Information Saves Lives During Humanitarian Crises
Mar 17, 2011
Tsunami in Japan 2011: A wave approaches Miyako City from the Heigawa estuary in Iwate Prefecture after a magnitude 8.9 earthquake struck the area March 11, 2011. Photo by iEARN-USA

Statement by Article XIX 17 March 2011

Humanitarian disasters such as the earthquake, subsequent tsunami and the failure of nuclear power plants in Japan can cause information crises. ARTICLE 19 urges all states to respect their international obligations to provide access to timely and accurate information.

The situation in Japan and the region demonstrates the crucial need to respect, protect and fulfil the right to information during national and international responses to disasters. A lack of accurate information can lead to further tragic consequences for populations and it is therefore essential that states implement their international obligations on the right to information following humanitarian disasters.

ARTICLE 19’s publication Humanitarian Disasters And Information Rights explains that access to information is of particular importance in the aftermath of a disaster to: • Mitigate the loss of life • Reduce panic • Direct people on how and where to get essential services • Facilitate contact with relatives and friends • Assist in the discovery of the missing and in burying the dead appropriately • Provide an outlet for grief and counselling • Provide watchdog oversight over assistance activities and help guard against corruption • Ensure two-way communication between assistance providers and the affected communities.

Humanitarian disasters can create information crises, which should be dealt with in compliance with international access to information standards and in this case, the standards on access to environmental information. These standards are set out in Principle 10 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. By adopting the Rio Declaration, Japan and all other UN Member States have made commitments to ensure public access to environmental information, particularly in times of crisis. The Guidelines for the Development of National Legislation on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters released by the UN Environmental Programme in 2010 elaborate how states should implement Principle 10 into national law, including in cases of threats to human health and the environment.

In the event of any imminent threat to human health or the environment, states should disseminate immediately and without delay to all members of the public who may be affected – both internally and abroad – all information which could enable the public to take steps to prevent or mitigate harm arising from the threat. Furthermore, states are under a general obligation to provide appropriate warning systems, taking into account the level of risk facing their citizens.

To ensure effective responses to recent humanitarian disasters, ARTICLE 19 makes the following recommendations: States affected by humanitarian disasters should: • Ensure that populations in high risk areas are informed about the preventive or mitigating measures that may be taken in case of an imminent disaster • Make all possible efforts to ensure that any information they hold about immediate risks is communicated as quickly and as widely as possible to those likely to be affected • Establish clear lines of communication with relief organisations, the media and affected populations to disseminate information • Ensure that survivors have access to key information including on the provision of food, water, shelter, and medical and other services • Ensure that the right of everyone to communicate messages about pending disasters should not be subject to limitations • Take effective measures to trace those missing or dead, to identify the dead and to inform relatives.

In addition, the media should:

• Provide a channel for the dissemination of official information on humanitarian risks and responses • Ensure that complex messages from state actors are translated into understandable forms for the public • Play a key role in raising awareness and facilitating discussions on disasters and other risks, with a view to educating people on preventive and survival actions.

END NOTES: • For more information, please contact: Boyko Boev, Senior Legal Officer at or +44 20 7324 2500. • ARTICLE 19’s policy document Humanitarian Disasters and Information Rights can be found at

ARTICLE 19 ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works globally to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees free speech. For more information on ARTICLE 19 please visit or follow article19org on Twitter.

Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA, United Kingdom Tel: +44 20 7324 2500 - Fax: +44 20 7490 0566 - -

1 Comment

Dear Members of the TAI Family, May you join TAI Africa in welcoming T.A.I Madagascar coalition into an ever widening and deepining network called The Access Initiative. We are excited that Madagascar is not only the 50th member, but it is also the 5th French Speaking country into the family and it is a robust coalition of 15 hardworking organisations. Madagascar is committed to carrying out a full assessement. This came as a result of 3 days intensive methods training that Carole and I facilitated last month. The work in Madagascar is supported by a grant from the World Bank. Please when refering to The Access Initiative Madagascar, always seperate the letters as follows: T.A.I. This is because TAI means something else in their language and they are culturally very sensitive. You can as well simply say L’IA Madagascar which (in french) means L’initiative pour l’Accès. Here is the membership of the Madagascar Coalition:

A: Country Lead Organization

Development and Environmental Law Center (DELC Mizàna Maitso)

   Area of expertise: Environmental Law, Environmental Justice, Community Advocacy

B: Members of the Coalition

  1. Ndranto Razakamanarina

President: Alliance Voahary Gasy (ASSOCIATION)

   Area of expertise: Forestry
  1. Lalaina Rakotoson

    Team Leader, DELC Mizàna Maitso (ASSOCIATION)

Area of expertise: Environmental Law, Environmental Justice, Community Advocacy

  1. Andry Andriamanga

Executive Secretary: Alliance Voahary Gasy (Civil Society Organization)

Area of expertise: Natural Resources Governance, Civil Society Capacity Building

  1. Longin Ramahenina

President: Development and Environmental Law Center (ASSOCIATION)

Area of expertise: Environmental Justice and community advocacy

  1. Naritiana Rakotoniaina

Coordinator: Service d’Appui a la Gestion de l’Environnement (ASSOCIATION)

Area of expertise: Natural Resources Management Transfer

  1. Holly Rakotondralambo


Area of expertise: Health, Education, Extractive Industries

  1. Manantsoa Tiana

Coordinator: Tandavanala (ASSOCIATION)

Area of expertise: Community Development and protection of corridor

  1. Jeannot Ramiaramanana

Director: C3EDM (Research Center)

Area of expertise: Economy-Environment

  1. Irina Andriambolatiana

Amie du Voahary Gasy

  1. Naivosoa Andriamitandrina

Technical Director: SAF/FJKM (ASSOCIATION)

Area of expertise: Development, Health, Environment

  1. Paul Raonitsoa

Vice President: AIFM (ASSOCIATION)

Area of expertise: Forestry

  1. Lalanirina Rasoanandrianina

Program Officer: WWF (ASSOCIATION)

Area of expertise: Extractive Industries

  1. Julia Randimbisoa

Vice President: AIM (ASSOCIATION)

Area of expertise: Local Governance

  1. Razakafoniaina Minombolanoro

Coordonnateur National: ANAE (ASSOCIATION)

Area of Expertise: Soil conservation, livelihood improvement

  1. Etienne Rasarely

Coordinator: ONESF (Observatoire)

Area of expertise: Observatoire National de l’Environnement et du Secteur Forestier

We will be updating you as the research progresses.


Augustine B NJAMNSHI Executive Secretary Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme Cameroon & National Coordinator The Access Initiative Cameroon BP 2626 Yaounde Cameroon Tel/Fax: 237 22319953 Skype: augustine.b.njamnshi

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