Following the devastating 25 April 2015 Gorkha Earthquake, individuals in Nepal needed to communicate with family and friends to check-in with each other or to request or offer help. Communities needed to connect with government and relief agencies who could provide assistance. Many needed information immediately after the earthquake on shelter, food and water. In the longer term, communities sought information about how to access aid and earthquake resistant construction.
We conducted a survey in Nepal investigating the information seeking and communication behaviour of earthquake affected communities. The survey included interviews with 420 individuals from earthquake affected communities in 8 of the most affected districts. Another 45 interviews were carried out with government officials, police, and news media broadcasters.
While individuals with computers and reliable internet would have had the best access to online humanitarian information, only 6% of respondents had access to computers with internet in the first week after the earthquake. Instead, smartphones were the primary tool used to connect to the internet, and social media proved to be particularly effective for affected communities to find information and communicate. In the first week after the earthquake, 30% of respondents from urban areas identified social media as one of their two main sources for information to help them survive and 26% of respondents from urban areas communicated with family or friends via social media.
Still, the majority of respondents did not use social media before because they lacked internet access. Thus, the various social media communication platforms and the vast amount of humanitarian information found online, were not directly accessible by most of the earthquake affected communities interviewed. Instead, the majority of earthquake affected communities obtained there humanitarian information from radio, television and local government officials and communicated face-to-face or with mobile phones.
Results demonstrated that while the internet may be an invaluable source for humanitarian information and communication tools, the majority of Nepalis lack internet access. The technologies which proved to be most useful after the earthquake were radio, television, mobile calls and face-to-face communication. Local government were observed to play an important role in informing and communicating with communities after the earthquake. It was recommended that humanitarian information producers target local governments and tailor their messages to suit local technologies. Appropriately designed and disseminated humanitarian information greatly improves the chances of affected communities accessing aid in the days after an event.