The Importance of Language Services during Disaster Relief Efforts

When a city or country is hit by a natural disaster, such as the recent earthquakes in Nepal, many volunteer agencies send people and groups to assist with providing aid and relief to those who are coping with the aftermath. These groups are instrumental in providing food, water, shelter, clothing, and other basic necessities for those affected by the disaster. However, they are not always equipped with the basic language skills to communicate effectively with these individuals, which could hinder the relief efforts immensely in certain cases. For that reason, volunteers assisting with language translation and interpretation can be just as important as any other volunteers assisting in providing aid. Communication in the native language of those suffering from a disaster is crucial. Many victims could already be disoriented and panicked during the aftermath, and trying to understand instructions, documents or alerts in the language of first responders could prove either extremely taxing if the person has a limited grasp of that language, or completely impossible if not. On-site or even remote video or telephonic interpretation can help tremendously if someone is available.

Every interpreter is extremely important in these situations. It could truly be a matter of life and death, and the difference between someone being administered emergency medication that he is allergic to versus one that is safe for him. It could also have an impact on whether doctors are treating the correct symptoms, as an interpreter will be able to correctly convey what the person is experiencing instead of relying on limited communication capabilities between patient and doctor.

However, in the wake of a disaster, especially one of a large scale, it may not always be possible for an interpreter to be available for everyone’s needs. Translators can also step in to ensure proper translation of alerts and emergency documents for those in the disaster area. Translators Without Borders (TWB) is one example of a nonprofit organization capable of providing such linguistic support during a disaster. After receiving word of the recent earthquake in Nepal, for example, TWB immediately requested volunteer translators to help assist with things such as translating documents issued by the first response teams, as well as first aid documents. They have also provided translation services for the Red Cross to assist with their missing persons program, translated Twitter messages with crucial information and updates, and have even created a text-to-speech tool that the first responders have been able to use to communicate with those they are aiding.

Because of the critical nature of native-language communication during disaster relief efforts, providing language services during these times is just as important as providing many other types of aid during this time, to ensure the aid is provided correctly and efficiently.