When earthquakes struck Nepal in 2015, it wasn’t just food and medicine that helped saved lives: Facebook proved vital, too.
Facebook is Nepal’s most visited website, making it the most important way to reach people online. YouTube is the second most popular social network in Nepal and the fifth most visited website in the country overall.
After the earthquakes, people all over the Kathmandu Valley and the world went to the Nepal Red Cross Facebook page. They looked for information, posted messages from badly hit areas and offered to help.
“Following an earthquake, it can be extremely difficult to reach people, particularly in remote or hilly areas like the Kathmandu Valley,” British Red Cross social media manager Jamie Sport said.
“While phone lines were down, we found that many people still had internet connections on their mobiles. When they were stranded, we were able send messages to our teams and others on the ground.
“We could then reassure people and let them know help was coming.”
Later, the British Red Cross, a long-term partner of the Nepal Red Cross, helped manage the Facebook page. The Nepal Red Cross could then focus on responding to the emergency.
Tuning in for urgent advice
The Red Cross also ran Facebook ads with advice on how to stay safe and well during the disaster. Many linked to films on YouTube that we made as part of our ongoing programme to prepare for earthquakes and other emergencies in Nepal.
The Nepal Red Cross has broadcast radio programmes about safety during emergencies for several years. After the earthquakes, the website audioBoom made them available and promoted them at no cost to reach people in need.
The Facebook, film and radio messages ranged from how to avoid cholera to guidance on checking houses for damage and how to deal with aftershocks. All were targeted precisely to people in affected areas.
The power of a few pennies
Incredibly, while 2.5 million people live in the Kathmandu Valley, the messages reached 3.4 million people in the year after the earthquakes. It costs just 10p to reach 1,000 people very quickly through Facebook ads in Nepal.
With more people than ever using social media, its potential to save lives in future disasters is very exciting.