With the Coronavirus spreading in neighbouring countries, Radio Ergo is providing valuable information to listeners in even the most remote parts of Somalia answering concerns about livestock health, closed schools, hand-washing, and imports of the narcotic leaf khat that is popularly chewed.
Somalia is in the midst of a complex humanitarian crisis, with more than five million people out of a population of around 12 million in need of humanitarian aid, according to plans drawn up before the outbreak of the pandemic.
The ministry of health, supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO), has stepped in with an array of measures, including risk communications and community engagement.
Key messaging materials have been translated into Somali and videos and audio pieces are being made available to the local media to broadcast and disseminate via social media. The ministry of health is trying to ensure that messaging is strictly aligned with WHO guidance in order to avoid confusion among the public. Local TVs and radios are broadcasting the official messages and vehicles mounted with loudspeakers are going around in major towns disseminating the information. As of 9th April, there are 12 confirmed cases of COVID19 in Somalia.
Radio Ergo, a Somali radio station broadcasting every day across the country and the Somali-speaking region, is trying to ensure that there is something for everyone in its coverage, meaning that reports and stories about CV-19 preparedness and response measures as well as information and advice pieces are being sourced from across the regions, across villages and towns and IDP (Internally displaced person) camps, and involving as many voices as possible – women, men, young people, traditional and religious leaders, doctors, aid workers, and so on.
As life goes on, however, the radio also covers the other inter-related issues that continue to affect people’s lives, as well as CV-19, which include the upcoming rainy season, the need for farmers to access quality seeds for planting, the ongoing plague by locusts, the scarcity of water continuing in many areas where there is no rainfall, the possibility of flooding in other riverside areas, the seasonal diseases affecting the camels and goats of the pastoralist community, and the needs of the most vulnerable displaced communities.
The radio’s toll-free mobile phone feedback platform has been revealing how CV-19 and the fears around its spread are being perceived by different communities living in different settings. These messages are being shared with UN agencies, NGOs, the health ministry and others to highlight some of the informational gaps that need to be addressed, as well as to bring other needs to the attention of those in a position to respond.
The media in Somalia is often criticised for poor quality content, low standards of ethics (e.g. bribes for stories), and prone to disinformation or bias. This happens either wilfully (e.g. in support of a particular clan or political personality or group), or unknowingly due to lack of training, low educational levels among journalists, poor verification of issues, etc.
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, however, it is notable that the Somali media for large part has stepped up willingly to play its role in informing the public.
However, local FM radios leave large parts of the country unserved – there is no national broadcaster reaching the whole country. TVs are largely urban based, and internet reaches comparatively few people. There are huge numbers of displaced and other poor people living in urban areas without access to basic facilities including water and decent shelter. In rural areas, there have been a series of shocks including drought, floods, locust invasions that have left people weak and vulnerable. Food shortages are being reported, access to water is low in many areas, and malnutrition rates are high especially among the displaced.
What the listeners of Radio Ergo are saying:
“Hello my name is M.A.J I am calling from Berbera. I would like the Radio doctor to tell us how the corona disease spreads, and its symptoms and treatments. Thank you.”
“Hello Radio Ergo my name is A.A in Hiran. The coronavirus has been spreading fast around the world. I would like to advise the people to maintain proper sanitation, avoid handshakes and pray to God. Thank you Radio Ergo.”
“Hello my name is A.M. We have not got cases of coronavirus in central Somalia regions, and we hope it does not reach us. I am a student, and we have been given a break from school. I would like to inform my schoolmates and friends to be alert and wash their hands.”
“Hello Radio Ergo my name is A.A in Beledweyne, Hiran. The government has banned local and international flights due to coronavirus. We still have the Ethiopian khat coming in and we request the government to stop this khat that is smuggled into the country.”