From shack to shackOn Tuesday afternoon last week, Subash Karki of the radio programme Milijuli Nepali approached a woman cradling an infant at a temporary shelter in Shahi Tol of Tarakeshwor Municipality in Kathmandu Valley.
On Tuesday afternoon last week, Subash Karki of the radio programme Milijuli Nepali approached a woman cradling an infant at a temporary shelter in Shahi Tol of Tarakeshwor Municipality in Kathmandu Valley. She told him that she had lost her home to the recent earthquakes, and that the cold inside the shack was making her baby sick. Expecting to encounter exactly this kind of problem, the Milijuli team had brought along paediatrician Dr Narayan Bahadur Basnet. He prescribed some remedies for the baby and as he provided suggestions to the woman, listeners around the country tuned into the conversation. What Milijuli is doing with programmes such as this, a new concept for journalism in Nepal, is taking information from the people on the ground to listeners around Nepal who can pick up useful nuggets of information from the encounters.
A 15-minute radio programme, Milijuli Nepali has a simple working model: Its crew find earthquake survivors and then broadcast what the people have to say. The people they interview are not just needy folks waiting to be rescued; some of their interviewees are people who want to share stories about how they survived the quakes and what they have been doing since to cope in the aftermath.
In the immediate aftermath of the Great Earthquake, people needed practical information that they could use to get back on their feet again. Relief is the chief need when disaster strikes, but information comes a close second. While Nepal did receive overwhelming relief aid after the April 25 earthquake, people were nonetheless hard-pressed to get life-saving information and ideas on what how to make it through the bleak days. Realising this deficit, BBC Media Action created Milijuli Nepali, a radio programme that strives to provide “practical information, give hope and motivate people”.
BBC Media Action is part of BBC’s charity wing and it produces media programmes, mostly for radio and TV, in more than two dozen countries and has a reach of more than 200 million viewers and listeners worldwide.
The country director of BBC Media Action, Mona Laczo, says that during disasters, the facts from the ground are exceedingly important. “People need information to get on with their lives and a lifeline programme through radio means they can learn from each other,” she says.
Milijuli Nepali airs six nights a week at 9:15 pm over several FM stations in the country. The first episode was recorded on May 1, between the two major earthquakes on April 25 and May 12. In those days, there were innumerable rumours making the rounds and people were in a state of panic. Media Action learned that people wanted to know things such as if and when another earthquake were to strike how they could protect their children, how they could remain safe during aftershocks, how to build temporary shelters and how to deal with health and hygiene issues.
Today, for every episode, the team travel to earthquake-affected neighbourhoods and record their conversations with the people. They encourage the interviewees to talk about their coping skills. Last Tuesday, the Milijuli crew also met people in North Valley, Dharmasthali, who had been living in shacks made of corrugated iron sheets long before the earthquakes struck. The crew talked to the people in this community and provided the information they gleaned from there to the new group of settlers nearby—comprising earthquake survivors, such as the woman with the baby that Dr Basnet counselled—living in temporary shacks. One Sukraj Limbu, in the North Valley community, told the crew that he had barred the large gap between the main door and the floor of his shack with wooden logs to keep out pests and to keep his toddler from wandering outside. The crew relayed this simple and effective technique to the earthquake survivors—such information was not included in the relief packages that had been sent to the community.
Nisha Rai, another Milijuli RJ, learned from the settlers in North Valley how people could keep warm under the tin roofs in the winter and that information was broadcast over the networks too. And during the interaction, Dr Basnet observed that the people were suffering from sanitation problems. He advised them to keep their toilets away from kitchens, build trenches to dispose waste water and to arrange for ventilations in the kitchens. These suggestions, which were taken up by the settlers, were also simultaneously broadcast to Milijuli’s listeners nationwide.
When creating the episodes, Media Action employs a rigorous, tested method. A travelling team of volunteers conducts surveys that identify people’s information needs and collate public feedback. The survey collects data on demographics, sources of information that people use and their views on the media. In most cases, earthquake-affected respondents say they want information about shelter, the security situation and ways to get financial support. In all surveys, radio was identified as the primary and the most trusted source of information among the majority of the people.
Armed with the information they have collected, Media Action then design and produce their episodes.
“We found that most people needed to know how to build effective shelters and remain secure,” Laczo says. “That’s why the radio programme talks about these issues. The radio is an accessible medium and can reach a massive audience. We also constantly monitor our impact to ensure that we are being effective in our outreach.”
The crew believe in what they are doing. They understand that authentic information collected from the survivors on the ground and relayed to other similar survivors hits home.
“Immediately after the earthquake, I set out for disaster-hit areas with relief materials, but I find what I am doing now—providing useful information—very rewarding too,” says Dr Basnet. “Travelling with relief only helps particular communities, whereas informing people through the radio helps larger audiences everywhere,” he says. “Information is indeed aid.”