In terms of the immediate impact of a disaster as well as the initial emergency response, disasters are ultimately local phenomena. It is no surprise then that international and national agencies involved in activities related to disaster mitigation and disaster risk reduction have often focused on building the capacities of local communities to deal effectively with natural disasters. Homes, workplaces, playgrounds, and places of worship become the spaces where one can conceptualise the beginning of this work.

It has been emphasised by several groups involved in disaster management that the measures we take must be grounded in local knowledge and communicated to and through local communities. Horizontal communication among members of a local community and sharing experiences is vital in not only addressing the risk of disasters, but also in providing efficient relief and rehabilitation action.

Steve Buckley, the then President of AMARC, speaking in light of the destructive
earthquake in Haiti in 2010, pointed out that most of the community broadcasting outlets in that country responded by showing great flexibility in their programming, mobilising community responses, providing information on missing persons, explaining the causes of the disaster, advising on precautions, and providing psychological support (Buckley, Community Media and Disaster Response, WSIS Forum 2010 High Level Panel on ICTs and Disaster Response).

The Hyogo Framework for Action that came out of the World Conference for Disaster Reduction held in Kobe in 2005, among other things, emphasises community participation and calls for the empowerment of local communities and authorities through better access to information and resources to deal with disaster risk reduction. Similarly, it was asserted that early warning systems must be developed keeping in mind local cultural and demographic specificities.

It is in this context that participatory media such as community radio, produced and managed by local communities, are proving to be a vital tool in regions which are prone to chronic disasters. Community radio, with its basic philosophy of empowerment of marginalized people, is attuned to any approach to disaster management that focuses on sections of society that are most vulnerable to all kinds of disasters.

There is enough documented evidence about the critical significance of community radio in dealing with disaster risk reduction and disaster management from Asia, especially South and Southeast Asia. There are exciting stories as  well from Africa, Australia, South and Latin America, and the Carribbean of how local communities have used their own communication competencies to share information about impending natural disasters, communicate with each other regarding post-disaster relief efforts, and to build resilient communities that adopt practices of sustainable development so that they become less vulnerable to future disasters.

Excerpts from the opening remarks by Prof. Vinod Pavarala, Unesco Chair on Community Media, University of Hyderabad at the Panel on Role of Local Media in Large-Scale Disasters at the International Symposium on “Catastrophes and Constructing Communities,” National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, November 16-17, 2012