Print Edition - 2014-08-03  |  On Saturday

Environment FM

  • How community radio is bringing a non-technical citizenry closer to understanding Nepal’s environmental issues
- Sabrina Toppa
Environment FM

Aug 1, 2014-

What is climate change?” asks Tika Ram Rai, the station manager for Radio Sagarmatha. “Climate change is a very technical word that has a lot of dynamism on an international scale, national scale, and local scale,” he says. “But the meanings are different in each context.”

At Radio Sagarmatha, founded by the Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists, the community radio station regularly deconstructs terms like climate change for a non-technical laity.

And it makes them relevant for the local communities it’s broadcasting to. “In some places, there is no rain for 18 months,” Rai says. “In these areas, farmers face severe challenges with crop production. We teach them how to adapt. There may be some area in the country with heavy rainfall, but in eastern Nepal, oranges have stopped growing—this is a climate issue.” Radio Sagarmatha tailors its radio programme according to community issues, recognising that issues affecting the local community in Tarai are different from those in Kathmandu Valley. Since Radio Sagarmatha’s signal does not have a  nationwide reach, the station partners with 36 local radio stations to pick up its episodes where it cannot reach.

According to 20-year-old Sabuna Gamal, a youth involved in Nepal’s environmental radio programming, “Climate change is a huge issue in Nepal. Although Nepal produces low amonts of greenhouse gases, it is vulnerable to climate change and we need to pursue action to mitigate its damage.”

Gamal is one of 20 students who will create radio episodes confronting Nepal’s most pressing environmental problems this year. Recruited by the Near East and South Asian Undergraduate  Alumni Association of Nepal (NESAAAN), she will co-produce several environmental radio episodes  for the radio project piloted by NESAAAN. Her episode will air on Bhaktapur FM, while other students’ episodes will air on City FM, Prakriti FM, and Nepal Baani in Kathmandu, Dang, and Illam, respectively.

“Since most of Nepal does not have access to newspapers and televisions, radio can be a reliable source to spread the environmental message to the remote parts of the country,”NESAAAN leader Tanoj Dulal says.

In Nepal, radio is the perfect medium to transmit this information. Radio remains the most popular format for receiving information in the country, especially in rural areas where television ownership remains low, alongside literacy rates.

Stations like Radio Sagarmatha—independent community radio stations not beholden to commercial or state interests—are one platform to engage environmental issues in a public forum.

And NESAAAN’s youth-led environmental radio project is another. While Radio Sagarmatha sometimes has difficulty attracting young listeners, NESAAAN understands that youths can be pioneers when it comes to transmitting difficult but important technical topics to the laity.

Through its technical training, NESAAAN  is ensuring that technically knowledgeable students are on air throughout the country. This year, NESAAAN selected 20 students nationwide, educating them on topics related to the role of youth in environmental protection, during a five-day residential training programme. Participants were expected to return to their respective districts and conduct school workshops based on the training. With the training, students established eco-clubs in schools, which received seed grants in the hope of producing a self-sustaining enterprise.

Based on these activities, each participant was tasked with preparing an intensive radio episode on the role of the youth in environmental protection.

For Garima Rasaili, one of the participants, the task is not a small one. Although she has an environmental background by education, it takes creativity to break down complex topics and make them relevant for young listeners. The first episode she produced focused on waste management in Kathmandu Valley. How should we mitigate it? How is the government managing it? She interviewed local residents in Teku’s waste dumping zone about the impact of a disposal site in their neighbourhood. By focusing on human stories, she made the environment a social issue affecting everyone.

Indeed, rather than simply lecturing on-air, the students create dramatic episodes with scripts and characters facing the fallout of environmental degradation. Raisali’s second episode included a drama that explored the significance of environmental education on climate change, deforestation, unemployment, superstitions and more.

The emphasis on drama is one tool to demystify the science behind climate change. The plotlines enable a non-technical audience to grasp the urgency of environmental awareness. Often, dramas evoke emotional responses a simple informational announcement never can. And listeners can identify with characters more easily than a standard public service announcement.

Likewise, Radio Sagarmatha produces 30-minute one-topic shows like Vatbaran Dabali (Environment Forum) giving a platform to a single issue, like riding bikes. The station brings climate experts like Bhusan Tuladhar to talk about bicycle riding. This one-on-one format allows for personal storytelling, as well as question and answer forums. Other shows include the weekly Rooftop, with discussions on growing vegetables or using organic pesticides. In a country where so many farmers’ sons are migrating overseas because of lack of work here, having a self-replenishing vegetable supply can only be a boon.

It’s clear that NESAAAN and Radio Sagarmatha excel at linking the environment to society and the economics or struggles around mitigation.

“Community radio is a vehicle of sustainable development,” Rai says.“It allows us to advocate for the environment.”

And for listeners, that can only make it something worth tuning into.

Published: 03-08-2014 18:27

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