Somalia: OCHA founded radio station turns words into action

17 Jul 2014

2013, Somalia: A Radio Ergo reporter speaks with a member of a small Somali community. Radio Ergo is Somalia's only dedicated humanitarian radio service, linking vulnerable communities with humanitarian actors. Credit: Radio Ergo
Every day, Radio Ergo provides a link between vulnerable communities in Somalia and humanitarian organizations.

Hearing her voice on the radio, Farhia Hersi was overjoyed. She remembered speaking to a reporter about water shortages in Ceel Waq in southern Somalia’s Gedo region, but never imagined anything would come of it.

Here she was on the radio, appealing to listeners on behalf of her community about their urgent need for water. A week later, water trucks arrived thanks to an attentive and responsive local NGO.

There are many radio stations in Somalia vying for listeners, but Radio Ergo is the country’s only dedicated humanitarian radio service. Over the past three years, Radio Ergo has created a niche for itself by making a positive difference in the lives of people across Somalia.

Voicing key issues

Somalia, as is the case in many African countries, is predominantly an oral society, meaning radio is a powerful tool for communication.
In Somali, ergo means ‘envoy of people in need’ or ‘mediator of conflict’. Radio Ergo offers an important platform to amplify the voices of local communities, and advocate for their needs. It can also channel these voices, views and frustrations, into the operations rooms of UN agencies and their humanitarian partners.

For an hour each day, the station broadcasts content that highlights issues affecting local communities via at least 19 local partner radio stations across the country.

Words into action

Mohamud Mohamed Abdi, a disabled 62-year old tailor lives with his wife and seven children in Baidoa, a region in the south. Mohamud described his family’s poor living conditions to a Radio Ergo reporter.

He had forgotten about the conversation until a group of young people arrived at his doorstep. Inspired by the interview, they took it upon themselves to collect money and build Mohamud and his family a new home.

He was overwhelmed that his discussion with the Radio Ergo reported had prompted the community to help him. “We are very grateful; they have transformed our lives from being homeless to homeowners,” he said.

Protecting people

Radio Ergo’s programming is varied. Every day, listeners can tune in to dramas, talk shows, and interviews with experts on a range of humanitarian issues, including health, education, and displacement.

Another important role the radio station plays is to issue weather warnings – this is critical in a country where natural disasters pose a constant threat. Warnings ahead of annual floods along the Somalia’s two largest rivers give people the time to move safely to higher ground.

Similarly, following a recent measles outbreak, Radio Ergo issued a public information bulletin, giving people potentially life-saving information about preventative measures and treatment for infected children.

The beginning

Radio Ergo started its life under the auspices of IRIN. It was taken over by the media development agency International Media Support in July 2011. It now operates on modest funding from the Swiss Development Cooperation, the Danish Refugee Council, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Australian Aid and the OCHA-managed Common Humanitarian Fund for Somalia.

To strengthen its interaction with affected communities, Ergo has partnered with FreedomFone, to better capture feedback via SMS and voice messaging. The service has been receiving on average 40-50 messages daily since its inception in May 2013. However, it lacks a full-time analyst to develop systems to feed this feedback into the humanitarian community.

Ergo manager Louise Tunbridge has been a tireless advocate for the views of affected communities, and hopes that more people will support this initiative. “Efforts to ensure affected communities can communicate with responders are particularly important to us, and we call upon the aid community to take advantage of our service and support it.”