Saturday, November 03, 2012

Kenya: Rural Kenya Tunes in Community Radio for Weather Alerts

The tea and coffee bushes growing on the hillsides around Isaac Kinyua's home have long provided him and many of his kin with a livelihood, giving Central Kenya an economic edge over other parts of the country.

But the hillsides are also periodically hit by landslides - one reason Kinyua is now taking the precaution of building a concrete wall on the eastern side of his house, where the land falls steeply to the valley below.

Why now? Because lately, when Kinyua tunes in his portable radio, he receives weather alerts from the nearby community radio station. One recent warning advised that heavy rains are expected in November and December.

"Disaster preparedness is very important here because of unexpected changes in the weather and mudslides," says Kinya.

Just three years ago, when Kangema had no such early warning system, tragedy struck in the form of a landslide that killed a 13-year-old girl and forced hundreds of people to leave their homes.

Kangema RANET 106.5 FM, Kangema's local station, pulls in listeners with plenty of local music. When Kinyua goes shopping, he is happy to find the radio blaring in the rows of shops that line Kangema's shopping area.

What grabs the attention of Winfred Chege, one of the stallholders, however, is not music but the occasional interruption for weather forecasts.

When the presenter has finished, Chege knows she has to find a way to shelter the food she has been selling all morning at her makeshift grocery shed, because there is likely to be some drizzle a few minutes after midday.

She pulls out a soiled plastic cover tucked into one edge of the stall and begins to roll it over the fruit and vegetables stacked in rows on the ground as the skies above begin to darken. She then puts on a heavy sweater and waits for the rain to pass.

"Since the community radio station was established it has been helping us to know what is around us in terms of short and longer term weather patterns," says the 63-year-old grandmother. "Now I know what to do."

That would have been difficult a few years ago, according to the officer in charge of the radio station, Josphat Kang'ethe, who grew up in this area, one of the rainiest parts of the country.

(Source: AlertNet via

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