AidEx spoke to Diana Njeru and Gemma Hayman of BBC Media Action about their projects across East Africa and Cambodia, focused on improving the way climate change is communicated to improve lives and livelihoods of local populations affected by extreme weather and climate changes.
Not waiting for rain – adapting to climate change in Cambodia
It is unsurprising to hear how recent extreme and unpredictable weather changes are negatively impacting the lives of Cambodians. Half of the country’s labour force work in agriculture and 75% of the population live in rural areas reliant on farming and fishing to make a living.
A Sida funded nation-wide survey conducted by BBC Media Action looking at Cambodians’ experience of climate change found 81% of respondents felt such changes had damaged their income, with half of those surveyed remarking on the decrease in agricultural production over the last decade and three quarters believing fish numbers have declined. 85% of people also felt the weather changes were harming their health.
This research and accompanying media and outreach outputs entitled the Neighbours Together project was aimed at helping vulnerable Cambodians adapt their lives and livelihoods to cope with the increasing severity of weather events through raising awareness of climate change risks; encouraging discussion and supporting the adoption of new practices.
Curing a confidence complex with community
According to the findings, most respondents believed there should be more government and NGO support, with others feeling ill-equipped to respond due to lack of resources or relevant information, and some feeling reluctant to try anything new. Interestingly, when action was being taken, it was often on a large scale - a third of Cambodians were more likely to make big life alterations such as changing their job as opposed to taking simpler methods in order to deal with weather changes.
Country Director for Cambodia, Gemma Hayman points out that institutional investments and NGO initiatives exist, and people may be looking to others to address the issue of climate change because of a lack of knowledge and confidence to take action themselves.
Despite this, 93% of respondents stated they were confident communities could work together to tackle problems and prepare for the future. Hayman asserts how the project fundamentally believed the strong sense of community in Cambodia “could be leveraged through communication to increase collective action, encourage local conversation, and build networks to share information.”
These key insights from the research consequently inspired digital output, community events, capacity building, and a twelve-episode national TV series called Don’t Wait for Rain which aired nationally on CTN and MyTV between February and May this year.
The programme provided simple, replicable techniques for people to adopt back home to help them adapt to the effects of extreme weather, such as drought, flooding, increased prevalence of pests and lightning whilst also exploring some of the reasons that may prevent people from planning for such weather in the first place. It demonstrated people were not taking measures to adapt to weather changes as they believed it would cost money for instance, so emphasised the accessibility and affordability of solutions.
Community role models
Hayman remarks on the need for trust and relatability in communication outputs, as 37% of respondents reported they were fearful of discussing actions with others and 42% said they didn’t know anyone taking action. It was therefore important for the TV shows to bring model contributors – or “people like me” - together to talk about solutions to the effects of extreme weather. “Coupling a storytelling approach with practical solutions worked well as audiences felt it was unlike anything else on TV and they were able to learn new techniques and share with others,” she says.
Explaining things simply and demonstrating how people could use materials they could easily find in their community enabled them to take ownership and control.
What happens next?
The TV show, which won “Best TV Feature on Climate Change” Category of the 4th ABU Media Awards on Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction, has been well received, with audiences finding the programme to be unique, educational and inspiring. Hayman emphasises the need for a Don’t Wait for Rain format into a second series, including a “what happened next?” segment as audiences expressed a desire to see the journey to success, not possible within the time and funding constraints of the first phase of the project. She believes, “this would help to build the trust that audiences have already shown in the programme.”
Meanwhile, more community screenings for those who do not have access to a TV could help to maximise the programme. Hayman adds they are also seeking to further build capacity amongst practitioners to help with their own community strategies.
The project brought to light that Cambodians are aware of the issues - 85% had heard of the term climate change and 78% of people feel informed about how to adapt to changes in the weather and environment but gaps in actual understanding persist – only 42% understand what the term climate change means. The report states, “encouragingly, there is an appetite among Cambodians to adapt to the changes in the weather and environment they are experiencing”. In Khmer, the expression “don’t wait for rain” means you are sitting around waiting for something to happen. Positively many Cambodians given the resources, information, and community support, seem ready to take action.
