(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Spreading the news to IDPs

Sathiyavani Subramaniam (right) and Jean Arthy, two radio field producers for Internew’s  Lifeline program bring information to communities of displaced Sri Lankans in the north and east of the country.
Internews/Lifeline

People receiving emergency relief rarely know exactly what is available for them, or how to access it.  For many people escaping violence in Sri Lanka's war zones and stuck in camps, information on basic services or job and education opportunities could be vital.
 
Lifeline, a project administered by Internews Network, an international media development NGO, is trying to fill that gap by offering news and information to displaced people in Sri Lanka, including how to get the most from humanitarian and government agencies.
 
Since January 2008, when Lifeline began broadcasting,  eight short radio shows have been produced, and carried  on Sundays on two regional Tamil FM radio stations, Pirai and Anoor. Lifeline also prints a supplement distributed to an estimated 20,000 IDPs through a national Tamil newspaper, Virakesari.
 
Internews, with local and international NGOs and UN agencies, explained that its project gathers information about material aid, protection, psycho-social and livelihood support and other services that humanitarian organisations can offer IDPs. Local government officials provide input, including about state policy, updates on resettlement plans or security. Lifeline's journalists - four Tamils, three Sinhalese and one Muslim - travel close to the war zones to talk to IDPs, agency field officers and regional government officials.
 
Early days
 
"Sadly, this war is going to get worse and the number of people displaced is going to grow," Sanjana Hattotuwa, senior researcher at the independent think-tank, the Centre for Policy Alternatives, told IRIN. "In that context, it is a very valuable initiative that these people affected by the violence have the potential to access the services offered by the state and humanitarian agencies to secure a better life for themselves."
 
Hattotuwa said that if IDPs had better knowledge they could demand services they needed from the state and NGOs and hold those agencies more accountable.
 
However, Hattotuwa pointed out that it was too early to assess the impact of the Lifeline project. "It's early days yet, but the potential for it to be an important information tool is there."       
 
In the eastern Batticaloa District, a UN field officer said: "Any access to information empowers people in every way by tackling issues that affect them directly. I'd like to know how accessible this programme will be and my main question would be: is the project reaching its target population?"
 
"There still are many logistical obstacles. For instance, not everyone has access to a radio and not everyone can afford to buy a newspaper," conceded Internews Sri Lanka Country Director Matt Abud. "We would like to reach everyone, but that might take a while."
 
The Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC), a group of government and humanitarian agencies in Sri Lanka, estimates the numbers of displaced in the conflict-hit north and east at just over 262,000.
 
At a welfare camp in Batticaloa, Janoshini Kirubanambirajah, who was uprooted by the conflict a year ago from her home in northeastern Sampur, said the 600  residents at her shelter had yet to hear a Lifeline programme. "If there is information that is being given specially for people like us, it would really be of use," she said. 
 
JA Jeevanandan, of the International Organization for Migration in the eastern district of Trincomalee, says Lifeline is filling a gap and could  also help aid agencies  coordinate better. "Many IDPs are not aware which agency to turn to for food, shelter and health facilities. The Lifeline programme also gives agencies good visibility and could help them avoid duplication of work when they hear what others are doing to assist IDPs."
 
cj/bj/mw/bp

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