BBC Adapts to Pakistan Crisis With "Lifeline Programming" as Emergency Aid

The BBC's foundation arm delivers information as emergency aid by programming in Pashto and Urdu to between 60 and 80 million people.

Given the wobbly state of media in the digital age, it's easy to forget that news isn't always about profits and scandals. But for survivors of Pakistan's massive floods, the day's news can be the difference between life and death. And that's exactly where the BBC is innovating and adapting by airing radio "lifeline programming" in both Pashto and Urdu to between 60 and 80 million people.

"Listeners hear about where to get food and shelter and how best to survive," says BBC Urdu's Shafi Naqi Jamie. "But as important, by establishing a platform for people's voices and stories, we aim to rebuild a sense of community and morale as well."

The emphasis is on the need to deliver information, as aid itself—Information as aid itself? In this case, the BBC World Service Trust is the aid agency, lest you become confused. They deliver information.

The approach raises questions about the role of global media as we've become accustomed to it. What if CNN or Fox were to apply some of their resources in a similar fashion? It's highly unlikely, in part because neither of those companies has a foundation arm like the BBC World Service Trust, which is funded in part by the U.K. Department for International Development. Yet the World Service Trust doesn't usually operate its regular media-for-awareness programs in Pakistan, as it does in other parts of Asia and the developing world. In the face of disaster, the global media giant has stepped forward to use its reach to educate flood victims about health, food, and other disaster-related issues raised by the floods, potentially saving countless lives in the process.

And the information doesn't just flow one way, as the victims themselves can call in and air their concerns. The service received over 800 calls in the first five hours of broadcast, according to the BBC World Trust, "the lines were instantly inundated by stranded residents who highlighted disease and hunger as the main issues faced by the almost 14 million people affected."

Perhaps the rules of engagement for new media always come down to building community, even in disaster-stricken parts of the developing world.

[Image via flickr/United Nations Development Programme]

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