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Internews Plays Vital Role in Haiti Radio

The quake crippled newspaper production, leaving radio as the population’s main source of information

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti:On Jan. 12, 2010, a magnitude 7.0 Mw earthquake devastated Haiti. It was the worst quake in the country’s 200-year history.

Even today, the total death toll remains unclear. Authorities believe that more than 200,000 people died, more than 300,000 were injured and up to 30 percent of the country’s 10 million residents were affected, with half of this number losing their homes.

The RadioTele office, destroyed. All photos courtesy of Internews

Even before the quake hit, radio had been a vital lifeline for Haitian residents. About 300 stations broadcast on the island nation, with more than 50 based in the capital of Port-au-Prince, a city ravaged by the disaster.

After the quake, many stations were knocked off-air by building collapses and the loss of electricity. Still, others managed to soldier on, helped in their dissemination of life-saving information by Internews.

Headquartered in Arcata, California, Internews is an international non-profit agency that trains and supports third-world journalists in reporting vital information to their people.

When the quake hit

The Internews Haiti office is located in Petion-Ville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince. When the earthquake roared through, Internews-Haiti project director Philippe Allouard was riding a mototaxi home from work. (A mototaxi is a motorcycle on which the paying passenger sits perched behind the driver.)

As the ground shook, “We stopped the motorbike on the side, and waited,” said Allouard. Then disaster broke loose.

“I went to assist a dying young man,” he said, “then had to run as a flash flood took over this street — cisterns and swimming pools having broken on the Montana hill. My driver alerted me about the flood, started the motorbike, picked me up and we ran away leaving the others, who actually drowned.”

On Jan. 13, “I started setting up the emergency program response of Internews, and received an expat team a few days later,” he said. Internews also distributed “9,000 windup radio sets offered by the U.S. Army through our partner stations,” so that Haitians could get access to the news they needed without requiring electricity or batteries.

RadioTele is set up outside.

‘News You Can Use’

Haiti’s media distribution infrastructure was tenuous at best before the quake hit. Local television broadcasters primarily aired movies from the United States, DVDs and satellite, while the majority of Haitians did not rely on the Internet for news and information. All that really mattered were radio and newspapers.

The quake crippled newspaper production, leaving radio as the population’s main source of information. With the cash-poor government knocked off-balance, someone had to fill the balance to use radio to deliver life-saving emergency information.

That’s where Internews stepped in with its daily Creole radio program, “Enfòmasyon Nou Dwe Konnon,” ENDK, or “News You Can Use.”

First broadcast on Jan. 21, ENDK provides critical information about public health, water distribution, sanitation, relocation of refugees, disaster preparedness and a host of other topics. Internews staff produces the program in collaboration with local radio stations and humanitarian agencies. Due to the fractured state of Haiti’s infrastructure, ENDK is distributed via CDs to radio stations, said Allouard.

To date, more than 500 ENDK programs have been aired over more than 40 Haitian stations — and people have been listening. According to Internews’ research, 80 percent of Haitians surveyed knew about ENDK just a month after its launch. By July 2010, 100 percent of those asked knew the show and its content, an impressive result by any broadcaster’s yardstick.

Assessing damage at the RadioTele office.

Internews in Haiti today

The show has become a mainstay of Haiti’s ongoing recovery efforts and a trusted source of information for the island’s residents. These days, its main topics include reconstruction and public health, including dealing with the ever-present threat of cholera.

Programs such as ENDK can vanish when aid agencies shift priorities. This is why Internews is training local journalists and producers to create this kind of fact-based, useful information on their own. The goal is “to ensure that such vital programming will not disappear in the future,” said Allouard. His nonprofit agency also is helping local broadcasters deploy and use IT-based audio production and editing systems, and teaching crisis communications skill to broadcasters and Haitian authorities.

In the meantime, two years after the quake, Internews continues to produce and distribute ENDK, and intends to do so for the foreseeable future.

“To this day, Haitians refer to the program to get vital information,” said Allouard. In fact, in a nation still struggling to get back on its feet, radio remains the most reliable and available medium.