In June 2017, Sri Lanka faced one of the most devastating natural disasters since the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004. Torrential rains and landslides killed over 200 people, including 48 school children, and left thousands homeless – scores of whom were forced to live in temporary centres.
The disaster swept away entire villages and separated families. In some areas, landslide warnings continue to be issued by the government.
Plan International was equally focused on health and sanitation support and getting children back to school quickly.
Due to the severity of the impact, Plan International decided to respond in Ratnapura district, one of the areas most affected by the floods. In the first phase of the response, Plan International distributed hygiene kits, sanitary packs, medicine and cleaning supplies. While the distribution of immediate health and sanitation support was crucial, Plan International was equally focused on getting children back to school as quickly as possible.
The organisation launched a back-to-school campaign for some 2,000 children – many of whom were still living in displacement camps – and distributed school kits, which included backpacks, learning materials and footwear.
Media's role in Sri Lanka disaster response
Media has been an emerging and unique feature of disaster response efforts in Sri Lanka. Following the recent floods, private and national media were among the first to respond, providing support even before government response mechanisms were activated. The media raised a large amount of public funding and played a leading role in the development and management of collection and distribution points, enabling news outlets to reach vulnerable communities as swiftly as possible.
Although media stations were dependent on government’s dissemination of preparedness warnings, outlets were among the first to disseminate evacuation messages at-scale, advising people of what to pack in their survival kits. They have continued to connect people who were missing with their families and the authorities.
Media organisations reinforced their capacity and ability to play a leading role as an efficient and responsive disaster response partner. Knowing their wide reach, ability to disseminate key information and their presence on the ground, Plan International decided to partner with one of the biggest local media stations in Sri Lanka, TV Derana, for its humanitarian response.
The uniqueness of the partnership
Capitalising on the strengths of each partner, Plan International Sri Lanka and Derana decided to focus on back-to-school campaign efforts.
Plan International, holding a long-term partnership with the Ministry of Education, was equipped to distribute back-to-school packs for secondary school children. TV Derana was on location to broadcast the distribution of the school packs, interview Plan International staff, children and school officials and disseminate key messages about the importance of education for children impacted by disasters.
Capitalizing on the strengths of each partner, Plan International Sri Lanka and TV Derana decided to launch a back-to-school campaign
Throughout the campaign, and in other TV Derana events, the broadcast station was sharing messaging such as: “Let’s Give Children the Education Aides to Get Back to School” or “This Poson Season, Bring a Book and a Pencil to Anuradhapura and help a Child get back School”.
One of the biggest partnership achievements came when Derana agreed to complement Plan International’s efforts by providing additional back-to-school books and supplies. Through this collaboration, 3,000 affected primary and secondary students were reached within Plan International’s response areas.
In addition, Plan International’s visibility amongst the community increased as a result of the TV broadcast. This was particularly important as Plan International was operating in a new area. To build trust and encourage collaboration amongst the community, it was critical that we utilized TV Derana – a popular channel amongst families – to articulate our mission and response efforts.
The news hour broadcasting the campaign reached over 1.062m viewers in Sri Lanka.
As a result of the partnership, Plan International was featured in prime time news with interviews featuring Sri Lanka’s Acting Country Director, Sian Platt.
The joint back-to-school campaign was broadcasted daily at 6:55 pm, which generated the highest TV viewership amongst all news channels.
The specific news hour holds a 27.3% market share, reaching 1.062m viewers in Sri Lanka.
Forging strategic partnerships
The second phase of the disaster response efforts not only ended successfully but also brought a long-term, solidified media partner.
In humanitarian efforts, broadcast media play an integral role in disseminating life-saving information at scale and in a timely manner, educating affected communities about risks and hazards, and showcasing response efforts to demonstrate the impact that humanitarian organisations like Plan International are having on the ground.