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Radio in times of disaster

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By Evelyne Karanja

NAIROBI, 12 February 2016 - Tomorrow is World Radio Day and UNISDR champion Senator Loren Legarda of the Philippines has highlighted the invaluable contributions of radio to disaster risk management.

Legarda, UNISDR Global Champion for Resilience and Chair of the Senate Committee on Climate Change, underscored the importance of radio in disseminating all types of information, be it news or disaster alerts, among the widest number of people especially those living in the rural and remote areas.

“The job of our radiomen is very crucial in disaster preparedness and management. They can disseminate early warning and advisories to allow communities to prepare for natural hazards such as typhoons, ahead of time. Also, when it comes to responding to emergencies, radiomen are on the ground within the first 24 hours of a disaster to relay health and other vital information over the airwaves,” Legarda said.

The theme of World Radio Day 2016 is “Radio and Emergency and Disaster Situations” and the day is organized bythe United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). A key message this year is that radio saves lives and this is the first target of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction adopted last year by all UN member States as a global blueprint for reducing disaster risk and disaster losses.

“On this World Radio Day, I salute the pioneers of the industry, and those who work and contribute to fulfilling its role to inform, educate and entertain the public,” said Legarda, who was a broadcast journalist for 20 years before she became a senator.

Radio is also vitally important in Africa. Something that is underlined this weekend by the fact that staff from UNISDR’s Africa office in Nairobi will give three interviews to highlight the crucial role that radio plays in raising public awareness of disaster risk across the continent.

The interviews will be on Channel Africa, the international service of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, KBC of Kenya Broadcasting Corporation and ATG Radio, a Nairobi faith-based station.

UNISDR’s head of regional office for Africa, Amjad Abbashar, said: “We hope to encourage listeners to take early warning seriously, understand that science does not lie and educate on ways in which at community level they can reduce risk during disasters. We will also talk about the role of media can play in disaster risk reduction.”

Radio is the mass media that reaches the widest audience in the world and is also recognized as a powerful communication tool and a low cost medium. Radio is suited to reach remote communities and vulnerable people: the illiterate, the disabled, women, youth and the poor, while offering a platform to intervene in the public debate, irrespective of people’s educational level.

In Africa, radio’s popularity is due to its widespread availability and ease of access even in remote corners of the continent and the highly oral culture of many African communities. It is not uncommon to find that a rural community or a pastoralist’s only link to ‘the outside’ world is through radio.

When emergencies and disaster strike, radio has a strong and specific role to play in keeping communities up to date with events and advising them on practical steps to take to reduce the impact of a disaster such as setting food aside for an emergency period. In 2015, 9 major floods in Africa affected 797,052 people and claimed 478 lives.

In Kenya, the meteorological services issued alerts on El Nino rains of 2015 and these alerts were further used by authorities to clear trash from drainage systems, to urge people to move from low-lying areas that were susceptible to flooding.

Other warnings included relocation of homes from areas prone to landslides which repeatedly occurred in previous rainy seasons and the likelihood of increased cases of malaria and other water-borne related diseases.

Through World Radio Day celebrations around the world, UNESCO will promote radio in times of emergency and disaster, and put forward the following messages:

  1. Freedom of expression and journalists’ safety should be disaster-proof.
  2. Radio empowers survivors and vulnerable people, whose right to privacy is to be respected.
  3. Radio has social impact and provides access to information. People’s right to information should be protected even in times of emergency and disaster.
  4. Radio saves lives.
  5. The immediate accessibility of radio frequencies is essential to saving lives. These frequencies should be protected so they are available in times of emergency.

On 13 February, international broadcasters will broadcast live on UNESCO’s dedicated website,www.worldradioday.org.