3 February 2013

Cameroon: Community Radio Helps Cameroonians Track Climate Change

Limbe — "Climate and weather tory. Wona lookot!" "Climate and weather news! Pay attention!"

The announcement, made in pidgin English, catches the attention of listeners to Eden Radio, a community station in the coastal town of Limbe, in Cameroon's Southwest Province.

"Put ear for Eden Radio for sabi weti weather for tomorrow di talk," the radio announcer continues, telling listeners to stay tuned for the weather forecast.

This is the introduction to a daily 30-minute programme providing locals with updates on weather and issues related to climate change - news that could affect their lives and livelihoods as Cameroon struggles to cope with increasingly extreme weather.

Some 40 community radio stations in this West African country are now incorporating disaster warning information into their programming, as part of a joint effort with the government to educate local people about climate change and the need to take preventative measures to deal with extreme weather.

Under a recent agreement between the country's ministry of communication and stations in areas vulnerable to the effects of climate change, the government is helping to finance the new programmes.

"We are aware of the important role community radios play in sensitizing the local masses, given their ... adaptation to the local reality of the people," the minister of communication, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, explained in December in Limbe, at a two-day training workshop about the new radio programmes.

The government has been supporting non-state media since 2009, with licensed community and commercial radios each receiving 1.6-2.4 million West African CFA francs (about $3,300-4,900) a year. The new agreement will double the level of aid given to the 40 community stations involved.

CHANGING AWARENESS

"Though I was born in Limbe, which is a coastal town, and have lived (through) the effects of devastating heavy rains and floods, we hitherto did not give much attention to climate oriented news," said 33-year-old Emma Moto, the station manager of Eden Radio.

But "I am now well aware of the importance of the media when it comes to early warnings on climate-triggered and other natural disasters," Moto added.

Apart from warnings about impending extreme weather, the daily broadcast includes tips on safeguarding against flooding, how to drive safely in heavy rain, and advice for farmers on effective crop planting to deal with changing weather patterns. There are also segments on wider environmental issues affecting Cameroon, such as the dangers of deforestation.

The station broadcasts its programme in pidgin English because it is the language commonly used by the population of the two English-speaking regions of Southwest and Northwest Cameroon. Moto claims that the programme is already attracting a significant audience after just a month.

Thadius Kumsi is a fisherman in Limbe, a resort where many people's livelihoods are dependent on the sea, through fishing or tourist services. The 40-year-old says that he has become a regular listener to the show, clutching his transistor radio to his ear whenever it is time for the weather news.

"I leave as early as 2 a.m. for the sea to place my net for the day's catch, so news on weather updates is very important for my business as well as others who take such early-morning risk," Kumsi explained.

LOCAL RADIO KEY

According to the government, more than 70 percent of Cameroon's population of 20 million live in rural areas where signals from the state radio and television cannot be received.

This makes the country's 60-odd local community radio stations and 50 commercial broadcasters the principal media for disseminating urgent information.

"Community radio caters best for local interests and (it) broadcasts programmes specific to local needs," said Zachee Nzohngandembou, coordinator of the Centre for Environment and Rural Transformation (CERUT), a Cameroonian nongovernmental organisation which together with the government organized the workshop for community radio broadcasters.

According to Nzohngandembou, scarcity of information on climate change is one of the major obstacles hindering African farmers from taking adaptive measures to deal with it.

He pointed to a study carried out by the government-supported Institute of Agricultural Research for Development in Ekona, which showed that over 80 percent of farmers had not taken any measures to adapt to changes in temperature and rainfall, blaming the lack of information among other factors.

"It is against this background that community radio could be useful as the right medium of broadcasting that is closest to the people at the grassroots level," Nzohngandembou said.

"Most of the community radios broadcast on FM in a number of dialects and offer very rich programmes like news, entertainment, community talk shows, music," said Felix Zogo, a technical adviser in the ministry of communication.

"We are happy that specific education programmes like climate-change-oriented disaster preparedness are also now included."

However, some environmental experts point out that most of the community stations are still in their infancy and need technical and financial assistance to be effective.

"These community radios have the challenge of covering and broadcasting environmental and climate change issues but also providing practical tips on what to do in case of a disaster, be it climate-oriented or not," said Emmanuel Ngamshi of the BioResource Centre, an NGO in Yaounde, the capital. "This entails a lot of resources, technical and financial."

NEED FOR FUNDS

In spite of the doubling of government aid, funding remains a big challenge - including finding enough money to run generators to remain on air during emergencies and power cuts, according to Eden Radio's Moto.

"Most community radio stations are funded by local NGOs, a smaller number by development partners and some by the efforts of the local communities," the station manager said. "Many of the workers are volunteers with little or no professional skills."

In the meantime, supporters are hopeful that they have found a way to encourage awareness and change.

"It is imperative to communicate especially at the grassroot (level) on the issue of climate change," said CERUT's Zachee Nzohngadembou, "be it in Cameroon, Africa or the world at large."

Elias Ntungwe Ngalame is an award-winning environmental writer with Cameroon's Eden Group of newspapers.

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