PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti–(ENEWSPF)–3 February 2010 – A cacophony of songs and voices drifts from the tented camp as thousands of handheld radios transmit entertainment and, more important, information.
A UNICEF public service announcement on nutrition blares out of several radios tuned into Port-au-Prince’s Radio One. The station is just one of more than 20 radio outlets in the Haitian capital that are working with Internews, a UNICEF partner and international media development organization providing news reports to hundreds of thousands of people affected by the 12 January earthquake.
The broadcasts are an important part of UNICEF’s effort to ensure that life-saving aid reaches displaced children and families in Haiti, where nearly 40 per cent of the population is under 14 years of age. In this regard, the aftermath of the quake is very much a children’s emergency.
Many Haitian children now face the threat of diseases such as diphtheria, measles and tetanus, for example, and their families need information about an immunization campaign that UNICEF and its partners have just launched to protect them.
Ensuring access to clean water and sanitation is also an urgent concern, and quake victims need to know that UNICEF is distributing more than 2.6 million litres of drinking water per day in Port-au-Prince, Leogane and Jacmel.
“In any emergency, the first priority is the delivery of critical aid,” said Internews Humanitarian Coordinator Jacobo Quintanilla. “But communities need more than that. They also need information. It’s critical for them to know where they can get water, where they can get certain facilities, how to access those medical centres.”
Every day, Internews journalists take to the streets and camps to talk to those who have lost everything and see if they are getting the support they need. “We’re trying to find out how those people are living,” said Haitian journalist Johnny Cesar Etienne. “Are they able to get food? Are they able to get water?”
A daily news show is then packaged along with the latest announcements from UNICEF and other humanitarian agencies. The programme is duplicated on CDs and delivered to the partner stations. It hits the airwaves within minutes.
“This is an opportunity for us to gather information on health – mostly for hygiene,” said UNICEF Haiti Communication Officer Elizabeth Augustin. She added that the news show also offers guidance on AIDS prevention, child nutrition and breastfeeding, among other key topics.
“We’ve been sharing our messages that we prepared with the Ministry of Health, and [the radio stations] broadcast them for us,” said Ms. Augustin.
To ensure that the information is received, Internews is distributing thousands of handheld radios to the same stations that broadcast the programme. The stations, in turn, sign an agreement to distribute the radios to those most in need: namely, female-headed households and families displaced by the quake.
A wave of sound
The radios are wind-up and solar-powered, can be tuned in to multiple frequencies and double as torches for lighting at night – so families living in the camps will always be able to tune in.
The wave of sound that greets visitors to many camps is evidence of that point.
“We see around the tents, in many camps, that people are using now the small radio to get the show,” said Mr. Cesar.
Internews is part of Communications with Disaster Affected Communities, a partnership that includes the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the BBC World Service Trust, Thompson-Reuters, Save the Children and the Red Cross. Together with UNICEF, the partners aim to make sure that those who have survived the quake get the information they need to start rebuilding their lives – and the lives of their children.