Darfur: A telephone hotline for displaced communities

29 November, 2013
Aid worker talks to displaced people in a camp in West Darfur. Credit: OCHA
Aid worker talks to displaced people in a camp in West Darfur. Credit: OCHA

Establishing effective communication between people receiving humanitarian assistance and those delivering it is crucial in ensuring that people are able to access the help that they need. The humanitarian community in West Darfur has recently rolled out a telephone hotline in an attempt to improve communication and to allow nearly 354,000 displaced people across 38 camps to share their needs and concerns.

Accessing communities and meeting their needs remains a major concern in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands of people continue to be displaced by inter-communal violence. Many of them are living in displacement camps, in need of food, shelter and water.

“This mobile hotline system will transform the humanitarian response in camps by putting people in need of assistance at the heart of the response,” said Esteban Sacco, OCHA’s coordinator in Darfur. “As a result, humanitarian agencies will be more accountable to the actual needs of camp residents, in turn providing people with better services.”

How the hotline works

The mobile system hotline provides a simple means by which people can notify relevant agencies of problems. On the other end of the line will be a referral officer, who will obtain details about the problem and ensure that it is quickly and effectively addressed.

The referral officer verifies the complaint, such as a broken water pump or a closed school, and then shares the information with the relevant humanitarian agency whose job is to resolve it.

“In the past we would wait weeks, even months for something like a broken water pump to be fixed,” said Sarah, a camp resident. “Now, the water pump gets fixed in just a few days, and my children and I don’t have to walk 2 kilometres every day for weeks at a time to get our water.”

Encouraging residents to use the hotline 

Although the purpose of the hotline is to encourage camp residents to share information and communicate their concerns, humanitarian organizations report that many residents are still unaware or unsure about using the hotline. Many camp residents often resort to the traditional channels – using community leaders and sheikhs to voice their concerns, who in turn call the hotline on their behalf.

“One of our biggest challenges has simply been getting people to use the hotline,” says Nabaelhanan Sadig, a referral officer. “More work must be done in schools, health clinics and around the whole camp community to make people aware of the hotline and its benefits.”

Encouraging people to use, utilize and understand the hotline will therefore be a priority as the project moves forward and expands to other states in Darfur.

“We hope that during the first week of December the telephone hotline can be rolled out across all Darfur states,” says Kenny Rogers, OCHA’s Head of Office in West Darfur. “In the last few days we have distributed important information about the telephone hotline system to our partner offices across Darfur. They are subsequently working to communicate these messages to displaced people to start using the hotline service.”

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