Good morning, Haiti!

Haiti Hits the Airwaves

If the idea of community radio immediately makes you think of Robin Williams’ famous turn as a DJ belting out rock ‘n’ roll in the 80s classic, Good Morning, Vietnam! you may be forgiven. But today, community radio means much more than providing entertainment in a far-flung outpost.

When Hurricane Matthew swept through the Caribbean in early October 2016, Haiti’s south was one of the most severely damaged areas, leaving more than one million people in need of assistance. Although the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) wasn’t officially activated, World Food Programme (WFP), as global lead of the ETC, immediately convened the Haiti ICT Working Group to promote collaboration between humanitarian, government and private sector partners and help ensure vital communications services were provided.

Connecting the Response Community

With the support of ETC members Ericsson Response and (Government of Luxembourg) and WFP’s emergency response capacity, the Fast IT and Telecommunications Emergency and Support Team (FITTEST) shared internet services were provided at 16 sites across Les Cayes and Jeremie to support Government at the Regional Emergency Operations Centre (COUDS), and humanitarian common operational hubs. At the peak of the response, over 900 registered users from more than 200 entities were using these vital connectivity services.

Weeks into the response, communities were still struggling to recover amid ongoing rain, blocked routes and an underfunded response effort. It was also increasingly clear that alongside physical aid items, there was a desperate need for something else: useful information and the ability to communicate.

After conducting their own independent study, the Haiti ICT Working Group found that the majority of Haitians turned to radio as their preferred way to receive key information about the response and news in general.

So the plan to rehabilitate four community radio stations with Internews was born.

Enabling Community Communication

Through the ‘Enabling Humanitarian Communication in Haiti’ project implemented in partnership with Internews, the WFP-led Haiti ICT Working Group will improve radio stations’ abilities to transmit important, localised messages and invite increased community dialogue on humanitarian issues. Humanitarian agencies on the ground and local authorities will have the opportunity to broadcast clear and coordinated messages to communities on distribution schedules, entitlements, nutrition and other relevant humanitarian issues.

“The Haiti radio rehabilitation project is a new but crucial way for the Telecommunications Cluster to better support those we serve,” said Gabriela Alvarado, WFP’s Regional IT Officer. “Through projects such as this, we can now better serve the affected population with communications to give them the information they need, particularly when disasters strike.”

Four community radio stations in some of the worst-affected and remote areas in Grand-Anse, Sud and Nippes, are currently being rehabilitated by installing new equipment and providing basic power and ICT support, equipping them to receive, create and transmit humanitarian content for broadcast. Internet connectivity will be provided to the stations for three months.

“Internews expertise is and has always been in amplifying community voices while at the same time providing them the information they need to make informed decisions about their life,” said Anahi Ayala Iacucci, Senior Director – Humanitarian Programs at Internews. “With this project we have been able to reconnect hundreds of people affected by Hurricane Matthew to allow them to access reliable and verified information.”

ETC Services for Communities

Chris Alagna, Haiti ICT Working Group Coordinator, has spent the last two months in the wilds of rural Haiti taking time to ensure the project is executed as perfectly as possible. It reflects the passion he has for his work. “I think this project is awesome. I love the shift that FITTEST and radio has now taken. Working here in a remote village in Nippes with the community radio station, Radyo Louvri Je – open your eyes – you can see the volunteers here are passionate about their community and their radio programs, and I know that what we are working on here today will benefit this specific community for at least the next 10 years.”

This community engagement is central to the ETC’s 2020 strategy which involves putting affected communities at the heart of the response by rolling out Services for Communities projects, tailored to a specific emergency context and specific community needs.

“The radio rehabilitation project conducted in partnership with ETC has been a great way to show how technical expertise in technology and media development organisations can come together to support affected communities,” said Anahi. “These types of partnerships are an example of how emergency responders can work together to support communities by restoring their information channels, and in this way allowing them to be engaged in the response and actively participate in their own recovery.”

By Suzanne Fenton, WFP IT Emergency Preparedness & Response