MENJI, South West—Lebialem division, in the dense evergreen forests of southwestern Cameroon, is a mountainous territory with an abundance of rainfall each year.
But its steep slopes mean all the rain water winds up in low-lying terrain far away. What is left are shallow streams and springs that flow for only a few months of the year.
This part of Cameroon experiences water scarcity most of the year: streams and rivers are distant, dwindling and polluted; wells are impossible because of the rocky terrain; and a piped water supply is at best irregular since catchments often dry up.
Recent changes in climatic conditions and the exploitation of Lebialem’s scarce water resources for household and domestic use have worsened the water situation.
For years, a local NGO called Erudef tried to preserve the area’s shrinking water resources by producing and donating special trees that can naturally purify, generate and keep water in the soil. But several trials failed to spark desired interest.
“People only blamed the government for failing to supply water to the region and failed to see the impact of their actions and solutions they could bring to the problem,” says George Atabong, a broadcaster at Lebialem Community Radio.
Even the radio station went after authorities trying to hold them accountable. The result: last year, one of its journalists was arrested after repeatedly suggesting during interactive live broadcasts that the government had failed to provide such a basic service to the population.
But in December 2015, Lebialem Community Radio suddenly changed the narrative around water scarcity, turning the focus on community-driven water management solutions.
An official of Erudef, which was already providing solutions, was invited to the radio station to discuss the advantages of the NGO’s “water-saving” trees and how communities can adopt them to reverse their declining water supplies.
Community leaders responded almost instantly. Erudef says demand for its water- friendly trees shot up. At least three community water management committees have already planted Indian bamboos, acacias and other species around the water catchments.
Lebialem Community Radio has since produced more programs on community water resources management and on activities that have had adverse impacts on water supplies. The idea for the first program on water came from a weekly bulletin sent to the station by Developing Radio Partners (DRP), a US-based NGO helping Lebialem and other community radio stations improve and increase environmental and climate change reporting.
DRP, which is implementing a climate change project in partnership with the African Climate Policy Centre, also gave Lebialem Community Radio journalists hands-on and on-site training and mentorship to raise the quality of their radio programs. For most of the journalist, the climate change reporting and broadcasting training they received was their first.
By providing a laptop and digital recorders to Lebialem, DRP also strengthened the radio station’s modest technical capabilities. Like many community radio stations in Cameroon, Lebialem Community Radio had only a few pieces of equipment – most of which were broken.
With the new skills and equipment, Lebialem Community Radio regularly airs programs and reports on environmental themes across every sector of the local economy: water resources, agriculture, forestry and, of course, climate change.
In fact, the improved quality of the radio programs has eased the often strained relations between the radio station and local government services. In February 2016, local services of the Ministry of Agriculture asked for copies of the radio programs so they could be used in their own outreach activities.
“The quality and maturity of our programs have really increased since we started receiving DRP training,” says Atabong. “There is a marked difference between what we do today and what we did in the past. It is easy to see the difference.”
Concrete results, like the change of community perception about water management, has encouraged the radio station to keep going and to do even more radio programs. The local environmental NGO, Erudef says many more water management committees will soon begin their own catchment protection tree planting – all because of a DRP Weekly Bulletin that sparked that first radio program last year that resulted in a community-based solution to the water problem.