase, research studies, thematic workshops, process documentation enabled improved understanding of field situations and needs post-crisis and the prospects to “build back better”. Information on progress of initiatives like shelter construction contributed to improved planning, problem solving, and greater transparency. Capacities of different stakeholders to network towards more efficient responses were built. Information sharing capacitated the communities to demand and secure their entitlements and participate in decision making related to lives and livelihoods. The success of the IEC was reported in the Canadian World Cross “World Disaster report 2005” which focused on the theme: information in disasters. The report stated that “In India, local networks such as the Nagapattinam Coordination Cell proved highly effective in exchanging information between affected communities and disaster response officials.”
The model was successful because of:
- Openness of the district administration to allow and support coordination efforts.
- Strong leadership driving the coordination and information efforts, which was representative of affected communities, experienced in post-crisis response, and brought complementary skills of technology, community mobilisation project and information management, and communication.
- Dynamic nature of the model to address to changing needs, especially in the relief and rehabilitation phases. The feedback process enabled capture and response to needs as they arose.
- Combination of human and technology interface ensured that technology was efficiently and optimally utilised without alienating communities and organisations who had knowledge and access constraints.
- Timely, appropriate and adequate information with a quick turnaround (sometimes less than a day) from collection, analysis and sharing.
- Stakeholder friendly, ready-to-use products.
- An institutional mechanism that was flexible and multi-disciplinary.
Name of Primary Contact Person: Siddhi Mankad
Title of Primary Contact Person: Manager