At a time when floods and cyclones are increasing causing havoc in South Asia, Bangladesh’s community radio (CR) sector’s track record in disaster preparedness assumes special significance. AHM Bazlur Rahman, one of country’s pioneers of community radio and CEO of Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC) shares his insights with Ashish Sen on some of the reasons responsible for this achievement. Excerpts from their interaction:

On the role of CR stations during the recent Cyclone Yaas in May 2021:

“Regarding Yass, eight community radio (CR) stations (including two Community Visual Radio stations situated at the coastal belts) continued to broadcast relevant news and community services announcements to make the (local) communities aware on the emergency situation.

Together, the CR stations deployed 100 community broadcasters and volunteers to address the disaster related programmes. Conforming with Standing Orders on Disaster (SOD) of Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, community radios broadcast special bulletin updates pertinent to the cyclone every hour throughout the emergency.

The programmes were developed based on the guidelines of Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD) to protect coastal communities. The CR stations also formed teams by deploying two broadcasters who were responsible for communicating with upazila (sub district) and District Disaster Management Committees, and the district and upazila disaster control room. This facilitated regular and timely updates on weather situations caused by cyclone Yaas.

All the coastal CR stations played an active role in sharing information through radio and mobile phones with the radio listeners club, who represented their own localities. Apart from community service announcements (CSA) and interviews of and with the community, the programmes included interactions with local government officials, public representatives, and disaster management committees on disaster-related issues.

On BNNRC’s role in strengthening community-based disaster preparedness:

Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC) has been working in the area of disaster preparedness especially during cyclones since 2011. Towards this end it has striven to mobilise and enable community radios in the country to implement the SOD, Government of Bangladesh.

At the very beginning of the depression (during Cyclone Yaas), BNNRC formed a 24/7 Central Cyclone Monitoring Cell to continuously observe and monitor the situation and communicate regularly with the meta forecast department. This round the clock monitoring enabled accuracy and efficiency regarding the cyclone’s movement, trends and its destination. This information was continuously provided to the CR stations.

BNNRC also regularly shared programme updates, and weather bulletins by the weather forecast department with the radio stations and communicated closely with the national cyclone monitoring and control cell, Red Crescent team and local administrations.

On some of the reasons that have enabled the community radio sector in Bangladesh to build a strong culture of disaster preparedness:

1) Capacity Building: There has been considerable emphasis given by government and networks like BNNRC to sensitise CR stations on disaster management and disaster response.

2) Support Communication: Guidebooks and manuals on disaster risk reduction (DRR) have been developed and disseminated among CR stations contributing to increased domain knowledge within the sector.

3) Collaboration and Alliances: Emphasis has been given to strengthening linkages between relevant departments of the government of Bangladesh, other DRR stakeholders and the sector. Efforts like the 24/7 Cyclone Monitoring and Control cell and the production of training manuals by BNNRC have also played the role of a catalyst in strengthening linkages between all the stakeholders.

On BNNRC’s work in the context of the Covid 19:

BNNRC has been working to mobilise all community radios to develop and broadcast awareness-building programmes on COVID-19 since March 2020. We have seen how vital it is to get timely, accurate and trusted messages to people. In this context, BNNRC has supported 18 Community Radios stations in Bangladesh to broadcast 165 hours of Coronavirus prevention education with the active participation of the community. Thanks to these efforts, the sector, comprising a bank of 1000 community youth and youth women community radio broadcasters, reaches out to 6.5 million listeners and watchers.

For its efforts to promote ‘COVID 19: Education through Community Radio in Bangladesh’, BNNRC was recently recognised as a champion in the prestigious UN World Summit on the Information Society (UN WSIS) Prizes 2021. The award was distributed through an online platform from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland on 19 May 2021.