How Better Communication is Helping the Rohingya

Photo: UN-Women/Allison-Joyce-(CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0)

Photo: UN-Women/Allison-Joyce-(CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0)

The arrival of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in Bangladesh in 2017 presented an enormous challenge for local and international responders. As one aid worker from MSF put it: “You would set up a clinic on one day and the next day, literally overnight, a completely new camp with thousands of people had sprung up just next to it. It was impossible to keep up.”

One of these challenges: lack of information. An initial assessment in 2017 found that “more than three quarters (77%) of the affected population feel that they do not have enough information to make good decisions, and almost two-thirds (62%) report that they are unable to communicate with aid providers.” (emphasis: me)

BBC Media Action Rohingya Project Activities

Project activities (click to zoom)

Since then, Internews, BBC Media Action and Translators without Borders have established a common platform through which organisations can share information with the Rohingya and the host communities and through which the Rohingya and host communities can give feedback to the aid providers. BBC Media Action has now published a report that looks at how effective this common service is.

After surveying 1,500 people, they found that “access to information has increased, with the majority of Rohingya people (84%) and host community (89%) reporting that they have enough information to make decisions for themselves and their families.”

While access to information seems to have improved significantly, the numbers are not as clear when it comes to how feedback mechanisms have improved. However, 42% of the Rohingya community said that there were no barriers (such as language barriers) to them providing feedback, and of those who did provide feedback, 82% said they were happy with what happened in response to their feedback.

Sources of information

The report also looked at the main information sources of the Rohingya community. Similar to other contexts, face-to-face information from trusted, personal contacts such as village elders or family members rated highest. What I found particularly interesting was that the perception of the mahjis (community leaders) as trusted information sources had increased significantly since they were systematically included in both information sharing and the feedback loop. On the other hand, something I would have liked to hear more about is mobile phone usage in the camp, which was hardly mentioned at all.

In summary: investing in communication with affected communities works. We should try it – and resource it – more often!

Download: How Effective is Communication in the Rohingya Crisis? (PDF)