By Ly Nguyen, IFRC

In times of emergency when people are living in fear and uncertainty, good communication between humanitarian organisations and affected communities is crucial. The public looks to organizations like the Red Cross as a reliable source of information and in the wake of the April 25 earthquake, the Nepal Red Cross Society has strengthened its use of traditional as well as social media to share information relating to the disaster with earthquake survivors.

Since the earthquake, the Nepal Red Cross Society has consistently updated its Facebook page with relevant and useful information. The page includes multimedia content as well as posts in English and Nepali, making it user-friendly for a wide audience.  The Facebook page provides an interactive platform for community engagement, with practical advice on a range of issues including safe housing and the correct use of tarpaulins; maternal health and hygiene promotion; and how to register missing people or search for relatives through the Red Cross restoring family links service.  The most shared content is being seen by around one million people per week in Nepal and within five weeks, the number of followers on the page has increased five fold, from 6,000 prior to the earthquake, to nearly 29,000, many of whom are actively participating in discussions on the page.

The Nepal Red Cross is also utilizing traditional media, particularly radio. Twice a week the Red Cross broadcasts its own radio programmes providing information on the earthquake situation. In the immediate aftermath of the quake, information and advice was provided on first aid, search and rescue, ambulance services and blood donation. Red Cross volunteers in the field were also invited to report on the situation in their local areas and how the Red Cross could help affected communities.

The focus of the radio programmes has now shifted slightly towards information on sectors where the Red Cross is scaling up its activities, such as water and sanitation and hygiene promotion and psychosocial support. The programmes now feature success stories to bring hope to communities and inform them about the positive actions that are being done to help those in need. Its most recent programmes are on the child-friendly spaces established by the Red Cross to help restore a sense of normality for children. The assistance provided by the Red Cross to support people with disabilities has also been featured.

Since the first radio programme started in 2004 with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and later the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the programmes reach an average audience of 150,000 people each year through a total of 582 episodes. Each 15 minute programme is aired every Tuesday on FM stations across 25 districts. Another 30 minute programme is aired every Saturday through three FM stations which cover most of the country.

The Nepal Red Cross web site has also been utilized as a tool for feedback and interaction with the public. Questions, complaints and requests received through Facebook, the web site and via SMS provide the basis for developing the content of the radio programmes which are announced and published on Facebook.

Since the earthquake, the Nepal Red Cross Society headquarters has also developed Public Service Announcement messages (PSAs) on water and sanitation, psychosocial support, restoration of family links, dead body management and respect of the Red Cross emblem. These have been distributed to 25 community radio stations.

“Through these programmes, we have been able to enhance the image of the Red Cross among the public and also promote safer access for humanitarian workers to carry out relief activities in Nepal”, said Pushpa Khanal, officer at the Nepal Red Cross Society communication and humanitarian values department who is in charge of the radio programmes.

According to Dibya Poudel, head of the communication and humanitarian values department, the next step is to develop better infrastructure and build the capacity of the Red Cross community engagement programme to make communications programmes more interactive and participatory towards enhancing the organization’s accountability towards beneficiaries.