Thinking about the role of radio for water integrity

Today, 13th of February, is the World Radio Day. This is actually only the second World Radio Day, following a proclamation by the United Nations for it on 29 September 2011 and the first one taking place in 2012.

Why should there be a focus in the development sector on radio as a means of communication?

Radio is still one of most pervasive and important medium in some parts of the world and particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. It has a wide outreach to the main population and especially the rural poor.

It’s a medium that, due to its local specificity, can adapt its content to many languages, contexts and events. It’s also partially a social vehicle; people gather together to listen and discuss radio programmes, and sometimes call the radio stations with comments. Radio has the potential to create dialogue and to share messages that, sometimes desperately, need to reach the masses. Broadcasting via radio is cost effective in comparison to other media.

WIN is aware of this, and because of the complex and all pervasive problem that corruption is, as well as because of the lack of accessible information on the topic, WIN worked together with Farm Radio International (FRI) in 2009 and 2010 on a project that aimed to use radio to discuss integrity and corruption in the water sector with small-scale rural farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. Seven scripts were written by local writers and researchers, which were then formatted into a package distributed in November to FRI’s 350 broadcast partners in 39 countries.

Cover of the Farm Radio International script package on water integrity

This very interesting project was quite successful; with evaluations showing an increased interest in sustainable access to water and several listeners calling in to the radio stations to ask questions or comment. However, the evaluations also showed that the topic of corruption still is scary and broadcasters noted that some listeners were afraid to give away too much information about themselves or specific situations they were discussing. Despite this, the participation of the audience was crucial in making it a successful project.

Some communities went on to form their own water communities or to review the water supply procedures of their community. This shows what potential radio can have, in particular when participatory methods are integrated.

The more stories and broadcasts programmes there are, the less unapproachable the topic can seem and the higher participation by rural communities there will be.

However, large scale radio projects for awareness raising and wide impact require quite some resources, and in a time where more and more focus is given to digital communication, which is rather low-cost in comparison, prioritising radio as a key communication for development tool can seem less evident. Still, World Radio Day reminds of us of this important communication tool that can be a true agent of change and of democratisation.

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