Emergency radio reaches millions in Pakistan
Within days of the monsoon flooding that devastated Pakistan at the end of July, the BBC World Service Trust in partnership with BBC Urdu began broadcasting emergency radio programming to millions of listeners through Pakistan Lifeline.
The programme has been reaching over 60 million affected people across the country since 9th August through the BBC and partner FM radio stations. The joint humanitarian information project infoasaid, coordinated by the BBC WST and Internews, provided funding for the initial month-long service.
In its early stages, Pakistan Lifeline helped provide immediate basic survival information: how to gain access to food and water, weather reports, essential medical advice and where to gain assistance.
However as the full scale of the disaster unfolds – the UN’s humanitarian agency (UN OCHA) now estimates over 18 million people affected – the focus will change.
"Previous experience has shown that the need for vital information doesn’t subside, only changes – with more emphasis on family reunification services and housing – making this an ongoing, constantly evolving and challenging process" says Caroline Nursey, Executive Director, BBC World Service Trust.
Pakistan Lifeline also provides a vital platform for individuals and communities to connect, as Shafi Naqi Jamie of BBC Urdu explains:
"We give voice to people who are feeling desperate and abandoned. Hopefully others in the same situation will hear those stories and feel they aren't alone."
Saba Rehmat Emmanuel, 23, is a key part of the Lifeline team in Islamabad. Her main responsibility is to receive and log calls from listeners. She says:
"I’m the person who listens to all the calls from around Pakistan, everywhere from North to South. I listen to every call we get and I log it into our computer.
"It’s my first experience of a professional job. I’m lucky that my first start is with the BBC.
"From all the calls I get, I know that most people are facing hunger and diseases like malaria. People are also suffering diarrhoea, eye infections and many skin problems.
"The children are more affected by disease. Many callers tell me that their children are dying because they couldn't get to a doctor or treatment.
"Sometimes it is really difficult for me to listen to the callers. They are begging and crying for help.
"One child called and said 'The water is full of snakes and insects. Please help'.
"As they face these problems people are also complaining that aid is not reaching the right hands. They say leaders and elders are getting aid but they keep the relief goods in their homes.
"I’ve been listening to these calls for more than three weeks. And every day when I go back home I pray for the affected people and wish I could do something to make it all alright."
Delivering vital information
Pakistan Lifeline is currently receiving around six hundred calls a day. Many listeners simply describe the devastation they have witnessed and the ensuing challenges, and many call for aid:
"Rampant rains and landslides are causing deaths everyday. We are in dire need of tents for shelter and food: the markets have run out of stock and connecting roads to Baluchistan and Punjab have been swept away." Zafar Iqbal, Koh-e-Sulieman (Baluchistan)
"Children are suffering from malnutrition; we need clean drinking water, sugar and milk immediately. I want to bring the world's attention to the misery our children are under. Please help us!" Saif-ur-Rehman, Multan (Punjab)
As Caroline Nursey says, the key now is to continue to deliver appropriate information when and where it is needed:
"The infoasaid project has provided funds to react straight away in Pakistan and to mount a communications response for an initial four week period", she says. "We are now exploring funding for a second phase response to meet the changing needs for information in the later stages of the emergency."