Disaster radio - pushing the envelope on World Radio Day

Source: Mon, 5 Mar 2018 07:51 PM
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“Many of us carry a radio in our pockets each day without even realising it - in the form of our mobile phone.”

Opening CDAC Network’s World Radio Day event in Geneva on 13 February, Leonard Doyle, Spokesperson and Head of Media and Communications for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reinforced radio’s expansive global reach and the vital role it plays as an enduring disaster response tool.

The panel discussion, Radio - a beacon of progress in today’s tech-led communication landscape, brought together CDAC Network members from humanitarian media and communication services and UN agencies to explore radio’s legacy in disasters and look at ways to integrate this medium to improve support for affected communities.

From survival to recovery

Setting the scene for the first session, Evidence of the link between use of radio and the health of disaster-affected communities, Kate Hart, Director of Development for Internews recalled that during Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 all 15 radio stations were knocked off the air in Tacloban City in the Philippines when the typhoon devastated the city of more than 220,000 people. First Response Radio (FRR), a not-for-profit, managed to get an emergency station on the air in the first week of the response.

According to Karen Hugelius, a researcher at Örebro University in Sweden, FRR radio supported communities in their transition from survival to recovery well beyond crucial information sharing. Presenting the findings of her PhD on the impact of the radio service, she illustrated how radio provides psychosocial support and promotes health in the aftermath of disaster. It also supports those affected to “regain hope and confidence; get in contact with loved ones; get rest from the fight of surviving; and, understand and retake control,” she said. Both information and music were contributing factors for recovery.

Hugelius called for better coordination between health professionals, crisis communication experts and radio broadcasting personnel to improve use of radio as a positive health intervention. She also noted further research is needed to strengthen the evidence base for using radio in the early stages after a disaster and to analyse the short- and long-term health effects.

Life-saving information and messages of encouragement

Magnolia Yrasuegui, FRR's station manager, recalled that after Typhoon Haiyan struck the international media that descended on Tacloban City were focused on sending information to the outside world but no one was providing information to the people affected. “Rumours were flying out and they [people affected] don’t know what’s happening to them. Communication is also aid,’’ she said. “Radio was the only local mass means for the survivors to get information they needed.”

Yrasuegui explained that during the day FRR radio filled a gap by providing those affected with vital life-saving information - where and how to get help - and broadcast balanced news. The station sent daily messages of encouragement, reminding people that they were “survivors”.

The station intentionally reverted to light programming during the evening, she said, and encouraged people to visit the studio and take part in the programme. Yrasuegui and her colleagues prioritised playing songs and music known to people before the disaster struck to help bring them back to “a new normal”. “It was a psychosocial thing in terms of allowing them to belt out their favourite tunes and music they were accustomed to - songs they were familiar with before the disaster,” she said.

Yrasuegui invited celebrities, artists, local politicians and religious leaders to the makeshift radio studio in Tacloban. When mobiles phones were up and running, the station encouraged listeners to give feedback. “The phones were constantly buzzing,” she recalled. 

 Readiness - the key to success

Mike Adams, FRR’s International Coordinator, spoke about the willingness of volunteers to work in radio to make sure people have the information they need to make decisions and protect themselves and their families when disaster strikes. ‘Radio in Suitcase’, a kit providing everything needed to set up a radio station, is part of a package of support FRR offers to get radio back on the air rapidly after a disaster.

“There is usually no electricity, television or Internet functioning, and radio at this stage both communicates life-saving messages to save lives but also gives a voice to the community,” said Adams. “In Tacloban, having a partnership with the Far East Broadcasting Company enabled a rapid response and facilitated rapid licensing from the government for the use of FRR radio during the response.”  

 Sense of normality

Opening the session, Radio’s vital role for communities on the move and in conflict, Meg Sattler, OCHA’s Community Engagement Global Advisor, pointed to radio’s essential role in keeping open channels for information and communication in situations of population movement.

