Radio cyclone warnings save thousands of lives

family flees floods
Bangladesh has dramatically reduced its death toll from extreme weather events such as cyclones by shifting from disaster response to disaster risk reduction and early warnings. Photo: UNDP Bangladesh

Monu Mia is no stranger to cyclones.

“I have survived several cyclones but the memory of losing my family in a cyclone stays with me,” the fisherman from Moheshkhali says. Mr. Monu comes from an impoverished community of fishermen, people so poor that even some of the lowest mobile phone tariffs in the world such as those in Bangladesh are viewed as a luxury for them.

Speaking softly Mr. Monu explains that fishermen previously depended on traditional prediction methods for cyclones or bad weather before going to sea. “When Gorky hit, I couldn’t warn my family and others around us to take necessary preparations,” he says of the 1991 cyclone that claimed upwards of 100,000 lives in Bangladesh.


  • More than 3.5 million people evacuated through more effective early warning system and a network of 48,540 trained volunteers.
  • UNDP trained staff at the Bangladesh Meteorological Department help track tropical storms with modern equipment connecting them to international weather forecasting agencies.
  • New approach to disaster management resulted in a significant drop in fatalities, loss of livelihoods and property.

 For the 8.2 million people in Bangladesh, Myanmar and India, who, the UN warned, were in the path of Cyclone Mahasen which made landfall on Thursday, the choice was always between fleeing to safety or risking their lives to remain at home and protecting their livestock and assets from being looted.

In helping communities balance these two priorities, accurate information has always been the key determinant.

 “As soon as we heard of the depression in the bay we informed disaster management committees at the district and upazila level,” says Md Abdul Wajed, Director General of Bangladesh’s Department of Disaster Management.

“They have various ways of informing communities of an incoming cyclone such as going door to door, and nowadays through the use of community radio, he says.

 In the past week, as Mahasen brewed in the Bay of Bengal, over 1.15 million people were evacuated by the government – an incredible feat that has likely saved thousands of lives.

 “The situation is different as the community radio Naf has been airing regular information updates, warning messages and awareness programmes on disaster,” Mr. Monu says. In an effort to reach out to as many listeners as possible some of the programming is in a widely used local dialect.

The Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (CDMP II) under the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief distributed the radios and batteries being used by thousands of people like Mr. Monu as cyclone Mahasen bore down on Bangladesh. On 11 May, 2013, CDMP II distributed 1200 high bandwidth radios and batteries to 14 CR broadcasters, out of those 510 has been distributed to the 6 CR Broadcasters located in coastal belt. The community Radio stations situated in the coastal zone namely have already extended their broadcasting hours with CDMP’s help.

The CDMP II intervention helps community radio broadcasters to produce quality radio programming on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) issues.

Puji Pujiono, Project Manager at Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme says the real importance of community radio is, “that it gives a local context to the disaster management process. No one size fits all in disaster management and community radio and how is used is a case in point. People have learned to use it in the way it best suits them and that shows that the process of preparedness is not a one way street. The real intervention is when people use a disaster preparedness tool in their own way to suit their needs. That’s what community radio offers.”

Community radio is a small aspect of CDMP’s work. They have empowered a dedicated team of volunteers who manage to not just inform millions who had previously been last in line for disaster information about imminent risks, but also help move them to safety. CDMP has helped shift the efforts from disaster response to planning and preparedness for emergencies while also helping infrastructure development to assist people in times of disasters and even after.

CDMP channels support through government and development partners, civil society and NGOs into a people-oriented disaster management and risk reduction partnership. The $76.3 million project is jointly funded by UKaid, EU, SIDA, AusAid, Norway, UNDP and the GoB.

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