Squatting on the floor of his hut in the cyclone-affected Ayeryarwady Delta, Kyaw Kyaw gingerly adjusts his radio to hear the latest news from Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s newly established capital.
“Radio is now part of our life,” the 30-year-old said. “We don’t pass a single day without listening to the weather report.”
In post-cyclone Myanmar, much of which is still reeling from the effects of Cyclone Nargis, such a response is not difficult to understand.
The category four storm left nearly 140,000 dead or missing when it pummelled coastal areas on 2 and 3 May, and most residents complain they had little or no warning.
Almost four months on, reports continue to suggest that the authorities failed to adequately inform the delta’s 4.2 million inhabitants of the storm’s true severity on Naypyidaw Myanmar Radio - the country’s only state-owned AM radio station and the only radio accessible in the delta.
This prevented many from seeking adequate shelter sooner, adding to the loss of life and property, say residents.
Photo: Lynn Maung/IRIN
|Some private donors have taken it upon themselves to distribute cheap Chinese-made radios to survivors free of charge|
Radio has long been an important source of news and information in Myanmar, and many listen in for news of relief and recovery efforts.
Kyaw Kyaw, with two other families, purchased a US$5 radio - allowing them to listen to weather broadcasts - an activity they now recognise could well save their lives in future.
However, most residents do not have a radio of their own - a fact prompting a number of private donors to quietly distribute cheap Chinese-made radios to cyclone survivors, though the distribution is largely without government approval.
Tint Naing, a driver from Daedayal Township, told IRIN radio was cheap and convenient, and required no more than a few batteries.
Even if electricity is available, purchasing a TV is simply out of the question, he said, and transport costs to remote parts of the delta can drive up the price of a newspaper or magazine to as much as $1 a copy - a high price given his income of just $30 per month.
In any case, newspapers and periodicals not only arrive late but are inaccessible to the many people who are illiterate.
Some also sees radio as a more objective source of information: “I like to listen to both state-owned and foreign [Burmese programme] radios like BBC and VOA (Voice of America),” said Lwin Maung, a 32-year old fisherman in Kunchangone who often tunes into the latter’s regular Burmese broadcasts.
“I want to compare,” said another resident, who regularly listens to the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) , which is broadcast from Norway and is largely critical of Myanmar’s military-led government.
Currently, delta residents can only access Naypyidaw Myanmar Radio, which is available nationwide and broadcasts programmes on the relief and recovery effort, as well as weather forcecasts three times a day.
The country’s only two FM stations - in Yangon and Mandalay - have only limited coverage and cannot be heard in the delta.