On August 24th, 2014 the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) daily report had this opening paragraph “There is no safe place in Gaza. The bombardment of populated areas continues day and night, with the IDF sending messages through leaflets, phone calls or mobile phone texts warning civilians to stay away from terrorists and terror infrastructure as the IDF will continue their attacks.” Since the beginning of the hostilities there have been around 2,000 casualties in between the population in Gaza, 1,450 – 70 per cent – are believed to be civilians, including 482 children and 250 women."
According to UNRWA and other UN agencies the number of Internally Displaces People in Gaza stands today at around 500,000, almost a third of the population. With the new ceasefire in place as of yesterday, people in Gaza and humanitarian organizations are starting to think about what it is next and how to move towards a sustainable and rapid recovery for the population of Gaza.
Internews started the Gaza Humanitarian Information Service project at the beginning of August, thanks to a rapid response funding from DFID. The program aims at providing affected communities in Gaza with reliable, verified and timely information that can support them in making better-informed decisions. To do so, Internews used an already proved and tested approach that is based on different components and different communication channels (see here for more information about the activities and components of the project).
On the technology side this translates in what we call an Integrated Information System, meaning a system that relies on different technological tools specifically chosen on the bases of information needs, targeted audience and technology access.
1. Radio. The most important tool we are using to provide information – or better news-you-can-use – to the population in Gaza, is radio. A 1 hour daily program called Jossor ma'Gaza (Bridges with Gaza) is broadcasted every day in both the West Bank and Gaza by 9 radio stations. The program is also re-broadcasted during the day at different times by the same radios, while the headlines are also picked up by Palestine TV.
2. Facebook. FB is widely used in Palestine, especially by young people. Our first preliminary assessment of how people are using it showed that the conversation in FB is very polarized and very political, while in the same time poor of valuable information about aid delivery. For this reason we created a FB page specifically looking at how to provide people with actionable information that people can use in addition to information about the services provided in the Gaza Strip.
3. Twitter. Twitter is not widely used in Palestine so we decided that while we want to use it as a channel, it will be more focused on a specific audience, which is the international community, including the general public and the donors. The Twitter account is therefore used more as a way to raise awareness of the work being done by the Jossor ma’ Gaza staff and to share public official data on the needs of the population in Gaza, and for this reason is mainly used in English.
You Tube. To reach a broader audience and allow people to re-use the audio files as they want, we have created a You Tube Channel where everyday the daily show is uploaded as a video. People can download it and re-use it as they like.
SMS. Thanks to a collaboration with Souktel, Internews created a citizens feedback mechanism specifically looking at information needs and feedback on humanitarian aid. The SMS channel has 2 short codes, for the two mobile providers covering both the West Bank and Gaza, and it is managed through an online portal. For every SMS coming in there is an SMS going out with a thank you message. The SMS system is used mainly to receive questions from the local population on services provided or need of information, and to gather feedback of what has been or not provided to them. As the system was just launched today, we will see how this works in the incoming days.
Mobile App Zello. This is one of the most interesting tolls that journalists in Gaza are using – and have been using much before Internews started the HIS project. Basically Zello is a walkie-talkie application that allows you to create a channel to talk in real time to your friends over a data plan. The applications allow to add as many people as you want to a channel and to give them permissions to either speak to everyone or just listen. Around 300 journalists in Gaza have been using it for the past 2 months to coordinate their information during the war. Only journalists that are vetted and that have provided verified information are allowed to have their messages public on the app. Everyone else can listen and if they want to broadcast something, their voice message will be vetted by the administrator before it is made public on the app. Right now the journalists are using this app to share information broadcasted by the Radio Program and to share important verified information when the program is not on air.
Weekly Newsletter. The information that HIS collects specifically from the local population in Gaza through all of the above mentioned channels is then shared back with the humanitarian community via a weekly newsletter. The newsletter summarizes all the main important feedback gathered in the previous week but also the topics that the radio will be covering in the following week.
In the ICT4D community we often talk about how there is not one tool that fits all needs or all audiences. This is the reason why Internews try as often as possible to create diversified information systems that provide targeted information to different audiences using different tools. This is only possible when a comprehensive assessment of the technical gaps and information needs is done on the ground before the implementation of the project, or at least while the project is being implemented, so that it is possible to adjust the deliverables and the outputs of the project to fit different and complementary needs.
If you want to know more about the outcome of this methodology in the Gaza project, stay tuned!