Weather Wise – improving forecast reports for local Kenyans
Seasonal forecasts are not enough for farmers, pastoralists and fisherman living in Northern Kenya, around the Lake Victoria shores and Uganda subject to recent adverse changes in climate and weather. To improve the quantity and quality of information for these group’s livelihoods, BBC Media Action teamed up with the Network of Climate Journalists in the Greater Horn of Africa (NECJOGHA) to create Weather Wise.
The project conducted formative research to better understand four key areas:
- The knowledge, attitudes and practices amongst the target audience of farmers, fishermen and pastoralists on weather and climate.
- Media consumption patterns and information needs when it comes to weather and climate.
- Who the target audience’s key influencers are.
- What challenges journalists and scientists face trying to communicate weather and climate information.
In-depth interviews and focus group discussions exposed a dysfunctional relationship between journalists and scientists. Whilst journalists struggled with the technical language used by scientists, scientists were also reluctant to explain to the journalists who they believed distorted their message.
An example of this is in the science of probability, often misunderstood and consequently miscommunicated by journalists. Njeru refers to the incident in 2016 when the regional meteorological offices predicted there would be an El Niño in Uganda. The government was advised to prepare for a disaster; hospitals were equipped and the Red Cross mobilised. However, the predicted level of disaster did not materialise, costing money and people’s trust in scientific forecasting.
Scientists said their forecast was prediction-based with a possibility of it not happening, or at a lower scale than predicted. Njeru remarks on how the media is not trained to say this, and therefore struggle to explain the science of probability to their audiences. The erosion of audience’s faith in scientists leads to further misinformation, which is why Weather Wise set out to strengthen the relationship between scientists and journalists.
Changing the language of scientists from technical to audience accessible
Residential workshops were set up in each country to bring together journalists and scientists to work out how to produce accurate, understandable and context specific content. “We encouraged the two actors to seek out clarification where it was needed and simplify explanations about why the weather is changing, what to expect and how to prepare and adapt”, says Njeru.
It was discovered many scientists were unaware of the requirements to produce a media report on the weather, or how they should communicate with audiences. These teamwork exercises enabled greater understanding by providing them with images of potential audiences for instance, and asking questions such as, “do you think this local woman who has had no formal education will understand a technical forecast?” This helped them to understand the need to translate 50ml of rainfall to a description of how high the water will rise in relation to familiar objects.
Impactful knock-on effects
With its nostalgic jingle ‘Hali ya hewa’, a Swahili phrase meaning ‘the state of the weather’, Weather Wise partnered with eight local radio stations across East Africa to broadcast weekly features based on the target audiences from November 2018 and reported by passionate journalists, most of whom are community volunteers.
The better informed journalists were by scientists, the more poised they were to approach relevant departmental ministries to then combine contextually relevant information to communicate to audiences. Unifying different disciplines holistically to provide accurate, simplified weather and climate reports built confidence and engaging content. “Journalists have said they are a lot more confident in covering climate and weather stories,” Njeru states, as “they went from reluctantly reporting on such issues to now understanding how they affect every other area such as security and transport.”
The shift in understanding began at the residential workshops where the relationship between the two actors were strengthened, and then integrated into their performance in the field. Importantly, Njeru emphasises, “audience feedback was that the programme’s advice induced positive results, such as farming this way generated a positive yield.”
In both regions, these case studies show a clear appetite to adapt and improve awareness about changes in the weather and climate amongst audiences- so long as the information is accessible and contextually relevant. The strategy to couple storytelling with practical solutions offered by experts and communicated in an engaging, accurate and understandable way by media enables people to take control and make wiser decisions, ultimately enhancing livelihoods.