Tuning into complacency
Why isn't India investing in community radio, which is crucial to save lives
in times of natural disasters
Posted On Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 04:12:35 PM
As drought, earthquakes and floods threaten the global landscape, I'm
reminded about the two buzz words that increasingly make waves: climate
change. Two weeks ago, West Java was rocked by an earthquake that was 7.2 on
the Richter scale. A few months ago Cyclone Alia had inundated and cut off
some of Bangladesh's mangrove forests and islands in the Bay of Bengal.
While the magnitude of these "natural" disasters vary, their frequency has
not only set off alarm bells but emphasised that it's time to smell the
coffee and go back to the future. No, I'm not referring to Kalyug, Biblical
or Nostradamus like predictions (although the events would certainly
underline the writing if not the relevance of all three) - but something far
more plebian like community radio.
A choice between drought and earthquake is akin to a choice between a rock
and a hard place. Neither is desirable. But as the perils of climate change
hit the headlines with alarming regularity, we are also reminded about the
costs of technology that are required to rein in the damage. But are these
costs and technologies the only options? Not so as a recent UNESCO global
consultation sharply brought into focus. In fact, as the President of the
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) Steve Buckley
pointed out, media's role during these times of crisis is not just about
getting the message across. It is about people taking a lead in getting
their voices heard and strengthening accountability linkages between
government and citizenry. What is more, these media are both accessible and
affordable and demonstrate that they are for all seasons not just in times
The proof of the pudding lies in the eating and as Buckley's data affirmed
- there is no dearth of examples that showcase how community media is
quietly, albeit consistently, making a difference.
"In Northern Quebec, Inuit communication networks are providing advice on
safety as hunting routes across sea ice become increasingly precarious. In
Mali, rural community radio stations are working to assist farmers adapt to
changing seasonal patterns in order to maintain and increase their harvest.
In Bangladesh, coastal NGOs are building community radio stations and other
communication tools to provide systems for early warning and disaster
management in the face of floods and inundations that result from rising sea
Sometimes, the disaster itself propels governments to encourage people to
build their own communication systems for disaster preparedness and
mitigation as in the case of Senegal post the 2004 locust invasion.
However, these seem to be the exception. Remember, August 2008 when the
River Kosi changed its course and wreaked havoc on areas around the
Indo-Nepal border? Despite efforts, "mum" was the word as far as emergency
radio was concerned. Six months later a field visit to the area confirmed
that substantial areas remained outside the long arm of relief. Areas like
Lachmeenya, Sathanpatti and Raghavpoor continued to comprise hearts of
darkness as electricity remained elusive for the most part.
In contrast, the Aceh Radio reconstruction Network (ARRnet) that came up
post the 2004 Tsunami in Indonesia demonstrated the power of a community
media network. Ultimately comprising a network of 46 community radio
stations, it addressed not only emergency, but reconstruction and
rehabilitation. Over the years, the network helped to also build community
life and also engaged local governments in their activities. Community
practitioners in West Java are now exploring a similar initiative.
Similarly, the Dalit women of Pastapur who run India's first community radio
station have emphasised the importance of "samma" and "sajja" (marginalised
varieties of grain) and showcased the co-relation between voice and food
In early 2005, Naveen Chawla who was then Information and Broadcasting
Secretary, Government of India, observed that if the country had community
radio the scale of the Tsunami disaster would have been much less. Four
years later, and about two and a half years after community radio became a
reality in India, less than a sprinkling of community radio stations dot the
Indian landscape. Why? It's much more than demand and supply. It's about not
realising the writing on the wall. So, when will we wake up and smell the
(Ashish Sen is a journalist, theatre-person and a trustee of VOICES, a
development communications organisation)
Source: Bangalore Mirror
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