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BHN Association ~Realizing a World Where Everybody May Access the Information They Require~

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Deputy Secretary-General Mr. Yoshihiro Hirakawa (C)
Project Coordinator Ms. Tomoko Uchiyama (R)
Public Relations Officer Ms. Mami Takahashi (L)

In that May 17th. is “World Telecommunication and Information Society Day,” in Close Up this month we introduce BHN Association, a recognized non-profit organization which, through its leveraging of telecommunications and information technologies, undertakes international cooperation activities. BHN is short for “Basic Human Needs,” such being the basic necessities including “clothing, food and shelter” that all individuals require to live. At BHN Association, based on a belief that telecommunications and information also constitute a basic human need, in that it aims to eliminate the digital divide which exists between those who have and those who possess no access to such means, the group undertakes a wide variety of support activities in developing nations. On this occasion, we were fortunate enough to speak with Mr. Yoshihiro Hirakawa, BHN’s Deputy Secretary-General, and Ms. Tomoko Uchiyama, the BHN Project Coordinator, both about the association’s activities in general and specifically about a project it is currently undertaking in Bangladesh.

Q. Please tell me what led to your association being established.

A. Mr. Hirakawa BHN Association (hereafter “BHN”) was established in the wake of the Chernobyl nuclear accident of 1986. At the time, the World Health Organisation (WHO) undertook a project to gather medical data as to the impact of radiation, etc. However, due to the insufficient telecommunications resources that were then in place between the medical institutions of Chernobyl and the city of Moscow, the project couldn’t easily obtain the quality of data that it required. It was under such circumstances that Japan was called on to assist, and both telecommunications and information-related businesses as well as certain universities in this country responded. BHN was then established as the organization that assumed responsibility for these activities. As a voluntary organization, BHN commenced its activities in 1992, and we subsequently obtained the status of a nonprofit in 1999. Since then, with the aim of allowing everybody to obtain access to the information that they require, BHN has engaged in activities that leverage telecommunications and information technologies. We have based these activities on the following three principles: “support so as to improve the quality of life,” “humanitarian support during times of emergency” and “support so as to assist in the development of human resources.”

Q. Please tell me about these three principles.

A. Mr. Hirakawa Well “support so as to improve the quality of life” is also known as “humanitarian telecommunications support.” Concerning the populations of developing nations, their communities and their public institutions, BHN aims to engage in support activities that leverage telecommunications and information technologies. In doing so, we hope to resolve the issue of the digital divide and to improve the lives of people. As to activities that we have undertaken, BHN has assisted in the creation of telemedicine networks and remote diagnosis systems. We have also helped strengthen the disaster-preparedness capabilities of communities through the establishment of radio stations. Additionally, we have assisted in the development of solar power resources for the provision of electricity.
As to “humanitarian support during times of emergency,” so that victims of large-scale natural disasters and refugees escaping from conflict can obtain necessary information both quickly and accurately, BHN provides free telephone services that allow such people to confirm one another’s safety. We also assist in the recovery of community radio stations. Two recent examples of BHN support are the work undertaken in the Philippines which was struck by a huge typhoon in 2013, and in Nepal which experienced a massive earthquake in 2015. Furthermore, the Great East Japan Earthquake marked the first occasion on which BHN carried out support activities here in Japan. I should also point out that we have just commenced a survey to establish what the victims of the recent earthquakes in Kumamoto may need in terms of assistance.
As to “support so as to assist in the development of human resources,” focusing on Asian countries, BHN conducts professional development programs for specialists in telecommunications and information technologies. At the “BHN Human Resources Development Program” which we have conducted every year since 1998, we have had a total of 138 participants from 13 different nations. Additionally, BHN has also conducted training programs on behalf of international institutions, and these programs we have carried out a number of times annually.

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After the Great East Japan Earthquake, BHN established lines to access the Internet, etc. (L)
Persons involved in the “18th Preliminary BHN Human Resources Development Program”
held in November, 2015, in Malaysia.(R)
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Q. Please give me an example of BHN’s “support so as to improve the quality of life.”

