Community radio cuts disaster risk in flood-prone Bangladesh

Radio stations that broadcast in local dialects along Bangladesh’s coast warn residents about storms and help farmers cope with erratic weather.

By , AlertNet

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    Ali Asghar, a flood victim, tunes his radio to listen for news while taking refuge on an embankment with his family in Sujawal, about 93 miles from Karachi in Pakistan's Sindh province August 29, 2010. Community radio stations broadcasting in local dialects are helping Bangladeshis cope with coastal flooding.
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New local-dialect community radio stations in Bangladesh’s coastal districts are warning residents about cyclones and helping farmers cope with erratic weather patterns.

The new radio stations are part of an initiative to reduce loss of life and damage to livelihoods from natural disasters and unpredictable weather.

“The radio [stations], run with the active participation of local people, have already gained popularity and are telling people how to adapt to climate change impacts,” said A.H.M. Bazlur Rahman, chief executive officer of the Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication.

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Approval was given for 14 community radio stations in coastal and inland areas in April 2010, and six are now broadcasting from coastal districts. A further 22 applications have been filed with the government. The stations are mostly funded by nongovernment organizations and individuals. 

The radio programs focus primarily on disaster risk reduction and climate variability, Rahman said. He attributes their growing popularity in part to programs being broadcast in local dialects.

“People in the countryside, most of whom are illiterate, can easily understand weather bulletins and other instructions” when they are provided in local languages, he said. 

During a tsunami watch in early April, in countries bordering the Indian Ocean, including Bangladesh, the new radio stations transmitted national weather forecasts in local dialects, said Manir Hossain, station manager of Lokobetar community radio, based in Barguna district in the south of the country.

“Through our programs we advised people what they needed to do for their safety during the emergency,” Hossain said.

Although no tsunami took place, heavy rainstorms have struck Bangladesh as the rainy summer season commences, claiming at least 20 lives in April in different parts of the country.

Eunus Ali Hawlader, a Lokobetar listener who makes his living fishing at sea, said, “The station suggests carrying a radio set with us so that we can hear weather bulletins and start returning in time to avoid any danger.”

Lokobetar also broadcasts plays, songs, and talk shows to raise awareness about climate change impacts and issues such as education and health services, said Hossain, who strives to ensure that programming is relevant and approachable.

“We have also included community people, the fishermen, boatmen, farmers, and other locals in our programs,” he added.

In Khulna district in the country’s southwest, Sundarban community radio warns people to send women and children to elevated storm shelters immediately when cyclones approach, and to keep adequate stocks of dry food.

Tarun Kumar, head of Sundarban community radio, said the station plans to provide a free solar-powered radio to each cyclone shelter so people can receive government instructions during disasters.

Kumar is also concerned that climate change is causing rivers in the area to dry up, threatening the livelihoods of fishing communities.

“Through our programs we advise fishermen [on how] to find alternative livelihoods, and draw the attention of policymakers to take steps so that fishing communities do not remain unfed,” he said.

Sharif Iqbal, station manager of Barguna’s Krishi radio, said his station’s main goal is to help people with disaster preparedness and risk reduction, but that offering agricultural advice is also important because of the difficulty of farming on land vulnerable to flooding from the sea.

“For the farmers we broadcast expert opinions on what steps they need to take, and when, to get a better yield,” he said. “We suggest to them what types of seeds they should choose and which one will be suitable for saline-affected lands.”

Real-time information is vital for farmers, according to Iqbal, because land in the area only allows for a single harvest each year.

“If they lose the crop, they will starve,” he said.

Amal Babu, a farmer and listener of Krishi radio, has no illusions about the difficulty of making a living and believes the broadcasts could help.

“This area is prone to disaster. The crop yield is comparatively good here but salinity, drought, flooding, and cyclones destroy [it],” he said. “If the farmers can get advance information on calamity and advice about farming tools they will be able to get a good yield.”

Babu has already taken the advice of a program broadcast on Krishi Radio about a salt-tolerant variety of rice paddy that can survive more than three weeks under water.

“Farmers have started to cultivate the variety and are now less worried about losing crops,” said Babu.

The convener of Bangladesh’s national climate change negotiation team, Quazi Khaliquzzaman Ahmed, agreed that community radio can play a significant role in explaining how to adapt to the effects of climate change and helping people improve their preparedness for disasters.

“In Bangladesh there are 45,000 volunteers ready to act when disaster hits. The community radios can inform them as well as [other] people ... what to do before and after the disaster strikes,” he said.

• Syful Islam is a journalist with the Financial Express newspaper in Bangladesh. He can be reached at: youths1990@yahoo.com. This story is part of a series supported by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network.

This article originally appeared at AlertNet, the Thomson Reuters Foundation humanitarian news service.

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