UK experts to enhance reach of Radio Monsoon for Indian fishers

By Aditi Khanna
    London, Feb 21 (PTI) A team of UK experts are working on enhancing the reach of a radio service to help fishers in India's southern Malabar Coast make more accurate and accessible marine weather forecasts, which would help save many lives in the region.
    Radio Monsoon, an outcome of University of Sussex's Sustainability Research Programme, is hoping to graduate from a station operating on a shoestring budget to a fully-equipped studio this year.
    It is designed to ensure safer working conditions for the thousands of fishing families in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.
    The university team, led by anthropologist professor Filippo Osella, involved geographer Dr Max Martin working with artisanal fishers in Thiruvananthapuram, to convert their small tech experiment into a weather knowledge co-production tool.
    Martin lived in the fishing villages, conducting interviews, holding focus groups, and tracking boats, and realised that the fishers are the best people to learn from in order to improve forecasting.
    "We found that there is often a gap between what marine weather forecasters provide and artisanal fishers accept as useful information to decide whether or not to go to fish. To fill this gap, the forecasters need to listen to the fishers," Martin said.
    He concluded that forecast dissemination needed to be easily accessible in local languages to the last mile through different media, as well as precise, clear, timely and locally relevant and actionable.
    "All this requires team work – involving forecasters, media, local popular science groups and forecast users," he said.
    As a result, the team decided to set up a weather radio station using Sussex Innovation funding and hope to have Radio Monsoon's proper studio up and running by May, before the rains start this year.
    "Extreme weather events which have affected the south-west coast of India during the last months have made it apparent that accurate and timely weather forecasts are of crucial importance for ensuring the safety of the local population.
    "Our research has focused on fishing communities in south Kerala, and suggested ways to improve risk communication by promoting the coproduction of weather bulletins with fishers and forecasters. The persistence of weather-related accidents calls for urgent action to provide artisanal fishers with accurate, accessible, and actionable forecasts as a means to foster safety at sea," said professor Osella.
    The South Indian region is marked by high ocean waves, sudden variation and uncertainties of weather cause many accidents.
    Of late, there has been a trend of extreme events in the Arabian Sea, as marked by the 2017 Cyclone Ockhi that killed 162 fishermen from Kerala and 203 from Tamil Nadu.
    The shaken fishing communities blame the lack of timely forecasts for the casualties.
    University of Sussex said the fishers of the Arabian Sea were engaged in one of the world's most dangerous and precarious jobs, which makes detailed, timely and precise forecasts crucial for them. However, beyond the range of mobile phones, there is no way for them to receive weather warnings or communicate distress signals.
    They feel pressured into fishing in bad weather because during the Monsoon, fish are more abundant and competition is less as trawlers are banned. The radio station is a means of getting accurate information to them well in time.
    Radio Monsoon is run on the ground by a local society based in a fishers' village, and supported by a few individuals involved in weather-related research, media work, and cultural/social work on the coast of Thiruvananthapuram.
    The forecasts are given online, over social media, and over free phone calls supported by the Delhi Indian Institute of Technology spawned company Gramvaani. The sound editing comes as a sponsorship from Hindenburg Systems.
    The University of Sussex project, which also involves co-investigators Dr Pedram Rowhani, Dr Kate Howland and advisor Professor Roderick Stirrat, led to tech tests for the station being done in 2014 and work continuing for a year on a "test basis".
    Regular operation began properly in 2017 and the station has been giving daily marine weather forecasts ever since, except on fishing days off.
    Radio Monsoon, which has operated just as a laptop linked to a remote phone server in Delhi, is now set for a proper equipped studio base. PTI AK CPS