A. Ms. Uchiyama I will tell you about BHN’s activities on Hatiya Island in Bangladesh which is home to approximately 350,000 people. Hatiya is actually a chain of two individual islands. The main island lies to the north, while there is a smaller island to the south known as Nijhum Dweep. Hatiya is ravaged by cyclones annually, and the whole region is designated by the Bangladeshi government as being “at high risk of cyclones.” Nevertheless, warnings on Hatiya were traditionally conveyed simply by local volunteers running around with megaphones.Moreover, although the region did have cyclone shelters, such facilities were both decrepit and insufficient in number. Another factor that previously contributed to a higher human toll during cyclones was that many people preferred to protect their livestock and households rather than evacuate. In light of such circumstances, BHN decided to commence a program of assistance. We felt we could improve the population’s disaster-preparedness capabilities via the establishment of community radio, which would in turn provide local people with information so that they could decide when to evacuate. These ideas became the “Regional Population Disaster-Preparedness Capability Improvement Project that Utilized Community Radio in Order to Provide Disaster Information” which we commenced in 2013. With funding from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), this project is planned to run for approximately four-and-a-half years in cooperation with a non-government organization that is long-established in the region.

Q. Why is community radio effective in improving the disaster-preparedness capabilities of the population?

A. Ms. Uchiyama In Hatiya, in addition to the means by which information can be obtained being deficient, because the dialect used on the island is distinctive, even if inhabitants are exposed to TV or radio broadcasts made in standard Bengali, they cannot understand what is being said. Thus, community radio is advantageous in that broadcasts can be made in a language that the local people understand, and this in turn means that such broadcasts are an effective method by which to convey information.
Although with Hatiya it took longer than expected to obtain a broadcast license once we had commenced the project, in November of 2015 the community radio station called Radio Sagor Dwip, which specializes in regional disaster-preparedness information, finally went on the air. Currently, the station is on the air twice a day, broadcasting for a total of six hours. I should also point out that its programming is created through the efforts of approximately 80 volunteers.

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The studio of Radio Sagor Dwip which commenced broadcasting
in November of 2015 and some of the volunteers who create its programming.
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Q. What sort of activities did you undertake before the radio station went live?

A. Ms. Uchiyama In that few locals actually owned a radio, it was necessary that our efforts commence by teaching them about the role that radio could play in their lives. We also explained that the radio would broadcast important information. Obviously, how to respond to disasters was one topic. Concurrently, the islanders were also told that the radio would broadcast agricultural topics, topics related to the education of children, and also topics that dealt with matters of health and hygiene. Furthermore, utilizing video and slides, we instructed the locals about cyclones, about the importance of evacuating to shelters and about what steps they could take to reduce damage.
Additionally, what happened when the radio started broadcasting was that listeners’ clubs were established within the various communities. These clubs were not simply an opportunity for everybody to gather together in order to listen to the radio. Rather, they offered a chance for people to talk with each other about the content of broadcasts, and this in turn offered an opportunity for social interactions with one another. In addition to the radio broadcasts being valuable for the islanders who to start with lacked sufficient means by which to obtain information, there was also the sense of broadcasts being valuable for some of the women, whose Islamic faith meant that they had few opportunities to venture outside the home and whose information channels were previously restricted to what they received via male relations, etc.

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Explanations as how to respond during times of disaster,
the role of radio and disaster-prevention education were given to locals.
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Q. Please tell me about future plans.

A. Ms. Uchiyama Concerning the nine administrative zones on Hatiya Island (called “unions” locally), activities have commenced with the intention of developing disaster-preparedness plans for three locations in each one (a total of 27 locations). While discussions are held in local communities, consideration will be given as how to act during times of disaster and what specific roles should be assigned to whom. Beyond this, the plan is to have local residents walk around the areas where they live and to work together in the preparation of disaster-preparedness maps. After this has occurred we plan to gather the local inhabitants together in order to conduct evacuation training. Additionally, we also hope to grow the number of listeners’ clubs to encompass 150 locations, and while having community radio provide information, we aim to improve the population’s understanding of both disaster-preparedness and disaster-reduction, etc. Through what they learn through the radio broadcasts, it is our hope that inhabitants of the island will be able to evacuate themselves if and when a disaster occurs in the future.

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While listening to the radio, these women from a listeners’ club are working with their hands. (L)
Work is also moving forward with the creation of local disaster-preparedness maps. (R)
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