In Bangladesh, radio saves the day

Bangladeshi family on bicycle
Bangladesh has dramatically reduced its death toll from extreme weather events such as cyclones by shifting from disaster response to disaster risk reduction and early warnings. Photo: UNDP Bangladesh

Monu Mia is no stranger to cyclones.

“I have survived several cyclones, but the memory of losing my family in a cyclone stays with me,” shares the fisherman. Mia comes from an impoverished community of fishermen in Moheshkhali, Bangladesh.

Speaking softly Mia explains that fishermen previously depended on traditional prediction methods for cyclones or bad weather before going to sea. Predictions were based on reading changes in natural phenomena, and what warnings the government disseminated via media channels or microphone were mostly ineffective, inefficient, and didn’t reach everyone.

Highlights

  • More than 3.5 million people have been evacuated through a more effective early warning system and a network of 48,540 trained volunteers.
  • 1,200 radio sets and batteries were provided to the fourteen community radio stations to distribute, including 510 in the coastal belt.
  • The project developed 28 master trainers (2 from each station) to strengthen capacity of the community stations, and supported the development and broadcasting of local hazard specific radio programs.
  • 110 million cell-phone users now have direct access to receive early warnings of approaching hydro-meteorological disasters.

“When Gorky hit, I couldn’t warn my family and others around us to take necessary preparations,” Mia says of the 1991 cyclone that claimed upwards of 138,000 lives in Bangladesh.

For millions of people who are in the path of cyclones in Bangladesh, Myanmar and India, the choice had always been between fleeing to safety or risking their lives to remain at home and protect their livestock and assets from being looted.

In helping communities balance these two priorities, accurate information has always been the key determinant. With the Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (CDMP II), Bangladesh has established a multi-level approach to prevention, resilience, and recovery that puts access to information at the forefront.  One important aspect of the UNDP-supported programme is its ability to provide accurate information through community radio and mobile phone technologies, to help people make the right decisions.

CDMP encouraged community radio stations to create local listening clubs, engaging fishermen, housewives, students, and tea stall visitors to expand their listening base and ensure the highest reach.

Early warnings in the wake of Cyclone Mahasen

In 2013, as Cyclone Mahasen brewed in the Bay of Bengal, the government informed district and sub-district disaster management committees, who have the capacity alert their communities of an incoming cyclone through door-to-door action and community radio. CDMP II distributed 1200 high bandwidth radios and batteries to fourteen community radio broadcasters, who in turn distributed them to their listening clubs.

people listening to radioCommunity members listen to the radio in Bangladesh.

The community radio stations situated in the coastal zone also extended their broadcasting hours, recognizing their importance after sensitizing workshops organized by CDMP.

 “The situation is different as the community radio Naf has been airing regular information updates, warning messages, and awareness programmes on disaster,” Mia says. In an effort to reach out to as many listeners as possible, some of the programming was in a widely used local dialect.

In the end, over 1.15 million people were evacuated by the government – an incredible feat that has likely saved thousands of lives.

Developing capacity

The CDMP II intervention also helps community radio broadcasters produce quality radio programming on disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) issues.  It provided trainings to 28 master trainers covering both theoretical and practical aspects of development and production of radio programs, including script writing, knowledge of DRR and CCA issue, and how to build audiences.

Puji Pujiono, former Project Manager at Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme, notes the real importance of community radio is “that it gives a local context to the disaster management process. No one size fits all in disaster management… the process of preparedness is not a one way street. The real intervention is when people use a disaster preparedness tool in their own way to suit their needs. That’s what community radio offers.”

CDMP, in partnership with Bangladesh Teletalk Ltd., Bangladesh Meteorological Department, and Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre, also introduced an Interactive Voice Response-based early warning system.  By dialing “10941”, 110 million cell-phone users in Bangladesh have direct access to receive warnings of approaching hydro-meteorological disasters.

Community radio and mobile technologies are just one aspect of CDMP’s work. They have empowered a dedicated team of volunteers who manage to not just inform millions who had previously been last in line for disaster information about imminent risks, but also help move them to safety. CDMP has helped shift the efforts from disaster response to planning and preparedness for emergencies while also helping infrastructure development to assist people in times of disasters and even after.

The $76.3 million project is jointly funded by UK Aid, EU, SIDA, AusAID, Norway, UNDP and the Government of Bangladesh.

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