Caroline Vuillemin, head of Fondation Hirondelle, spoke about radio’s enduring legacy and vital role in conflict countries like Central African Republic. For the past 17 years, Hirondelle has supported the humanitarian news service, Radio Ndeke Luka. She noted people in Bangui reported the service provided a sense of normality and order for them during the 2013-2014 crisis. “Having a radio news time schedule at set intervals each day helped people structure their day while everything around them was in disarray,” she said. Psychologists from the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative confirmed doctors often recommend patients suffering trauma listen to the radio and follow regular programs, she added. 

 Reaching those cut off from aid 

“Some people say ‘isn’t radio old-fashioned if not dead?’ Of course it’s not, it’s very much alive in Somalia! Radio Ergo’s latest audience survey indicates the radio is listened to by as much as 6 out of 10 people in the country,” said Louise Tunbridge, Programme Manager at International Media Support, highlighting radio’s ability to reach communities living in areas inaccessible to aid workers.

Radio Ergo, she said, has aired in Somalia since 2011 on shortwave covering the entire country, even remote rural areas. One of the gaps that existed was that despite the large number of local FM radio stations and other media outlets there is no other Somali-speaking media that has national coverage and few broadcast content covering humanitarian issues, she noted. For communities in remote areas suffering bouts of prolonged drought, outbreaks of measles and cholera, and those cut off from aid agencies by conflict, shortwave radio, like Radio Ergo, can be the only means of contact with humanitarian agencies.

The station has a toll-free phone line and SMS service and several hundred people leave messages every week, Tunbridge explained. The station listens to all the messages, transcribes and categorises them to inform humanitarian actors, and messages are often aired.

Tunbridge emphasised increasing women’s voices in public service broadcasting is a priority for Radio Ergo. “We aim to have a minimum of 30% of women’s voices included in our programmes. So we go out of our way to make sure we give the microphone to women as well as men, and we make conditions comfortable to enable women to express themselves.”

Connecting communities on the move

Jean-Luc Mootoosamy, IOM Consultant and Director of Media Expertise drew attention to IOM’s campaign ‘Aware Migrants’, in West Africa, Senegal and Niger in particular, which publicises the risks of irregular migration, especially among young people through peer-to-peer communications.

For this project, IOM worked directly with community and private radios to share information on irregular migration using multiple media. IOM found radio especially valuable, not least because it can amplify the voices of the most trusted messengers: returning migrants.

He said listeners had reported that the campaign helped them make responsible decisions about migration. Using the actual voices and stories of those who have been exploited by smugglers, the campaign informs and collects feedback from potential migrants on the risks and realities of the journey. Mootoosamy also outlined new training techniques IOM uses to support journalists to address irregular migration responsibly and improve the overall quality of reporting.

Speaking on behalf of UNHCR, community officer George Tibaijuka described the role of community radio in Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania, home to around 150,000 refugees. He pointed out that radio also provides simple pleasures like listening to football matches, and, for refugees, is an essential means to connect people socially and reduce the daily stresses and trauma of living in such a situation.

Tibaijuka also spoke about difficulties in registering and licensing radio in refugee situations, a challenge he is currently experiencing in Tanzania. He called on the humanitarian community to join efforts and support the registration of radio in places like Nyarugusu camp where it serves as a lifeline.

Participation revolution

In her closing speech, CDAC Network’s executive director Marian Casey-Maslen called for “the radio revolution to join the participation revolution” and for support to expand the communication media for communities to get the right information and to feed their opinions into decisions on assistance.

Leonard Doyle from IOM said: “Some people have argued that radio is a dying medium, but it’s only gotten more popular and will continue to be a powerful tool for community-based communications in and outside of humanitarian contexts.”

Coming soon: Two new radio-related publications from the UK Department for International Development Disasters Emergencies Preparedness Programme:

  • Bangladesh Radio Guideline
  • Philippines Humanitarian Reporting Manual for Journalists

Related articles: Why football results matter in disaster response radio


Download PDF: Karen Hugelius Radio Health Study presentation Download PDF: Karen Hugelius Radio Health Study presentation Download PDF: Mike Adams' from FRR presentation Download PDF: Mike Adams' from FRR presentation Download PDF: FRR case study: Bihar Flood Response Download PDF: FRR case study: Bihar Flood Response

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