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Himalayans tune in radio shows to reduce climate disaster risk

by Sujit Chakraborty | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Saturday, 13 December 2014 08:02 GMT

After the Uttarakhand disaster, people are turning to community radio for help to avoid future crises

By Sujit Chakraborty

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - "You know, humans do not understand that unless I am there to hold on to the soil, you will not be there either," the tree tells the mountain.

"Yes, but ... villagers demand a road, the politician pushes for it and they cut parts of me and cut you and your folks too, and then there is a landslide!" replies the mountain.

This unusual dialogue is heard by several thousand people tuned to Venval Vani, a community radio station based in Chamba, Uttarakhand, the north Indian state devastated by severe flooding in 2013.

Venval Vani began broadcasting programmes on the environment and climate change in June this year, the first anniversary of the torrential rains that caused landslides and flash floods in and around the Himalayan town of Kedarnath.

The disaster swept away entire villages, killed more than 5,000 people and forced the evacuation of more than 100,000 others.

The radio programme "Nau Par Vikaas Ka" ("In the Name of Development") is one of several that now aim to raise awareness of ways to minimise the risks associated with the most severe impacts of climate change.

Elsewhere in Uttarakhand, on Kumaon Vani Community Radio, a talk show called "Bajauni Dhura Thandho Paani" ("Large-leaf Trees and Cold Water") addresses deforestation and its effect on water supplies.

The programme's title refers to the local belief that the best source of sweet cold water is near the base of certain trees.

"These trees, such as oak, rhododendron and the kharsu (an endemic species), are primarily responsible for groundwater recharging, but they are fast vanishing, being cut, whether for timber or for so-called 'developmental works' such as roads or tourist resorts," said Harish Bisht, programme head at Kumaon Vani.


Venu Arora of Ideosync Media, which provided environmental training for programme makers at six community radio stations in Uttarakhand, supported by funding from the U.S.-based Ford Foundation, said rising population means old ways of doing things are having an ever higher environmental cost in the region.

"There are damaging customs in the hills, which perhaps was sustainable when the population was much less, but (is) no longer so," Arora said.

"For instance, whenever there is a wedding in a family, relatives coming from far and near would bring with them logs as part of their custom. Now people listening to the various community radios across the state are trying to do away with this," Arora said.

The programmes generally start with a general overview of the topic, followed by experts discussing specific issues and then a segment in which listeners can phone in, Bisht said. Heads of the radio stations trained by Ideosync Media say the Kedarnath catastrophe has given them a reason to devote programmes exclusively to climate change, forest degradation and disasters.


"There is a growing demand for such programmes," said Ravi Gossain, the head of Venval Vani. "Our listeners have been insisting that knowledge regarding climate change and environment must be disseminated."

"We see the disasters around us, we suffer big and small landslides daily," said Gauri Negi, a listener, during a discussion with other callers to the programme. "We know why these happen, but there was no platform for such an open discussion. Now... we feel empowered."

Ideosync's training of broadcasters included education on everything from forest rules and regulations to mining laws, disaster preparedness and water conservation, said Leonea Fernandez, a programme officer at the media group.

Listeners have not taken the new programming's messages without some pushback, however, Gossain said.

"People demand that we should tell them about climate change and environmental science and good practices. But they also need roads. Every village demands roads right where they are. This means felling trees, and that is creating (the conditions for) disaster," he said.

But the programming is generating enthusiasm among its audience. Gossain remembers one listener, Harish Kothari, who afterward offered to write scripts for the programmes and has now completed half a dozen which are being reviewed by the station.

Govind Bisht, a regular listener of "Nau Par Vikas", says the message of the programming is clear.

"The Kedarnath disaster taught us a lesson with a tight slap to our faces: 'Listen when nature talks!'" (Reporting by Sujit Chakraborty; editing by Laurie Goering)

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