Mohammad Sahid Ullah, Prof at the Communication and Journalism of CU.
Though there is a sharp fall in radio listenership among people in rural Bangladesh, community radio still can be an enormous tool to help vulnerable coastal people face cyclones, says a new study. Expert suggests more community radio stations to keep people informed.
The airing of authentic news in local languages through community radios would be a great saviour for millions of people living in the isolated and vulnerable coastal regions, mainly small chars without electricity. The study titled 'Capacity Assessment of Community Radios for Disaster Campaign in Bangladesh' was conducted between super cyclones Titily and Fani that hit Bangladesh and Odisha coasts in 2018 and 2019.
This study is based on intensive observation of people's behaviour during the campaign on cyclonic disasters, analysis of the radio programme contents and broadcast trends of four community radio stations -- Radio Naf, Radio Sagor Diwp, Radio Krishi and Loko Betar-- situated along the 710-km Bangladesh's coastline from Teknaf to Barguna districts.
Mohammad Sahid Ullah, a professor at the Communication and Journalism of Chittagong University, led the study. The study has found that lack of an adequate campaign plan is a roadblock to an effective grassroots campaign for community radio stations working in disaster-prone areas despite having potential in collecting, transmitting and sharing detailed disaster-related information.
The study, conducted under the Hoso-Bunka Foundation research grant award, recommends a communications plan for disaster campaigns combined with maintaining a network amongst community radio stations before, during, and after the cyclone aimed at contributing to community safety, a decrease in property damage, and overall morale in the shadow of cyclonic disasters.
Chief Executive Officer of Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC) AHM Bazlur Rahman said there is a need for more community radio stations to keep people informed about how to face natural calamities, including cyclones, saying the existing community radios are playing a very significant role. Thirty-two community radios got licences to operate and 18 of them are currently operational while two more community radios got clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs, he told UNB.
The two new community radio stations are Community Radio Saikat, from Cox's Bazer, initiated by The Coastal Association for Social Transformation (COAST) Trust and Community Radio Lalon, from Kushtia, initiated by Jyoti Development Foundation (JDF). Now Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) will allocate spectrum for two-community radio stations after a spectrum vetting process.
"The government needs to award licences to more community radios," said Bazlur Rahman mentioning that the direction of cyclones will frequently change due to climate change. He said the government needs to provide generators to each community radio station as there is no electricity in coastal areas. "We need to enhance the capacity of community radios as people in coastal areas only get information through this medium during cyclones."
Radio listenership though not more than one percent among the people of study areas, it has been found that illiterate people, including women living outside the dykes, trust community radio bulletins relating to cyclones as those were broadcast in their local dialects.
The study observed that the people of upazila headquarters of the studied community radio catchment areas, usually a 17-km radius relatively depend on television channels while people living outside, trust community radio programmes and bulletins and as well as the evacuation call by cyclone preparedness programme (CPP) volunteers in absence of electricity in their areas during bad weather.
It observed from in-depth interviews from vulnerable people along with the respected community radio station managers that the dissemination of warning messages relayed via community radios has had a positive outcome in terms of reducing casualties from cyclone and tidal bore during an emergency situation. It, however, indicates that the attitude towards mediated warnings held by coastal people differ depending upon their access to media, type of dwelling and differing levels of literacy.
The study stresses the importance of providing training to community radio station managers and volunteers on special condition of broadcast along with safety of their own.
It also recommends a comprehensive broadcast manual for station managers which will enhance people-friendly cyclone-related information dissemination system and manufacturing mobile phone sets with the facilities to listen community radio programmes without connecting air phone with the device as the mobile phone penetration among the people of the coast is almost 90 percent.
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