Why football results matter in disaster response radio

Radio's enduring and vital role in disaster response

By Hannah Murphy, Innovation Adviser, CDAC Network

Radio has certainly earned a special day in the international calendar. It has provided an enduring and vital service to people all over the world for more than a century and continues to revolutionise the communication landscape.

This year’s theme for World Radio Day, sport, is one of the few universal topics that can unite people across borders, cultural and economic divides, mobilise change, and is one of the top programming requests made by communities affected by disaster when consulted by humanitarian radio stations. Broadcasting the football results in emergency situations is often a priority.

In disasters when information can save lives, it’s easy to overlook another crucial role radio plays: to restore a sense of normality and connectedness. This is perhaps why radio continues to be, the world over, a source of innovation when it comes to the way people share and consume information, not only because it is accessible, reliable, informative and entertaining, but also because it speaks to the human condition, a voice in the darkness - vital for those whose lives have been ripped apart by natural disaster or conflict and have lost family members, homes.  

It was a kind of silence that is deafening – the radio broke through it somehow. To hear the music and another voice in the middle of the night made me able to hang in there for one more night.”

This quote comes from an interview with a member of one of the worst hit communities during Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in the Philippines in 2013, and forms a study looking at the impact of emergency radio during the disaster. The research, carried out by Karin Hugelius at Örebro University in Sweden, focuses on the temporary radio station and only functioning communication channel set up by First Response Radio in Tacloban City at ‘Ground Zero’ in the immediate aftermath. The study finds the radio service not only played a fundamental role in providing lifesaving information to the population but also helped survivors recover psychologically by playing music and serving as a “friend”.

Radio’s significance in people’s lives continues to grow. Audience numbers are increasing. This is perhaps surprising given the rapid development of technology, which offers up more options for sharing information and consuming content. But this veteran medium and mass communicator has kept pace by adapting to wireless and mobile. Also, there are other factors in radio’s favour: logistical advantage – before, during and after a humanitarian emergency, radio is the go-to means to alert and reach those at risk or affected; and reliability – radio is continually cited as a trusted source of information.

A flexible medium, radio serves as a powerful tool. In West Africa, for example, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is using radio as part of the ‘Aware Migrants’ campaign to highlight the risks faced by people on the move and in conflict, particularly young people. Although a multimedia campaign, IOM has found radio especially valuable for target audiences to amplify the voices of trusted messengers: returning migrants. Using real voices and stories of people who have been exploited by smugglers, the campaign raises awareness by bringing to light migrants’ experiences, the risks and realities of their journeys, and collects feedback from people in these situations.

For people living under oppressive regimes and in conflict situations where freedom of speech is crushed, media persecuted and news restricted, radio is sometimes the only source of impartial, reliable information, a connection to the outside world and a means to challenge dogma and promote peace. In Central African Republic, a country beset by poverty and conflict, Radio Ndeke Luka, supported by Fondation Hirondelle, a Swiss-based humanitarian information services organisation, is fundamental to promoting dialogue between opposing factions. For 17 years, the station has provided the population with balanced news and information 24 hours a day in the two most widely spoken languages, French and Sango.

"Talking to people in Bangui during the 2013-2014 crisis, we discovered radio was playing a vital role in providing “normality” and a sense of order. Having a schedule respected by the radio helped people structure their day when nothing around them was working anymore."

Caroline Vuillemin, Chief Executive Officer, Fondation Hirondelle

Radio Ergo in Somalia, established by International Media Support, airs daily programming on humanitarian issues and topics related to the everyday lives of Somalis. The broadcasts are on shortwave, reaching the rural areas including those parts of the country under Al-Shabab control. According to a recent survey, around 70% of the population tunes in. The station also plays an important role in providing a platform for vulnerable sections of the community to have a voice. Over a 3-month period, Radio Ergo increased the number of female voices in its coverage from 31% to 41% - the global average is only 24%.

World Radio Day offers a moment to take stock of radio’s extraordinary legacy. Its uses are varied and important, ranging from providing a lifeline, enabling someone to tell their story to making someone laugh. For the humanitarian community, sharing experiences of this enduring medium provides opportunity for greater collaboration to improve ways radio can save lives, prevent conflict, give support to the most vulnerable, restore a sense of normality, and share the football results.

Register for CDAC Network’s open event on World Radio Day, Radio - A beacon of progress in today’s tech-led communication landscape, on World Radio Day, Tuesday 13 February 2018 from 15.30 to 18.00 at the International Organization for Migration, 17 Route des Morillons, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, Geneva, Switzerland.