Author: Rishika Das Roy, January 27 2016 - How a life-saving radio station in the Himalayas is helping prepare its listeners for potential flooding, earthquakes and landslides:

Tucked away in the Himalayas, close to some of India’s highest mountain ranges, hides a life-saving community radio station.

Named after a local river, Mandakini Ki Awaaz (‘Voice of the Mandakini’), the broadcaster is located in Uttarakhand state, an area in India at particular risk of earthquakes, flooding and landslides.

In 2013, devastating floods took the lives of over 5,000 people and displaced 100,000 more in the area. Lack of information proved to be a huge obstacle in the rescue, relief and rehabilitation process. Since the disaster, Mandakini Ki Awaaz (MKA) has worked tirelessly to provide information to help listeners prepare for future emergencies. Their work is vital, for many people living in isolated and inaccessible parts of Uttarakhand, radio is their only form of communication with the outside world.

My colleagues and I had climbed to the station’s lofty heights to deliver training on Lifeline, a special programme designed to help broadcasters provide timely, accurate and useful information to people during and immediately after a disaster.

Simple, doable actions

Training, conducted in collaboration with station staff, disaster experts and NGOs, helped them create a ‘message library’ of simple, doable actions to be broadcast at short notice in the event of an earthquake, flood or landslide. They also produced public service announcements (PSAs), using drama to explain the importance of keeping a first aid kit at home and taking early warning signs seriously.

After a week of collaborative training, a full Lifeline show was broadcast ‘live’; with a weather forecast, a quiz to test listeners’ knowledge of emergency numbers, an interview with a disaster risk expert, PSAs and a feature about avoiding building houses in earthquake prone zones. With this new structure in place, the station plans to continue the show on a monthly basis.

Innovative fix

Lifeline training is always a two-way process, and we learned a few things from the station too. Jugaad is the colloquially used Hindi term for an ‘innovative fix’ and an apt description for the station’s guiding spirit and ‘never-say-no’ attitude. Enterprising MKA staff have plastered mud on their walls to improve acoustics and connected their mobiles to a flash recorder (a device that converts voice into digital formats) in the absence of a recording or mixing console. This enables them to edit phone-in interviews ‘live’ – no mean feat in the middle of a show!

Up in the mountain clouds, it’s not difficult to imagine how hard it would be for the 300 surrounding villages to access information during an emergency without MKA.

Transmitting ‘live’ each day to 250,000 listeners (most without other forms of media), the innovative and creative staff at MKA are broadcasting vital information through radio – and with it, can help save lives. 

Click here to access this BBC Media Action blog and related links on their work on Lifeline Programming - in time for World Radio Day (February 13 2016).

Image credit/caption: BBC Media Action, "Station staff with BBC Media Action Lifeline trainers, Rishika (third from right) and Shefali (far right)."

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