On November 3, 2020, Hurricane Eta hit northern Nicaragua and continued on to Honduras, eastern Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador. Up to 4.6 million people in its path faced the risk of flooding and landslides as a result of high winds and heavy rain, and tens of thousands evacuated for safety as homes and bridges were washed away.
People in the affected communities urgently need information about how to keep their families safe and where to go for help. They need to make their needs known to responders. The available language data indicates that two-way communication must be in the languages of indigenous communities, not only in Spanish.
Spanish is the lingua franca of Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras, spoken by over 90% of people as a first or second language. But in Nicaragua, particularly along the Caribbean coast, nearly 90% of the indigenous population speaks a first language other than Spanish. Across Guatemala, more than 6 million people speak one of 24 Mayan languages. For example, an estimated 300,000 K’iche’ speakers are monolingual, giving an indication of people who may have additional language support needs.
The format of communication is also crucial. Literacy rates are lower than the national average among indigenous citizens of the region, particularly for women; just 40% percent in some areas. This means information and feedback mechanisms must use radio, word-of-mouth, and other audio formats to be accessible
Further information on language distribution in Guatemala can be found here.
In times of need, communication with communities is key. Yet emergencies can strain local communication infrastructure, and those who provide language services may themselves be affected.
To alleviate suffering and contribute to rapid recovery, it is important to get life-saving information to communities quickly, including through radio broadcasts and mobile technology, in the languages of those affected. To ensure understanding among less educated individuals and second-language speakers, communication should be short, simple, and clearly illustrated. Important information – including how to access services and where to report abuse – should be provided in plain language, absent of jargon, and with pictures when possible.
For questions or to enquire about language support, please email: [email protected]