Com­mu­ni­ty Media and Dis­as­ter Risk Reduc­tion: AMARC at the UN Glob­al Plat­form on Dis­as­ter Risk Reduc­tion

The Glob­al Plat­form for Dis­as­ter Risk Reduc­tion is a bien­ni­al mul­ti-stake­hold­er forum estab­lished by the UN Gen­er­al Assem­bly to review progress, share knowl­edge and dis­cuss the lat­est devel­op­ments and trends in reduc­ing dis­as­ter risk. The sixth ses­sion of the Glob­al Plat­form for Dis­as­ter Risk Reduc­tion (GP2019) took place in Gene­va, Switzer­land from 13 to 17 May, 2019, con­vened and orga­nized by the UN Office for Dis­as­ter Risk Reduc­tion (UNDRR) and host­ed by the Gov­ern­ment of Switzer­land.

In this frame­work, Grass­roots Radio part­ner AMARC was invit­ed to rep­re­sent the com­mu­ni­ty radio sec­tor on the pan­el dis­cus­sion orga­nized by WBU (World­wide Broad­cast­ing Unions), on the role of media in dis­as­ter risk reduc­tion and how accu­rate and time­ly infor­ma­tion through tv, radio and print­ed media could impact pos­i­tive­ly pop­u­la­tions, prepar­ing them against dis­as­ters and alert­ing them on increas­ing dis­as­ter risk.

The debate under­lined the impor­tance of the coop­er­a­tion in all phase of dis­as­ter risk man­age­ment poli­cies between media, gov­ern­ments and inter­na­tion­al agen­cies. From the per­spec­tive of com­mu­ni­ty broad­cast­ers, AMARC high­light­ed the dou­ble role of com­mu­ni­ty media: gath­er infor­ma­tion from local com­mu­ni­ties, shar­ing it with oth­er actors on the ground, and address­ing infor­ma­tion to the com­mu­ni­ties, with coor­di­nat­ed mes­sages and the use of local lan­guages.

Dur­ing or just after nat­ur­al dis­as­ters, as a mat­ter of fact, despite the need to increase the infor­ma­tion flow, AMARC reg­is­tered the trend to decrease it. This is due to a vari­ety of rea­sons. Radio sta­tions might have been affect­ed by the dis­as­ter (stu­dio, or broad­cast­ing devices, main­ly anten­na sys­tem and tow­er), or the per­son­nel of the radio sta­tion might have been affect­ed, direct­ly or indi­rect­ly (fam­i­ly, friends etc..), and there­fore it can have less time for the radio activ­i­ties

The issue of IDPs, Inter­nal Dis­placed Peo­ple is not sec­ondary: per­son­nel of the radio sta­tion can move from one place to anoth­er with­in the coun­try (e.g. peo­ple from Port au Prince was mov­ing back to their orig­i­nal provinces in oth­er cities, after the dis­as­ter of 2010).

For local com­mer­cial sta­tions the prob­lems are exact­ly the same. Even if the radio or the per­son­nel have not been direct­ly affect­ed, the local adver­tise­ment mech­a­nism decreas­es, and there­fore some sta­tions are oblig­ed to stop or reduce the broad­cast­ing hours due to a decrease of income. Last but not least, pow­er sup­ply can be very prob­lem­at­ic.

Nowa­days, AMARC, with a vari­ety of part­ners from the jour­nal­is­tic, tech­ni­cal, civ­il soci­ety and aca­d­e­m­ic sec­tor, is explor­ing new tech­nolo­gies avail­able to sup­port the role of media in dis­as­ter risk reduc­tion. With­in the Grass­roots Radio project (EU H2020 pro­gram), new pos­si­bil­i­ties are in place through:

  • strong inter­ac­tion between mobile tele­pho­ny and tra­di­tion­al radio through the RootIo mech­a­nism, an open source plat­form, tele­phone appli­ca­tion and radio man­age­ment sys­tem, with a strong capac­i­ty to enhance lis­ten­ers par­tic­i­pa­tion, remote con­trol mech­a­nisms for tra­di­tion­al radio pro­gram­ming, mes­sag­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties etc..
  • TTS tech­nolo­gies: Text To Speech tech­nolo­gies and their use for radio are increas­ing­ly inter­est­ing, in espe­cial­ly if relat­ed to pub­lic ser­vice announce­ments, real time mes­sag­ing on radio and a vari­ety of mes­sages to be pro­vid­ed in real time through text (cell phones) and audio, through radios.

Accord­ing to the Grass­roots Radio project part­ner involved in TTS research and tech­nol­o­gy, CERE­PROC, the devel­op­ment process is quite advanced for “tra­di­tion­al” wide­spread lan­guages (Eng­lish, French, Russ­ian, etc..). Doing region­al accents is quite easy and build­ing a voice could be done in a cou­ple of days if the major lan­guage com­po­nent is already done. For new lan­guages it is still quite time con­sum­ing, around 6 – 12 months to do a decent job avoid­ing errors.

Some final rec­om­men­da­tions have been sub­mit­ted by AMARC to UNDRR and WBU. First of all, an emer­gency fund needs to be in place to sup­port com­mu­ni­ty radios in times of dis­as­ters. Emer­gency broad­cast­ing is a chal­lenge in urban and semi-urban loca­tions, i.e. in Asia-Pacif­ic due to the over use of spec­trum. For this rea­son, clear pol­i­cy guide­line should ensure the col­lab­o­ra­tion between broad­cast­ers and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion ser­vice providers at times of dis­as­ter. Final­ly, there is the need to fos­ter poli­cies and prac­tices of coop­er­a­tion among dif­fer­ent types of broad­cast­ers, Pub­lic Ser­vice Broad­cast­ers, com­mer­cial and com­mu­ni­ty radios.

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